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Baltimore Neighborhoods

Hampden Reservoir: A Muddy History

The Hampden Reservoir as it appeared in 1880 (note the pump house right of center in this photo). Subject Vertical File Medium Photographs (Baltimore Reservoirs) Hampden Reservoir [SVF].

As a follow up to last week’s post, “Slabtown to Hampden,” I’m focusing this week on the Hampden Reservoir, the impetus of the map’s creation. With city pipes bursting left and right the past couple weeks, you could say that this has been on my mind. Here’s a quick history of the reservoir accompanied by the tale of a strange murder which resulted in the draining of the reservoir in 1957.

The City Needs a Water Supply

In the early days of Baltimore an abundance of natural springs provided clean and pure water for its inhabitants; but alas, good things never last. As the population grew, springs became stressed, contaminated, and even dried up. There was a need for pumps, wells, and general infrastructure to be created, so after a decade of attempts to establish a water company, a 1797 ordinance passed that appropriated $1,000 to erect pumps in the city’s streets. It seems this ordinance passed because people had concerns about putting out fires; they were complacent about the cruddy water they drank. The linear causation likely had fewer steps. Fire burning skin is easier to comprehend than water gets dirty, we drink water, we get sick. Boy it’s a good thing we don’t make reactionary environmental decisions like that anymore….

By 1800 the idea of bringing water from Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls, and/or Herring Run was being kicked around, and the City Council began plans to divert water into the city. In 1804 water from Carroll’s Run ( a source of springs on the west side) was in the process of being piped to the city, when land owners whose property the pipe encroached upon issued an injunction stopping the efforts. Unable to accomplish its goal, the city was forced to rely on its civic minded citizens. Gen. Samuel Smith, Alexander McKim, Elias Ellicott, Robert Goodloe Harper, Thomas McElderry, and John Eager Howard, formed the committee which laid the groundwork for the creation of the Baltimore Water Company on April 20, 1804. This company was funded through subscriptions by citizens, insurance companies, and corporations.

On the suggestion of civil engineer Jonathan Ellicott, the company set its sights on the Jones Falls. The elevation and dry season volume made the waterway quite suitable. Though they couldn’t purchase the water rights as far north as they desired in Woodberry, John Eager Howard sold the rights to the water around  the present day site of the Preston Street bridge. A storage reservoir to hold the water delivered by a millrace from this site was built on the corner of Calvert and Centre Streets, which was also the site of the Baltimore Water Company’s offices.

By 1830 there was yet another need to increase the supply of water to the growing city. Wooden pipes were replaced with cast iron pipes, new plans were made, and surveys were drawn up to determine how to supply Baltimore with “a never failing supply of pure, fresh, and wholesome water.”*  Due to their elevation above sea level, Gwynns Falls and the part of Jones Falls near Tyson’s mill (in present day Hampden) seemed to be the most suitable sources. Unlike the landowners along the Gwynns Falls, however, many of the landowners on the Jones Falls made outright refusals to sell their property, and the committee recommended the Gwynns Falls as the best choice.

Fast forward twenty-eight years. New iron pipes had been laid, new water sources were exploited, and a new reservoir had been built to supply water for the east side of the city. But it still wasn’t enough. The city continued to expand and grow. After an ordinance was approved by the City Council on July 11, 1857 to provide an increased water supply from the Jones Falls, the water board authorized the money to buy the water rights from Rock Mills north of Woodberry for $150,598, and Swann Lake (now known as Lake Roland) for $289,539.

The map from last week’s post, made by Chief Engineer of the City Water Board J. Morris Wampler, was drawn for the purposes of purchasing and condemning land for the conduit from Lake Roland to the new city reservoir in Hampden on the present day south side of Roosevelt Park. The Hampden reservoir was completed in 1861 three years after it began at a cost of $206,643.50 by John W. Maxwell and Company. Maxwell, along with Joseph H. Hoblitzell and F.C. Crowley, constructed the dam at Lake Roland, the conduit, and the new reservoirs at a total cost of 1.3 million dollars. The conduits construction consisted of the excavation of three separate tunnels totaling over 5,000 feet, and over 6 million bricks. All of the pipes used in the project were manufactured in the Poole and Hunt foundry and presumably rolled up the hill. The work was done by mechanics and day laborers.

The Hampden Reservoir in 1906. Taken from the Bromley Atlas of Baltimore City and Vicinity, plate 17.

The Hampden Reservoir remained in operation until 1915, when the municipal water supply was reconstructed once again, and the polluted 40,000,000 gallon reservoir was reduced to a neighborhood ornament. In 1930 it was drained and cleaned, and the pipes were cut off entirely from the city water system to prevent any contamination through seepage. Though the city threatened to drain it for years, Hampden residents managed to block all proposals for more than forty years.

A Murky Murder and a Heliport

In 1957 the Hampden reservoir was drained as investigators searched for a .32 caliber automatic weapon they believed was used in the murder of sandwich-shop proprietor Vincent DiPietro. A few weeks before it was drained, a youth laborer named Donald Coleman was charged in the killing of DiPietro after making “certain admissions” following four days of interrogation. Though DiPietro was a known hot-head, and had stabbed a man in his shop a year earlier, for some reason revenge was discounted as a motivation by the investigators; nor was a robbery mentioned in any report.

Only minutes after the investigators pulled the gun out of the mud of the drained reservoir, DiPietro’s widow (who he had also stabbed in a separate incident several months prior) married John C. Lloyd in the Hampden Methodist Church (now known as the United Methodist Church) directly across the street from the muddy pit. When the Rev. Leslie Werner, who was conducting the ceremony on short notice—unaware of the woman’s connection to the victim—told the couple that the gun was discovered, there wasn’t much of a response. Only after reading their names on the marriage certificate and directly questioning her relationship to the slain man did Rev. Werner realize it was her deceased husband. A week after the marriage the reservoir was once again filled back in with water to the delight of Hampden residents.

In 1960 the Bureau of Water Supply began draining the reservoir without announcement. The city then revealed plans to fill the muddy pit and turn it into a Department of Aviation heliport. The residents, led by Rev. Werner,  responded with an immediate outcry. The irate citizens protested that helicopters would be a major disturbance to the school, recreation center, and churches in the immediate proximity. Werner called the ordeal “an infringement on our territorial rights without due recourse to a public hearing.”** Eventually the city recanted on the heliport. The draining did continue, however, as the city conveniently had an arrangement with the contractors excavating the new Jones Falls Expressway nearby. In exchange for a local site to dump the excavated soil, the city would receive a discount on the cost of that stretch of highway.

So it was settled, the mud from the Jones Falls Expressway filled the giant hole, and the reservoir has been largely forgotten.

(Eben Dennis)

This is a photograph of Roosevelt Park, the former site of the Hampden Reservoir, from roughly the same angle. The pump house from the previous photograph is behind the line of trees. Photograph of Roosevelt Park taken in 2012 by Anna Dennis.

An aerial view of Roosevelt Park taken from Googlemaps.

Sources:

*Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Baltimore City and County. Baltimore, MD: Regional Publishing Company, 1971.
Passano File, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.
“Water Bureau Draining Reservoir at Hampden,” Baltimore Sun, October 5, 1930.
“Police Probe ‘Wide Open’: No Definite Suspects Held In DiPietro Slaying,” Baltimore Sun, March 2,1957.
“DiPietro Slaying Laid to Laborer: Man, 21, Held Without Bail On Murder Charge,” Baltimore Sun, March 28, 1957.
“Reservoir Plug May Be Pulled,” Baltimore Sun, April 7, 1957.
“Police To Drain Reservoir For DiPietro Murder Gun,” Baltimore Sun, April 9, 1957
“Youth Presented in DiPietro Case: Jury Acts Though Murder Weapon Is Not Found,” Baltimore Sun, April 24, 1957.
“Gun Found by Police in Reservoir,” Baltimore Sun, April 28, 1957.
“Water Refilling Reservoir Again,” Baltimore Sun, May 7, 1957.
**”Residents Fight Heliport Plans: Would Ban Move To Use Reservoir Site Near School,” Baltimore Sun, May 2, 1960.
“Views Given on Heliport: Chilcote Sees False Fear; Draining Halt Held Unlikely,” Baltimore Sun, May 5, 1960.
Bromley Atlas of Baltimore City and Vicinity, 1907, plate 17.

Discussion

4 Responses to “Hampden Reservoir: A Muddy History”

  1. enjoyed very much so …

    Posted by richard hopkins | 04. Jul, 2013, 7:45 am

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  1. [...] Society has a really great blog that I recently have begun following.  This week there is a post on how the Hampden Reservoir became Roosevelt Park in Baltimore. [...]

  2. [...] last month’s Hampden Reservoir post, I have taken more delight in my commute as I pass by Roosevelt Park, going to and returning [...]

  3. [...] been posting new content every Thursday, from tales of cockfighting in Baltimore County to the history of  Hampden’s plumbing. Thanks to all of the readers of the blog for tuning [...]

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