Special Collections Department

H. Furlong Baldwin Library

Maryland Historical Society

201 West Monument Street

Baltimore, MD 21201

Tel:  (410) 685-3750

Fax:  410-385-2105

E-Mail:  [email protected]


Processed by Joseph Tropea

August 2005




Provenance:                  The Sherlock Swann Papers were donated to the H. Furlong Baldwin Library of the Maryland Historical Society in 2003 by Swann’s grandson, Sherlock Swann Gillet.   Acc. 006706.



Size:                             1 linear foot (2 document boxes)



Access:                        Access to this collection is unrestricted.



Copyright:                    The Sherlock Swann Papers are the physical property of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library of the Maryland Historical Society.  Copyrights for published materials belongs to the authors or creators of the works or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Special Collections Librarian. 



Permission:                   Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested in writing from the Special Collections Librarian, Maryland Historical Society.



Preferred Citation:        Sherlock Swann Papers, 1888-1924, MS 3064

                                    H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.



Biographical Sketch

            Sherlock Swann, grandson of Governor Thomas Swann, was born on December 27, 1866 in the old Executive Mansion at the Naval Academy grounds in Annapolis, Maryland. He attended private school in Baltimore until 1877 when he studied in France and Germany while traveling with his widowed mother. Upon his return to the United States in 1879, Swann attended St. John’s School in New York. He then attended Georgetown University, while living with his grandfather, who was by then Congressmen from the 4th district in Washington, D. C.. After recovering from a severe illness that interrupted his studies, Swann returned home to Baltimore sometime after 1884 and attended the Maryland Institute.


In 1892 Swann was appointed as a member of Governor Frank Brown’s military staff at the rank of Colonel. In 1894 Swann’s uncle, Mayor Ferdinand C. Latrobe, appointed him Commissioner for Opening the Streets. Swann served as a member of the City Council from 1896 to 1898. He married Edith R. Deford, daughter of a prominent Baltimore merchant, on November 30, 1897. In 1901, he ran unsuccessfully for the  Legislature (2nd district) on a Democratic ticket.


After the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Swann was appointed head of the Burnt District Commission by Mayor Robert McLane. In this Commission Swann oversaw the expenditure of over $10,000,000, as well as the redevelopment of over 140 acres of Baltimore City land. The press was initially highly critical of Swann and the Burnt District Commission, but soon the editorial pages sang his praises.


In 1908 Governor Austin L. Crothers appointed Swann to the Board of Police Commissioners. Swann served as President of this board until 1910. He is generally considered instrumental in the development and modernization of the Traffic Department. Swann instituted the motorcycle squad and authored several laws including the Anti-Cobblestone law and the Swann Cocaine Ordinance.


In 1913 President Woodrow Wilson appointed Swann Postmaster of Baltimore. He held the position until 1921. In 1923 Mayor Howard W. Jackson appointed Swann Chairman of the Commission on Traffic. It is unknown how long he served in this capacity. Swann died in Baltimore of bronchial pneumonia on March 6, 1935.




            The papers in the Sherlock Swann collection span over 30 years, from 1888 to 1924. The materials consist of official reports, letters, notes, drafts, pamphlets, official correspondence newspaper clippings, and plats and maps relating to his positions as Head of the Burnt District Commission, President of the Board of Police Commissioners and Chairman of the Commission on Traffic. These materials have been arranged within the framework of three series by job titles held by Swann (discussed in more detail in the series description). 


            The bulk of the material centers on Sherlock Swann (1866-1935) and consists of records saved from his positions as head of the Burnt District Commission (1904-1907), President of the Board of Police Commissioners (1908-1910) and his work with the Traffic Commission, which seems to have preceded as well as followed his position as Postmaster of Baltimore.  There are no materials relating to his position as Postmaster of Baltimore (1913-1921). The majority of this material spans the years 1904 - 1923. A weakness of this collection is the incomplete yet apportioned manner with which the materials relating to Swann’s various positions were included. This has left a relatively small gap between the Burnt District Commission materials and the Board of Police Commission materials yet a gulf between the Postmaster and Traffic Commissioner positions.


            Materials within the files were left in the original order they were found except in very few instances where a better arrangement presented itself. The container list should be consulted in any research inquiry, as the archivist has provided folder titles that are descriptive but may not encompass the entirety of these materials. 


The papers in this collection will be of value to the researcher interested in the Baltimore Fire of 1904, Baltimore City planning and redevelopment, the Baltimore City Police Department, traffic and automobile law and local politicians of Baltimore in the early Twentieth century.



Series I:  Burnt District Commission, 1904-1907

This series includes letters and correspondence, field notes, maps and plats, news clippings and printed materials relating to Sherlock Swann’ s role as Head of the Burnt District Commission. The bulk of the material falls between the dates 1904-1907. 


            Subseries 1:  Correspondence  (Box 1)

            This subseries includes letters to and from Swann beginning with a list of the members of the Emergency Committee who were appointed on February 12, 1904. Other pieces of correspondence include a letter from W. H. Buckler, member of the Emergency Committee, and a letter from City Solicitor W. Cambell Bruce. Also included is a letter containing financial information from Swann to Mayor E. Clay Timanus and a response letter to George Corey, Esq. who was apparently critical of the Burnt District Commission.   


            Subseries 2:  Notes  (Box 1 and Oversize Folder)

            This subseries includes various types of notes ranging from field notes regarding property sales, plat sketches and mathematical computations made by Swann to working copies of what would eventually become the Report of the Burnt District Commission. Also included are meeting minutes, sub-committee reports, statements made by other committee members, ordinance copies and notes regarding docks, piers and street improvements as well as a chart concerning street improvement located in the Oversize Folder.


Subseries 3:  Maps and Sketches   (Box 1 and Oversize Folder)

            This subseries contains a map showing improvements and street widening plans dated February 7-8, 1904 (Oversize Folder). Also included are plat sketches of Hopkins Place and another property.


            Subseries 4:  Printed Materials (Box 1)

            This subseries contains a pamphlet of an act that gave birth to the Burnt District Commission, as well as, Annual and Semi-Annual Reports of the Burnt District Commission from 1904 to 1907. Many of Swann’s handwritten and typed notes regarding the redevelopment of the area destroyed by fire culminate in these reports.


            Subseries 5:  Clippings (Box 1 and Oversize Folder)

            This subseries contains magazine pages and newspaper clippings. A page from Collier’s dated February 13, 1904 shows some of the damage to the city (Oversize Folder). Newspaper clippings range from articles of intent of the Burnt District Commission to auction notices for public sale of land destroyed in the fire. Of particular interest are two articles from The Baltimore Sun regarding City Solicitor W. Cambell Bruce’s drive to legislate the Commission out of office.


Series II:  Police Board of Commissioners, 1888-1910

This series includes letters, correspondence, speeches, statements, notes, news clippings and printed materials relating to Sherlock Swann’ s role as President of the Board of Police Commissioners. Swann is credited with the development of the Traffic Department as well as a wide range of laws and ordinances. This material contains copies of ordinances from as early as 1888 and 1891, however, the bulk of the material falls between 1904-1910.


            Subseries 1: Correspondence  (Box 1)

            This subseries contains letters to and from Swann as well as copies of correspondence between other parties involving issues that Swann as Police Commissioner had an interest in. Letters to Swann include those from Senator J. Charles Linthicum, City Councilman Charles H. Heintzman, Deputy Marshal of Police James Manning, John Sonderman, J. Frederick Talbot, F. A. Zimmerman and a particularly warm letter of appreciation from a group of newspapermen.


            Subseries 2:  Ordinances and Drafts  (Box 1)

            This subseries contains copies of a bill from 1888 regarding crime and punishment for illegal gambling, Ordinances No. 135 dated August 11, 1891, No. 279 dated May 14, 1907 and No. 156 known as the “Swann Cocaine Ordinance”.


            Subseries 3:  Speeches and Statements  (Box 1)

            This subseries contains speeches and statements made by Swann to organizations such as the Police Department and the City Delegation.


Subseries 4:  Notes, Drafts and Police Reports  (Box 1 and Oversize Folder)

            This subseries contains charts, field notes and drafts of reports, letters and ordinances. Included are two handmade charts: one comparing various city populations to number of patrolmen and another titled “Pay of Police Force of Baltimore.” Report drafts include the following titles: “Hotels,” “A Patrolman Must” and “Oath of Police Commissioners.” Letter drafts consist of three pages to an unnamed official regarding police salaries, a letter draft to Marshal Farnan regarding the presentation of an emblem of honor for police officers and a letter draft to Delegate Frank T. Yates regarding winter caps for officers. Also included in this subseries are three police reports from February 1910. The Oversize Folder contains memos and notes concerning rapid transit intersections.


Subseries 5:  Printed Materials and Map (Box 1 and Oversize Folder)

This subseries consists of a map titled “Municipal Art Society Plan Showing Armory Circle and Parkway” located in the Oversize Folder. Printed reports include: Report of the Board of Police Commissioners 1908-1909, Report of the Board of Police Commissioners 1911, Maryland Motor Vehicle Law Act of 1910, Laws of New York, and Pennsylvania State Highway Department Automobile Law.


Subseries 6:  Clippings  (Box 1)   

This subseries contains two news clippings from the Baltimore Sun regarding the proposed site for the Police Harbor Station.



Series III:  Commission on Traffic, 1909-1926

This series contains correspondence, letters, reports, news clippings, printed materials and notes relating to Swann’s position on the Commission on Traffic. The bulk of the material is from 1923, the year he was Chairman of this Commission. 


            Subseries 1: Correspondence  (Box 2)

This subseries contains letters and correspondence to and from Swann regarding hearings on automobile laws and other traffic related matters. Included are letters from Senator E. E. Goslin, Mayor Howard W. Jackson, A. S. Goldsborough, and John N. Mackall, as well as, letters to the editors of The Baltimore American and other fellow committee members.


Subseries 2:  Printed Material  (Box 2 and Oversize Folder)

This subseries includes various pamphlets and reports. Titles include: Senate of Maryland No. 258, House of Delegates No. 55, Report of the Commission on Traffic 1923, Traffic Regulations Rules of the Road (1922), Maryland Automobile Law, Giving Baltimore Another Great Street, Cleveland Traffic and Parking Regulations, and Baltimore Street Railway Directory. Also included is a map of Saratoga and Lexington Streets and a chart located in the Oversize Folder, “Total Cars in Service Weekdays (1923).”


            Subseries 3:  Notes and Drafts  (Box 2)

            This subseries contains handwritten and typed notes and drafts of reports, statements, letters and meeting minutes. 


            Subseries 4:  News Clippings  (Box 2and Oversize Folder) 

            This subseries contains clippings from The Baltimore Sun, The Baltimore American and The New York Times relating to various traffic matters. The Oversize Folder contains an article from The Sun, “How New Parking Regulations Would Apply to Downtown District,” June 4, 1924.