Friday, September 11, 2020

Baltimore's Thirst for Water: Bringing Back The Gunpowder

Water, Water, Everywhere, but is it safe to drink?

Preserving and Accessing the Records of the Gunpowder Watershed of Maryland and Pennsylvania

Edward C. Papenfuse, Archivist of Maryland (Retired)

With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, the title of this essay on preserving and making accessible the sources of history was chosen because the history of the Gunpowder watershed is both a triumph of the reversal of human degradation of the environment, and a cautionary tale about the failure of humans both to sustain the accomplishment and to care for the records that document its story for the instruction and enlightenment of future generations.

1852 Map of the Gunpowder River

I. The Triumph:

Baltimore City’s effort to acquire a sustainable water supply between 1830 and the 1950s led to the rehabilitation of a watershed that had become developed and polluted. With paper mills (the Hoffman Mills), manufacturing (Warren) and Iron mines (Ridgley Iron Works), not to mention agricultural runoff and quarrying, the water of the gunpowder was suspect as a source of water for the city, its people, and to a lesser extent, its industry. Over the course of about 150 years, using eminent domain powers acquired by 1908 and bond money authorized by the Maryland legislature, a considerable portion of the lands of the watershed along the river were acquired by the city and turned back to nature. It was a triumph of the public good for the welfare of the majority.

II. The History:

A) Who are its keepers?

There have been a number of people over the years who have been responsible for altering the course of the history of the Gunpowder watershed and promoting the keeping of its history. I will only mention a few:

Thomas H. Buckler

Thomas Hepburn Buckler (1812-1901)

Except for Nancy Shead’s biographical work on Buckler as a physician, there is no readily accessible biography of him. Yet , he more than anyone was responsible for both advocating the Gunpowder as a source of water for the city and advancing the public health reasons why pure water was necessary for public health. He began his advocacy as physician at the Baltimore County alms house before the Civil War. As late as 1885 the first daily newspaper in California, the Daily Alta, sang his praises:

Daily Alta California, Volume 39, Number 13018, 4 November 1885 — THE CHOLERA.


This article has been automatically clipped from the Daily Alta California, organised into a single column, then optimised for display on your computer screen. As a result, it may not look exactly as it did on the original page. The article can be seen in its original form in the page view.

Buckler is best known for his acid tongue when it came to the slowness with which Baltimore addressed its health problems. Writing from the comfort of a European Spa, possibly paid for in part from income from the Gunpowder lands of his wife’s estate (she was a Ridgely), he opined that the best solution to the contamination problems of Baltimore harbor were to level Federal Hill into the basin, filling it up. He may have had another ulterior motive than public health as well. Federal Hill was the symbol of Union occupation of the city with its canons trained on the populace to keep order (they are still there today), Buckler was an ardent supporter of the South and fled to Europe to avoid the war.

John McGrain

John McGrain’s work on mollinography is internationally recognized (Louis Bergeron for example) and his career as a preservationist in Baltimore County is legendary. His most recent publication is on the history of Charles Street. His research on the Gunpowder is available on and off line at the Maryland State Archives and is indispensible for anyone interested in the mills and manufacturing in the gunpowder watershed.

Ron Parks

I strongly urge anyone interested in the history of Baltimore’s water supply to purchase Ron’s books, particularly this one which is a guide to all the good work he has done over the years to preserve the history of Baltimore’s water supply. Included is an extensive timeline relating to efforts to acquire water for the city that is invaluable to the study of the Gunpowder watershed.

Teri L. Rising

History Underwater: Baltimore City, The Gunpowder River and Loch Raven Reservoir

Oct 09, 2013 3:19:00 PM EDT

Teri L. Rising

Historic Preservation Planner, Baltimore County Department of Planning

Over a hundred years ago, Baltimore City proposed building a dam that would bring water from the Gunpowder River to Baltimore City. While the reservoir would accomplish this goal, it would also destroy homes, communities, and create controversy between Baltimore City and County. As a historic planner and historian, I am often asked for the story behind Loch Raven reservoir. “History Underwater” is a brief summary of the project that would change the landscape of Baltimore County forever.

Baltimore City had long struggled to supply its citizens with clean water, but the increasing population caused natural sources to disappear and water contamination to increase. A drought in 1869 convinced city officials to look beyond the Jones Falls for sources of water and the Gunpowder River had been identified in 1853 as a possible choice.

“This matter of water supply cannot be overestimated in its importance, and when the water of the Gunpowder shall have been conducted into the city, as it must of necessity be in the lapse of a few years, no city on this continent or in Europe will be able to boast of so great a bounty.”Mayor of Baltimore - 1872

Construction began December 3, 1875 and the Loch Raven lower dam was completed by 1881. The works consisted of a dam, which formed the reservoir, a tunnel connecting the reservoir with Lake Montebello, and a conduit connecting Lake Montebello to Lake Clifton. That water tunnel is still used today. Officially named in 1877, “Loch Raven” was inspired by area landowner, Luke Raven, along with the addition of “Loch”, as Scottish for Lake. William Gilmor, owner of the "Glen Ellen" estate, has been credited as the source of the name.

A polluted Jones Falls convinced officials to expand Loch Raven by adding an upper dam. Knowing that Baltimore City was scouting for land, the Warren Company secretly sold the town to the city in 1908 for a confidential price. The City Council conducted an investigation and concluded the acquisition was inappropriate and price too high. Negative press coverage resulted in serious criticism for officials and the deal was nullified by the Court of Appeals in 1913.

After the upper dam was completed, the city implemented the next phase and raised the spillway to the 240 feet maximum. In response, nearly 50 square miles were annexed in 1918. The annexation consumed many farms and mills and forced residents to relocate. City inspectors assigned values to the properties and negotiated their acquisition. Many sites were demolished and flooded; others were partially demolished and left to deteriorate within the watershed’s boundaries. Those affected had names like Morgan’s Mill, "Furnace Farm", "Vauxhall", and "Glen Ellen".

Amidst lawsuits and accusations of impropriety, the last lands purchased for the final phase of the Loch Raven Reservoir included the towns of Warren and Phoenix. When they were finally condemned in 1922, it cost the City one million dollars. Spectators made the trek and documented the dismantling and demolition of the village making Warren’s demise the best known and documented.

If you are interested in learning more, or would like information about the sources I used for this blog, feel free to contact me at

Further Reading

Baltimore County Department of Planning, Preservation Services

Baltimore City Department of Public Works

Baltimore City Department of Public Works History of the Water Supply

Historical Society of Baltimore County

Baltimore County Public Library Historic Photographs Collection

Maryland Historical Trust - Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties

John McGrain, The Molinography of Maryland: a tabulation of mills, furnaces, and primitive industries, Maryland State Archives, 2007

Keywords: baltimore city department of public works, baltimore county department of public works, baltimore county planning department, baltimore county utilities, gunpowder river, history of loch raven reservoir, loch raven dam, loch raven reservoir

Dr. Charles Stine


image from the Johns Hopkins Magazine, 2006


and the mysterious


(Note that his article is about Warren and that some of the web sources he cites no longer exist.)

by Gorgonzola

Sun Mar 16 2003 at 14:37:16

One of Maryland's Lost Towns, a small Baltimore County mill town that met its fate at the hands of Progress.

Warren began its life in 1750 when King George III granted a certain Richard Britton land in the Gunpowder Falls Valley (the "Valley of Jehosophat"). The place was sustained by two grist mills, but probably couldn't properly be called a "town" until 1814, when a group of investors leased some of John Merryman's land to build a cotton mill. The investors included James A. Buchanan and a local Revolutionary War hero, General Samuel Smith. It is probably Smith we have to thank for the naming it after another Revolutionary War general, Joseph Warren, who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. If you have read my writeup on Smith's estate Montebello you will recall that Buchanan was embezzling from the Second Bank of the United States at the time; enough to cause a financial panic in 1819. Smith and the other investors were ruined. The Warren mill continued to produce cotton ducking and calico cloth on and off through the booms and busts of the antebellum business cycle, and the company town was a sort of eastern Hell's Half Acre. That is, until Summerfield Baldwin acquired the mill beginning in 1864. The Baldwins, devout Methodists, managed to put the mill and community on a firm footing, building a schoolhouse and forbidding alcohol.

But things were happening downstream. The City of Baltimore put its first dam on Gunpowder Falls for a water supply in the 1870's. Eventually, someone realized that Warren's privies were draining into the City's water supply and began efforts to condemn the town. In the meantime, the City's demands for water grew, and the water department began making plans for a higher dam. A 1908 attempt to secretly buy the mill resulted in a scandal. The full-scale dam had to be put off, and the original 1912 version of the upper dam was only 20 feet above the top of the lower dam


In 1922, the Baldwins finally accepted $1,000,000 for the mill and surrounding village. Residents were slow to leave, and many were shocked when crews moved in to cut down the trees, demolish the town mill, the churches, the gymnasium, and the century-old stone houses. Soon, the land on which Warren stood was drowned under the rising waters of Loch Raven Reservoir. As recently as the 1950's, some of the town's foundations could be seen poking out of the reservoir during years of severe drought.

Today, an area of southeastern Cockeysville along Warren Road is known as "Warren". A handful of the town's stone houses were moved to the area, but all of the land on which the village sat is now owned by the city, 45 feet under water, or covered by trees. Warren Road now crosses Loch Raven Reservoir on a concrete bridge, changing its name to Merrymans Mill Road on the other side.

Maryland Freestate Treasure Club -- The Treasures of Loch Raven

Treasures of Loch Raven

An aerial view of Warren just before its destruction can be seen at

Baltimore County Public Library -- Baltimore County Legacy Web - W

Wilton L. Howard, "...The Town of Warren Flourished", The Baltimore Sun

All but Buckler and Stine have an easily findable presence on the web, but I will caution that that presence is not sustainable unless related to a permanent electronic archives maintained in perpetuity by public support. Already at least one very good website devoted to the history of the Gunpowder has disappeared into the ether (as Joseph Priestley might have referred to it).

B) Where are there untapped resources and who will make them available on line and in perpetuity?

When the AP history students of Western Technical School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville produced their thoughtful and pioneering study of the history of the Baltimore Water Supply in 1999, their introduction pointed out the difficulty in finding the necessary sources to write the history of the communities that populated the watershed:

Finding proper primary sources was quite difficult. This information was

locked away and kept in places that were inaccessible to our needs. The use of maps were helpful throughout the process, however, at times the accuracy of the maps were suspect due to the map making techniques of the period studied.

What they did not know and had no easy way of finding out at the time was that, in addition to the work that Ron Parks had undertaken to preserve the Baltimore city records relating to the history of the water supply, there is an abundance of detailed and visual information about the efforts to acquire the watershed among the court records of the State.

Beginning in 1975, the Maryland State Archives began a program to save as much of the surviving court records in Maryland, particularly those relating to land ownership, as possible. For the purposes of exploring the history of the Gunpowder watershed, there are many examples, three of which have been placed on line as part of the virtual collection at the Maryland State Archives devoted to documenting and expanding the efforts of Ron Parks to make the sources of the history of the Baltimore City water supply accessible and permanently preserved.

I will begin first with a volume preserved by Ron Parks, the companion of which disappeared before he began his efforts to collect the surviving record:

Report of the Valuation Commission to the City Solicitor of Baltimore

concerning the Value of Land and Improvements

Required by the City for Enlargement of the Water Supply, Volume 1


The town of Warren about to go underwater

To understand the process by which Baltimore city acquired the water rights to the Gunpowder watershed and the State came to establish parkland along it, the court records provide an unparalleled window of observation and analysis.

The Records:


Shepherdized results

COURT OF APPEALS (Briefs) April Term 1882 No. 127 [MSA S 375-128, 1/64/14/9]

BALTIMORE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Docket) Volume 8 Page 164 [MSA C 326-8, 2/49/8/7]

BALTIMORE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Papers) Box 741 Case No. 4714 [MSA T 696, 0/35/6/17]

2) Warren Manufacturing Company of Baltimore County v. The Mayor & City Council of Baltimore et al., 119 Md. 188, 1911-1912

COURT OF APPEALS (Docket) October Term 1912 No. 22, Volume CCM 1 page 374 [MSA S 412-16, 1/67/6/2]

COURT OF APPEALS (Briefs) October Term 1912 No. 22 [MSA T 2088, 1/65/3] (2 vols.)

COURT OF APPEALS (Miscellaneous Papers) October Term 1912 No. 22 [MSA S 397-50, 1/65/6/33]

COURT OF APPEALS (Opinions) October Term 1912 No. 22 [MSA S 393-159, 1/65/14/9]

BALTIMORE CITY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Docket, Index) 1853-1982, MAV-MEN [MSA CM 1295-20, CR 69,129]

BALTIMORE CITY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Docket A, Miscellaneous) Volume 51A pp. 322, 445, 452 and 459 [MSA T 55-51, 3/4/1/34]

BALTIMORE CITY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Papers A, Miscellaneous) Boxes 2813 & 2814 Case No. A6166 [MSA T 53, 3/8/8/26 & 3/8/8/27]

Blueprints of Warren Manufacturing buildings

BALTIMORE CITY ARCHIVES, Law Department, RG 13-1-13225k, newspaper clipping file.

Bromley Atlas of Baltimore County, 1915, detail from plate 38 of Warren, Maryland on the Gunpowder River.

3 ) William H. Hoffman v. Warren Mfg.

62 Md. 162, 1884

Trial Court Records

BALTIMORE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Civil Docket) Hoffman v. Warren Mfg., 1883, Liber WMI 15, pp. 173, 249, 280, MdHR 20,222-14 [MSA C358-14, 2/48/14/14].

Appellate Court Records

COURT OF APPEALS (Docket) Warren Mfg. v. Hoffman, 1884, April Term, no. 59, Liber SCJ 1, p. 348, MdHR 637 [MSA S412-11, 1/66/14/42].

COURT OF APPEALS (Opinions) Warren Mfg. v. Hoffman, 1884, April Term, no. 59, MdHR 707-88 [MSA S393-74, 1/65/13/020].

COURT OF APPEALS (Judgments) Warren Mfg. v. Hoffman, 1884, April Term, no. 59, MdHR 683-503 [MSA S381-328, 1/63/08/008]

Scanned as msaref 5458-51-4035

4) Acquisition of Hoffman Property by Baltimore City

2 July 1901:

Hoffman lands sold to Rockdale Powder Co.

BA Land Records, MBM 245, p. 476-488; Carroll Land Records JHB 93, p. 266-285 (note that both deeds are the same).

Land sold for $100,000. 7 tracts of land, totaling 1160 acres.

30 December 1924:

Rockdale sold lands to Title Guarantee & Trust Co.

BA Land Records 605, p. 216-231 [CE62-506]; Carroll Land Records WMM 144, p. 505-514 [CE56-132] (note that both deeds are the same).

7 tracts of land, totaling 1160 acres. Sold for $5.00 and "other valuable considerations."

14 January 1925 Title Guarantee & Trust Co. sold land to Mayor & City Council, 14 January 1925

BA Land Records WPC 627, p. 416-416 [CE62-627]

The city bought the land for $5.00 and "other valuable considerations" (i.e. a player to be named later). Land purchased for the construction of Prettyboy Dam.

Map showing locations of paper mills in northern Baltimore County

Hoffman & Sons owned Gunpowder, Clipper, Rockdale, and Hoffman (at Silver Run) paper mills. Not shown on the map is the Hoffman's Marble Vale mill, located on Paper Mill Road, near Cockeysville, which burned in 1888.

Map from McGrain, From Pig Iron to Cotton Duck, p. 269.


John W. McGrain, From Pig Iron to Cotton Duck: A History of Manufacturing Villages in Baltimore County, vol. 1, p. 274-279.

Mary A. Seitz, The History of the Hoffman Paper Mills in Maryland, p. 51-53.

III. The Challenge:

A) sustaining the triumph

The only way that the success of preserving the Gunpowder watershed can be sustained is by the public realizing that the resources represented by the watershed (tree cover, naturally ‘clean’ water, etc) must be preserved from development and managed by public entitities paid for by tax dollars. I leave that discussion to others

B) keeping the memory of what transpired

If we don’t pay attention to the care, preservation, and access of the memories of the past as represented in the surviving public and private records, much of the lessons of the triumph will be lost and our understanding of the human experience on the land and its instructive power for the future will we lost. We will be condemned as George Santayana warned us, to repeat the sins of the past.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

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