Roaming the neighborhoods around Pimlico

Mount Washington has many quirky subsections

  • There is an old municipal water tower in the West Arlington neighborhood, so situated because it is the highest point in the area.
There is an old municipal water tower in the West Arlington neighborhood,… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
May 17, 2013|Jacques Kelly

Roaming the streets that encircle Pimlico Race Course, I discovered so many places that I had trouble going back to the same locale twice. Outer Northwest Baltimore is a fascinating, at times geographically bewildering, place.

When the Maryland Jockey Club members built Pimlico, they must have been thinking big and distant. It was a gallop from Druid Hill Park, and if you didn't own a carriage, you would have needed a ticket on the Western Maryland Railway to spend a day at the races.

I think I found the old West Arlington railroad station on one of my explorations. All traces of the train track spur branch that once connected Pimlico to downtown Baltimore disappeared perhaps 100 years ago. The branch line cut off the main stem (still in use by freight trains) at a place called West Arlington. It was once a mighty residential neighborhood, a favorite of the homebuilders and real estate brokers.

In the West Arlington neighborhood, you realize how high this spot is. There is an old municipal water tower here, so situated because it is the highest point in the area. (There was also once a small hill, really just a rise, in the Pimlico infield. It was leveled out decades ago.)

Once Baltimore's electric streetcars got going, Pimlico became a pleasant ride out from the city. You had your choice of routes, but the Mount Washington line ran all along the outer perimeter of the backstretch barns — along what is Belvedere Avenue today and the neighborhood of Queensberry Avenue.

If you know where to look, a few rails are left at the high trolley trestle that crossed the Stony Run Valley between Hampden and Remington on the route that took the daily-double crowd out for a day's wagering.

I retraced the route of the old No. 25 car one day this week and thought that its pathway along Ken Oak Avenue must have been one of the finest transit paths in Baltimore. The trolleys ran in the center of the street in their own right of way. Today that space is a lush greensward flanked by beautifully maintained 1915-era homes.

Mount Washington was developed over a long time and has many quirky subsections. There's a Hilltop Park (named for the track), a Pill Hill (named for all the physicians who lived here) and a place called The Terraces after the steep hillside.

I was lucky in my searches for a sub-neighborhood in Mount Washington where, I have heard, the houses were all named for 1920s movie stars. I located these un-Baltimore-looking masonry-and-stucco cottages on Rockspring Road.

This was an unexpected find. The stucco houses trimmed in Spanish tiles reminded me of scenes in old Laurel and Hardy shorts. I've heard there is a Harpo Marx house here; it all looked Gloria Swanson to me.

I can recall the Pennsylvania Railroad's siding in Mount Washington where the dark maroon rail cars arrived with their equine treasures aboard. These frisky passengers were the thoroughbreds that would then be walked up the hill to the track. The site is somewhat south of the present Mount Washington light rail stop.

I always got a chuckle out of Winner Avenue. Whoever was in charge of naming streets had some fun that day. Winner Avenue runs adjacent to the part of Pimlico's barns where the top thoroughbreds are stabled.

As with so many Baltimore neighborhoods and locales, you do not have to walk far before conditions and circumstances change. The Park Heights side of Pimlico is a stark contrast to the Mount Washington, Glen and Cheswolde side.

And yet I find myself exploring stretches along Reisterstown Road and Park Heights Avenue. Parts are in ruins, but even the decay has certain fascination. It's like a neighborhood from which people fled quickly. It also has one of Baltimore's greatest collections of rusty neon signs.

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