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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: Fred B. Shoken, 06/2004
Reservoir Hill Historic District
Inventory No.: B-1379
Date Listed: 12/23/2004
Location: Baltimore City, Baltimore City
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 1790-1941
Architect/Builder: Francis E. Yewell, Robert Chambers, William L. Stork, Edward Gallagher, Joseph Edward Sperry, George Frederick, &c.
Description: Reservoir Hill is an urban neighborhood just south of Druid Hill Park in north Baltimore. The convergence of diagonal and north-south street grids define 32 city blocks roughly bounded by North Avenue, Mount Royal Avenue, Druid Park Lake Drive, and Madison Avenue. The majority of the properties are late-19th to early-20th century row houses, but the district includes other building types from grand mansions to multi-story apartment buildings, a handful of religious and commercial buildings, and a few public monuments. The community's tree-lined character is enhanced by plantings at sidewalk tree wells. A few older traditional brick row houses with flat facades and refined detailing are extant, but eclectic designs with projecting bays, turrets, balconies, and porch fronts predominate within the area. Six to 14-story tall early-20th century apartment houses front on Druid Hill Park at the northern edge of the district. Individual mansions built in a variety of styles, two older synagogues and one church, and a few commercial buildings provide a break from the neighborhood's row house character. Some sections of the neighborhood have been meticulously rehabilitated; in other areas, redevelopment and deterioration have taken a toll. Overall, the district retains a good level of integrity, with the majority of its significant streetscapes, buildings, and monuments intact. Significance: Reservoir Hill is architecturally significant as an example of a type of urban development which characterized Baltimore through the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. The district features a variety of residential building types representing the evolving character of the urban environment from scattered country estates to a dense row house neighborhood; numerous individual buildings designed by noteworthy local architects; and distinctive architectural details reflecting a high level of craftsmanship typical of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Before 1870, Reservoir Hill was home to a few large estates and tenant farms. The growing city of Baltimore, with a population of more than 250,000 had not yet reached North Avenue (Baltimore's city limits until 1889). The earliest building in the neighborhood dates to c. 1790, when Dr. Solomon Brickhead established Mount Royal as his summer home here. Other early landowners included Chauncey and Walter Brooks, Robert Whitelock, and George W. Gail. The establishment of Druid Hill Park in 1860 and the Mount Royal Reservoir in 1862 provided attractions for city residents to travel beyond city boundaries, yet urban development would wait until well after the Civil War. During the Civil War, Camp Belger (also known as Camp Birney) was established north of the corner of Madison Avenue and North Avenue. Among the troops that trained here were the 4th U.S. Colored Troops, one of the earliest Civil War African-American companies. Christian A. Fletcher, a Baltimore-born freeman who won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the war, was mustered into service here. After streetcar lines were extended to Druid Hill Park, the first row houses were built along Madison Avenue, taking advantage of both the scenic beauty of the park and rapid transportation to downtown. By 1877, much of the west side of Madison Avenue north of Whitelock Street had been developed. The earliest houses were traditional Baltimore rows with flat facades and little decoration, except for arched entrances, splayed brick lintels, marble sills and foundation walls, and bracketed cornices. The Mount Royal Reservoir spurred development in the southeast corner of the neighborhood. By 1884, the city purchased land adjacent to the reservoir, creating the park-like setting of Mount Royal Terrace. Between 1885 and 1886, the first Queen Anne and Eastlake style houses were built overlooking the reservoir. The central portion of the neighborhood developed after Reservoir Hill was annexed into Baltimore City in 1889. The row houses built in the 1890s featured bowed fronts, projecting bays, corbeled brickwork, and terra cotta decorations. In the early 20th century, design elements continued to evolve, employing porches, yards, and Spanish tiles on the roofs. Apartment buildings reflecting popular architectural styles of the early 20th century were built to overlook Druid Hill Park. The area is also historically significant for its association with the development of the city's Jewish community in the early 20th century. Within this area, Baltimore's more established German-Jewish community and the newer Eastern European Jewish community coexisted after a previous split between the two groups. Before 1845, Baltimore's Jewish community was estimated at fewer than 1,500. By the Civil War, German immigration swelled the numbers to an estimated 8,000. Synagogues and Jewish communal organizations were established in the downtown area and in east Baltimore. With the migration of eastern European Jews in the late 19th century, the population swelled to approximately 25,000. With this new wave, the established German Jewish community moved uptown, relocating five major Synagogues from downtown and east Baltimore between 1892 and 1905. From this central northwest location, Baltimore's upwardly mobile Jewish population has moved out towards suburban neighborhoods in a northwesterly direction, first to communities surrounding Dru
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