I am fortunate to live on a hill overlooking you. I love you most on clear mornings, the sun behind me when I step out and see your cupola bathed in golden light against the lush green of Druid Hill Park. Your presence is magisterial. As a child I imagined you were a grand town hall. I would look for you from the backseat of my parent’s car when we drove into Baltimore from the county. Seeing you made me giddy with joy because I knew we had made it to the city: the drive down I-83 would soon be over and the fun in store for me was close at hand.
When you were built in 1877 you symbolized the power of Baltimore’s booming textile industry. Thousands of people worked in the mills along the Jones Falls. The country was in a depression and yet there you were graced with idyllic flower beds and your towering cupola. You were designed by Reuben Gladfelter, company architect for the textile mills—a temperance movement stalwart who lived in the old estate house in Woodberry and loved gardening (I also love gardening, or I should say I’m coming to love gardening).
The 20th Century was not kind to you and your industry. Synthetic fibers and cheaper labor in the South were too much competition. Desperate, the mill company sealed your windows and installed air conditioning to manufacture synthetic fibers. But you weathered the abuse and in the 1960s you were bought by London Fog. How lucky was I to find a vintage London Fog raincoat that fits me perfectly!
Today you are home to offices, a restaurant and light industry, including a bakery and candy maker. You have gone through many changes but you remain wonderfully preserved. When I walk through your quiet halls I feel the presence of the women who worked the looms. How many hundreds of people have worked within your walls? You carry so many memories.
During the week I catch the light rail across from you. You make Woodberry the most beautiful light rail stop. When I moved to Hampden I was most inspired by my daily light rail trips, of seeing you and your fellow textile mills along the magnificent Jones Falls, the old-growth forest of Druid Hill park out the opposite window. It never ceases to transport me. What I love most of all are return trips on the light rail: I watch out the window and when I see you come into view I know I’m home.
Nathan Dennies is on the staff of AIABaltimore and the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. He is also chair of the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance.
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