Baltimore, Dams, engineering, glass plate negatives, Gunpowder Falls, HISTORY, Loch Raven, Public Works, Research, Warren, water history, writing
My time is winding down, working for the City of Baltimore, so I thought I would share some favorite photographs from my research and my time here…
This photograph is the one that started my writing. I guess it was sometime in the late 1970s that I started keeping journals of my life. Not sure why, but I did. Some were just in the form of letters that I later copied into an electronic file of my life, that I later turned into my auto-biography. This photo though started my writing on Baltimore’s Water Supply History, which was preceded by Building the Gunpowder Falls – Montebello Tunnel 1935 – 1940.
I have written about this photograph in an earlier blog post on October 20, 2017. Here are the introductory pages from my book that explains it:
Sometime in the late 1980s, renovations began in an old storage section of Plant II at the Montebello Filters on Hillen Road, in Baltimore City. This storage room was to be converted into an office area for the newly hired Water Treatment Engineers. Resident engineers were nothing new to the filtration plant, but somewhere in time, Plant Managers, Maintenance Supervisors and Bureau Chiefs had replaced them. Therefore, the addition of engineers to the staff became a momentous occasion, sparing no expenses to build them a new office and to make them feel welcomed.
It was just by coincidence that the storage area slated for renovation housed a majority of the records from the previous engineers, along with hundreds of glass plate negatives and photographic lanternslides. The maintenance supervisor of that time just saw boxes of junk and gave instructions to throw it all away. Thinking that the information in these boxes looked interesting, I told the laborers working on the project to take all this ‘junk’ and put in a room on the second floor. This second floor storage area actually did house a bunch of junk and a few years later, when I needed extra storage space, I went over and started cleaning out this room.
While sorting through the boxes, trying to decide what was worth keeping, I decided to keep it all, that I would just go ahead and straighten it out, putting it on shelves. It was while going through the material that I realized what a treasure trove of information was there: old blue prints, engineers’ logs, personal journals, water contracts dating back to the early 1900s, deeds to lands obtained by the city through the courts (along with the judge’s personal journal, dating back to the 1880s), early photographs and so much more. After I had sorted it all out the best I could, I left it alone for quite a few years.
In 2005, Richard Vann, one of the newly hired engineers, received instructions to put together a history of the water department; mostly just listing all the water contracts and what work was done for each one. However, Richard, being a very thorough individual, started listing everything, from who the mayor was to what the inspector’s names were on the jobs. He put this information in chronological order but found that there were gaps in his work, that years were missing from the little bit of records that he had. I then showed him the books and information that I had found years earlier and he started to enter this information into his time line.
In 2006, my boss asked me to assist Richard in what he was doing. We were having electrical problems at the time and I was to work with him to put together a diagram showing all the electrical work done over the years. In the 26 plus years that I have worked here, there has always been a construction project going on, but no one has ever put together an ‘as built’ drawing of the electrical system. So I set up shop adjacent to Richard’s office and via email, he sent me the information that he had. While reading the chronology, I remembered that I had seen additional information, even photos, of things Richard had written about, packed away in the second floor storage area. I decided to go back through all those shelves and boxes of history and see what I could match up to what he had listed.
When I came upon the glass plate negatives, I decided to have some of them processed and turned into photos. This became an expensive proposition so I decided to learn how to do this on my own. My boss gave me permission to buy the equipment I needed, which was no more than a scanner capable of scanning 8” x 10” negatives and Lantern Slides, software to invert the negatives into a positive and a good printer.
While working with one of the lanternslides, I noticed something odd, that in a tunnel, where workers were excavating, there were train tracks that came to a dead end under what looked like a giant boulder. This particular slide came from a box from around 1938, so I asked Richard if he had any information on an event of that year that was of interest. Sure enough, he showed me the Annual Report covering the year 1938 where it was reported that an explosion had occurred in the building of the Gunpowder-Montebello Tunnel.
This notation in the report was only about a half a paragraph long, nothing more than a blurb, so I decided to investigate it further. Searching through all those records that were about to be thrown away 20 years ago, stumbling across filing cabinets that had been stored at the Ashburton Filtration Plant (Home of the Water Engineers in the late 1950s), and researching the archives of the local newspapers, I was able to piece together the story below.
(Note: Upon further research, I found that the picture above was not from the tunnel explosion, but rather a progress photo from 1938 of the heading being loaded and wired for blasting. Unfortunately, the tunnel explosion photos are missing from the collection.)
I would like to take this time to thank Richard Vann, Water Systems Engineer, for pointing me in the direction to find this information. His chronology alone could fill a book.
This next photo, from 1921, inspired me to start writing young adult fiction. When the City was buying up all the properties around the Gunpowder Falls, with the intent to raise the dam from an elevation 188′ to 270′ (settled on el 240′) many families and businesses were displaced. To me this is a sad photograph. The woman and her 3 children, who are renters, being displaced for a damn dam. (Not sure if this house was in the 270′ or 240′ flood lands, in either case, the City would still take to enlarge its watershed).
Here is the opening to a book I have yet to finish. Hopefully some day. Not yet edited for correctness..
The Children of Warren
“Jennifer, wake up. We have to go.”
“No! I don’t wanna!”
“Come on, you know what today is! You don’t want them to flood us out, do you?”
With that, Jennifer sits up in her bed and looks at her mother, eyes wide open and says, “They couldn’t do that! You wouldn’t let them, would you mom?”
Her mom pulls her close, reassuringly, and tells her, “Honey, if I had my way, they wouldn’t be allowed to flood us out at all, but it ain’t up to me. So come on, get up and get yourself dressed.”
With that, Jennifer pulls herself to the side of the bed and when her feet touch the cold dirt floor she shrieks in disgust, “Mom! Why’d they take the floor out? Why couldn’t they wait until we were gone!”
“Honey, we’ve been over this a hundred times” her mother says, trying not to sound irritated at the constant questioning of ‘why’. “You know your father and me had to sell off what we could before the City took it from us.”
“But I loved our floors mommy. Daddy worked so hard making them pretty for us.”
“I know honey” her mom says, reminiscing about better days in Warren…
I showed this initial writing to a friend and explained the story (kids go back to the town before it is flooded and get caught in the flood…) and they told me there was already a movie about this kind of event, called “In Dreams” with Robert Downey Jr. Ha!