Chris Muldowney (from left), Jeanne Sears and Erik Nichols,… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
I offer this advice to those who undertake a new walking tour of old Lauraville: Wear sensible shoes, take a map along and be prepared to learn stuff you never knew before.
For starters, this Northeast Baltimore neighborhood is larger than I had imagined. It also has far more history than I was prepared to digest in the time I spent there.
Lauraville is truly a city neighborhood of secrets waiting to be discovered. I learned it still has a building that served as a one-room schoolhouse dating from Lauraville's time as a Baltimore County village. It was later converted into a community meeting place, the Clifton Pleasure Club.
This is a place where pickle factories and 19th-century breweries were a big deal. It seems to have plenty of old farmhouses, too, and some amazing remnants of the agrarian ways that once flourished within the city limits.
The idea for the walking tour began two years ago, said Christine Muldowney, who lives on Woodsdale Avenue, one of the many streets here that adjoin Herring Run Valley.
"I open a window, and I hear the run — really running," she said of her home's proximity to the lush and heavily wooded public park that bends and twists throughout much of Northeast Baltimore.
Muldowney, the daughter of Clinton Street environmental activist Margaret Muldowney, wanted to commemorate her neighborhood with a tour that would be informed by oral histories and bits and pieces of information that only longtime residents would recall. And since this is a settled, stable neighborhood, people tend to stay a long time. She notes that some families have been in Lauraville since the early 19th century.
She begins her trip at the Immanuel German Lutheran Cemetery, a rather obscure city burying ground. It is also a real beauty, nestled on a little Grindon Avenue hill. It remains perfectly maintained and well groomed, and its steepled funeral chapel looks like the miniature church in a classic Baltimore Christmas garden.
I walked through the rows of granite monuments and wondered if you had to be named Bertha, Magda, Heinrich, Clara, Otto, Johanna or Frieda to be interred here. This is the place where Baltimore's Germans settled, and it shows it. It shows in the old frame houses, the flower beds and greenhouses.
The tour includes a stop at a small grave marked with a U.S. flag. It is the burying spot of John J. Thompson, who was born in the Holstein region of northern Germany. He distinguished himself in the Civil War for "extraordinary heroism" in action at Hatcher's Run in Virginia as a member of the 1st Maryland Infantry. A 1912 Baltimore Sun article, published three years before he died, said he "preceded his regiment in the assault and planted the flag upon the Confederate works."
The Lauraville tour emphasizes plain people and where they lived. It also focuses on local businesses and mentions places like a rock quarry in the Herring Run Valley. "We were the original farm-to-table and quarry-to-foundation neighborhood," said Muldowney, a reference to the local stone used to build the basements of Lauraville's frame homes.
Another Grindon Avenue tidbit involves the pickle factory operated by H.C. Schwartz. The place used the advertising slogan "Pay a nickel, buy a pickle."
The factory closed years ago, and you can no longer smell the brine on a humid Baltimore day. But on a recent April morning, there was no mistaking another characteristic scent, one that was even more potent than the fresh grass, the stands of waving tulips and the glorious redbud trees. It was that of freshly roasted beans at Zeke's Coffee, with a home base right on Harford Road.