Dr. Ray Bahr was born and raised in Canton and has first-hand knowledge of the vast and, yet, exciting changes that this neighborhood has undergone over the past 60+ years. He and his wife, Pat, moved into Canton Cove in 2003. From their waterfront perch Ray and Pat are keen observers of life on the Canton waterfront. Ray is intimately involved in city-wide efforts to improve and preserve the quality of our watershed and vibrancy of our local parks and by-ways.
If you see Ray ask him about when he and the Canton boys played fast-pitch softball on the famous ball field where DuBurns arena stands now. Or let him show you where Baltimoreans came to swim or be baptized at the sandy beach in Canton Cove. Despite what you see on that TV commercial, Ray Bahr could be ‘the most interesting man in the world.’
Before he retired, Dr. Bahr was Coronary Care Unit Director at St. Agnes Hospital and founder of the Chest Pain Center Society for Heart Attack Care. He still works diligently to get defibrillators placed at venues where numbers of people gather across the city.
Since retirement Ray has taken on the mantle of assembling a coherent and compelling history of Canton so future generations will know that our little corner of the city played a world-wide part in the industrialization and transportation markets around the globe.
You might want to check out his Facebook page to see the daily photos he takes of the waterfront at all times of day and night, through all seasons and weather. Thank you, Ray, for becoming our collective memory bank. Enjoy his class, Canton 101.
Canton 101 – The Canton Company
The Canton Company’s Beginnings
Financial investment and Wall Street involvement jump-started the Canton Company (1828-1980) and brought about an Industrial Revolution in Canton that was recognized throughout the United States
The financial market in New York city opened May 17,1792 on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway. Twenty-four supply brokers signed the Buttonwood Agreement under a buttonwood tree. On March 8,1817 the group renamed itself the New York Stock and Exchange Board. The Organization that would define the world’s economic future was born.
Originally conceived to compete with the Erie Canal for trade heading west to Ohio and, from there, into the largest Great Lakes, the Canton Company was given a Charter by the State of Maryland to acquire land from the estate of Captain John O’Donnell, create a Community of Workers (which became known as Canton), and to set up factories along the deep water shores that connected Baltimore to the Chesapeake Bay. Originally beginning as a real estate company the Canton Company started by purchasing 3,000 acres from the O’Donnell Estate for $105,000 “taking the whole shore from Fell’s Point dock for three miles.”
Peter Cooper, a New York capitalist and investor, was offered to become a partner, but found out later that he had put the entire sum up for the sale. When he found out about this he immediately put it all up for sale and surprisingly doubled his investment
He agreed to take a considerable portion in stock at $43 per share and “as good luck would have it, the stock commenced rising almost at once.” Speculation was rampant that the B&O Railroad was being completed and there was plenty of deep water real estate to the east. Hence, The Canton Company stock became the “darling of Wall Street.”
What made the deal even sweeter was the Charter given by the State of Maryland in the year 1828,”conferring corporate powers more varied and extensive than were ever granted before or since in any State of the Union” (Note: This information requires a separate section and will be addressed at another time.)
The original Charter of the Company in 1828 limited the capital stock at 20,000 Shares at $100 each. In 1853 an amendment authorized the issue to the Stockholders of four shares per share.
In 1853, the Canton Company was free of debt and the Company’s land was valued to be $1,250,000 with more land being added as Company property was being extended down Clinton Street and further east with the purchase of the Colgate Estate.
The value of the Canton Company continued to rise with the considerable deep water wharf lots. The Company at this time owned more than 19,000 building lots, laid out 20 ft x 100 ft. “making an aggregate valuation of the whole property of the Company at $ 6,556,628.16, and this did not include the vast improvement to be expected by the building of the Union Railroad by the Company (Cited: Special Report to the Stockholders March 10th,1871.)
Canton today owes a lot to the Canton Company for over 150 years of nourishing Cantonites along with an industrial spirit that was unsurpassed across our Nation.
The Big Bang of the Industrial Revolution took place here in Canton in 1828. It had everything coming together for this to happen and for it to last so long…..but, it does not stop here.
It now has a different working class that is yet to be defined. Can you imagine that 10 years ago, there was no iPhone?……almost hard to believe! One cannot imagine what will take place in this vibrant and robust community of the young and creative, but they are continuing the great Canton revolution.
Canton Hollow, The Canton Company’s Reason for Being
The land facing the Canton Hollow with ships awaiting their turn to go into the Inner Harbor, was followed by the Pennsylvania RR Yard and the offshore Transfer Bridge, and now because of the efforts of William Donald Schaefer has become the Canton Waterfront Park.
Life in Canton during the early 1800s was interesting and attractive for some, hard and miserable for many others. One of the centers for social activity in the early days of Canton was a white-washed log tavern known as the White House. Located on a corner of what are now Boston and Clinton Streets, it overlooked Canton Hollow (photo) which was the traditional anchorage – first for the Baltimore Clippers (Pride); then for the brigs and barcs of the Brazilian coffee trade; and during the early 20th century, for the Chesapeake Bay schooners and rams.
Canton Hollow was the location where boats would moor before getting their instruction to go into the Inner Harbor, which at that time was Fells Point. In the photo above, you can appreciate the large number of ships in anchorage.
As part of the Industrial Revolution that was taking place in the Canton area, the Pennsylvania Railroad established a yard, including the ferrying of railroad cars between Canton and Locust Point. The structure we still see outside Canton Cove was the terminal point at which railroad cars left the land and went onto the barges that carried them to and fro across the harbor.
Later, Mayor William Donald Schaefer was able to get this valuable piece of land for the City and made it into a waterfront park that looks out into the harbor at the entrance to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor between Fort McHenry on the right and Rukert’s Lighthouse on the left.
The Views from the (Schaefer) Waterfront Park has to be one of the most picturesque views in all of Baltimore. It has always been a treasure ready to be discovered. The 7-mile long Baltimore Promenade that follows the harbor starts here. There seems to be room for all kind of leisure life to forget one’s woes and open up to all that is taking place before one’s eyes and ears. Friendly gestures brightens one’s spirit. Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. would be proud to have this as part of his Baltimore Plan.
First Thursdays (WTMD radio) fill the park with music lovers catching the water views as a background. Pop up Yoga and Sunday morning Yoga with a parade of young couples walking with mats in hand toward the park from all over the Canton, Fells Point and Highlandtown areas. Wedding parties and photo-ops galore fit into the overall mixture of people-friendly activities.
It is important to appreciate what we presently have here in the Canton Waterfront Park. A City Master Plan is being designed this year, and it is hoped that Cantonites step-up and not let the new design get out of line with the spacious tranquility that we now enjoy every day.
Streets of Historic Canton
Old Canton or Historic Canton is defined as Chester Street on the west side, Conkling Street on the east side, Eastern Ave to the north side and Boston Street on the south side. Actually, it is more than just Boston Street, but along the water edge to be exact.
Many of these streets were laid and paved early by the Canton Company as part of the Industrial Revolution that started in Canton about 1828. This industrial community of workers and their families became the work force that supplied workers to the oyster industry and the packing houses that were a part of early Canton.
It has been stated that the area from Chester Street to Lakewood Ave was once the Canning Center of the world. The work force in Canton was the most stable in the nation with a remarkable 70% retention rate. Workers did not leave Canton.
The Canton Company was considered benevolent in supplying low cost housing to its workers, making generous donations to churches, and providing social amenities for its workers’ families.
Many of the street names have been replaced by new names:
Patuxent Street is now Linwood Ave
Chesapeake Street is now Kenwood Ave
Patapsco Street is now Lakewood Ave
Canton Street is now Fleet Street
Lancaster Street is now Fait Ave.
Notice that many of the former names came from rivers and reflected the seaport nature of the shoreline property.
Canton started with the Historic Canton (Old Canton) and would continue the Industrial Revolution to the south (down Clinton Street) as well as more to the east (out Boston Street) where the trend is still going on.
Historic Canton was divided initially into half Baltimore City and half Baltimore County with the dividing line being East Ave. In 1918, this would change with a further extension and making Historic Canton all Baltimore City.
You may still hear someone talk about Conkling Street being Third Street. That is because streets were first named numerically. Thus:
First Street became Highland Ave,
Second Street became Baylis Street,
Third Street became Conkling Street, etc.
This would continue eastward for twenty more streets with the new name taking the next letter up in the alphabet.
The same nomenclature took place going south down Clinton Street from Toone Street:
First Street became Boston Street
Second Street became Cardiff Street
Third Street became Danville Street
Ninth Street became Keith Ave, etc.
Again each new street started its name with the next letter up in the alphabet.
What do you think was the reason for all of this street naming? I think that Historic Canton (Old Canton) got it started. When it became necessary to expand south and east, it was as if they were creating pathways in the forest and they started by naming them 1,2,3,4,5 etc. Then when they needed more streets to go with these, they thought of names for the streets and put them in alphabetic order to make them easy remember. It makes sense!
The Industrial Revolution in Canton engineered by the Canton Company in 1828 lasted until the 1980s. In some respect, the Industrial Revolution is still going on with different kinds of industry never thought possible in the 19th, even 20th, Centuries. The 21st Century revolution in Canton is superimposed on the backs of a solid industrial and historic past.
The Spirit of Canton past now lives on in the hands of a younger generation that works hard, is creative and knows how to play and enjoy the fruits of its labors. Long live Canton!
The Little Streets of Canton
You must have noticed that, even though Canton is a grid of streets, there is are noticeable difference among these streets. Some are wide and some are very narrow – hardly as wide as one row house.
Wide streets are:
East Ave, Clinton St, Ellwood Ave, Potomac St, Linwood Ave, Kenwood Ave, and Lakewood Ave
Little streets are:
Bouldin St, Robinson St, Decker Ave, Curley St, Streeper St, and Binney St
Infiltration of German and Irish among the Welsh copper workers began in the 1870s. The Continued expansion of the copper plant brought thousands of additional mechanics into Canton.
Blocks of new houses were erected for the newcomers in Canton. Many of these houses were constructed on streets that were only 12 feet wide. Folger McKinsey, a Baltimore Sun Reporter, wrote a poem about these little streets.
The Little Streets of Canton
The little streets of Canton, I like to wander there
Dipping with them to the docks that flourish everywhere.
The little streets where sailors, when sailing was so fine,
Came up to spend a little while awaiting for the line!
A chandler has this building; a man of junk has that;
A sailor’s boarding house across the street-end like a hat
The little streets of Canton, and Canton Hollows, too,
With ships at anchor from the storms, I love to visit you!
New piers and great improvements, but in the old salt way,
The little streets of Canton are still like yesterday.
A dip down to the basin, a dock where pungies lie,
A schooner waiting for a tow – and Chesapeake nearby!
What was the reason for these narrow streets? I’m not sure but there seemed to be a need to get a lot of workers into a small space, cheaply, and making ‘little streets’ may have seemed the best way to achieve this.
The Footprint of the Canton Company (1828-1980s)
What made Canton really important is The Canton Company which began here in 1828 and helped orchestrate the Industrial Revolution that continues to this day.
The Canton Company had acquired in its startup some 2,000 acres from the O’Donnell Estate and planned a community of workers around miles of shoreline connecting with deep water leading into the Chesapeake Bay.
When stream power from the Falls was replaced by steam power, this allowed factories to be built anywhere because steam power was mobile, allowing for steamboats and steam-driven railroads as well.
The first major industry in Baltimore was the oyster industry that peaked in the 1870s with as much as 15 million bushels of oysters coming from the Chesapeake Bay that were sterilely canned here for shipment to the West for the “49ers” of the Gold Rush and to the East for soldiers in the Civil War.
The demand for oysters was heavy and the inventions in canning and shipping kept up with the demand. The Canton Fells Point area contained many of the factories involved in this enterprise. It was once stated that “this area was the Canning Center of the World”.
Since the oyster industry was in operation only part of the year, workers had to be retained the rest of the year. Oyster packing houses turned to the shipment of produce from the Eastern Shore, especially tomatoes. Many women and children were employed to perform the monotonous and back-breaking work of the packing houses.
Needless to say, the Canton Company continued to have successful business ventures for many years. The practice of ‘ground rent’ allowed many workers to obtain housing at lower cost and many churches were built with Company money
The Canton Company would grow and buy up more land along the water, extending down Clinton St and going East into Baltimore County. The initial 2,000 acres would grow to more than 6,000 acres.
The 1901 map below shows The Can Company’s final footprint. Notice the two colors yellow and pink. The yellow indicates the property owned by the Canton Company and the pink indicates property that had been sold by them.
The Canton Company would go out of existence in the 1980s. The Canton Railroad would be bought by the State of Maryland and periodically reminds us of its existence as it blocks traffic on Boston Street. More to come about the other industries that came and went, but always there seem to be newer ones to replace them.
From the Oyster Industry to Amazon
Industries began in 1828 in the Canton Manufacturing District (I) and moved east on Boston St until they reached Clinton St and made a turn down (II) and then would go all the way to the end of Clinton St (III), then traveled more east along the waterfront (IV), then traveled upward and more east (V) and then into Baltimore County (VI). Meanwhile,the Canton Manufacturing District would move east to Brewer’s Hill and beyond (VII).
(I)- Shipbuilding, Oyster Industry, Packing and Canning Industry, Brewing Industry, Lumber Industry were all included in the original Canton Manufacturing District. Most of this land was from the Captain O’Donnell Estate.
(II)- Oil refineries of Standard Oil Company and copper smelters lined Clinton St.
(III)- Here is where the Port became alive by the developing the Maritime Industry that made Baltimore one of the top ten Ports in the Nation. Canton Waterfront Terminals, Canton Warehouses, Canton Railroad (pier and industrial switching with connection to main lines of the B&O RR and Pennsylvania RR), Canton Cottman Company (bulk pier facilities and stevedores), Chemicals and Fertilizers, Oil and Oil engines, Coal Piers (especially the Pennsylvania RR Coal Pier), Roofing materials and Steel ran along the waterfront. In 1921, the Rukert Company came into this area and dominated the Clinton Street Ports for close to 100 years. The real estate for this part of Canton’s expansion came from the Canton Company’s purchase of the 3,000 acres of the Col. Colgate Estate which extended the Industrial Revolution in Canton.
(IV)- The Canton Company Marine Terminals Piers and the Seagirt Terminal Piers ran all the way to the Dundalk Marine Terminal Piers. Most of present day port activities take place along this area.
(V)- General Motors Company, Lever Brother Company, Western Electric Company and now the Amazon Company with all the related companies associated with Amazon Activities.
(VI)- Further development now extends into Baltimore County with the Canton Center Development Arcsomd
(VII)- New extension of the Canton Manufacturing District is occurring eastward into Brewer’s Hill where technology companies continue to arrive upon the scene.
With Johns Hopkins Bayview facility nearby, medical research companies that utilize high technology are becoming a winning combination. A good example of this is the recent announcement about Personal Genome Diagnostics’ closing on $75 Million in funding to expand from their small office to 51,000 square feet in Brewer’s Hill. The spokesperson stated, “It’s significant because this is a company that was built out of Hopkins funded by local folks, and has grown to be a significant player in what I think is the really exciting future of cancer therapeutics.”
What more could you want from a Canton Area that has been primed for this futuristic development from the very beginning. The ground here in Canton is sacred and is enriched by the young and restless who come to Canton to work and have fun, but also deliver us into a prosperous future.
Breweries in Canton
In 1853 Johann Baier opened one of the first breweries in the Canton area. Baier mastered the brewery trade in his native Bavaria and worked at a Fells Point plant before starting his own business with his wife, Anna.
During the early part of the Civil War Franz Schaeffer joined Baier’s Brewery as brew master. The German-born Schaeffer was expert in the art of lagering beer and introduced the process to Baier. The technique required large cellars at a constantly cool temperature so the brewery expanded into larger premises on the corner of O’Donnell and Dean streets.
Horse-drawn wagons transported the heavy beer barrels to customers throughout the city. At the time, production was up to ten thousand barrels a year.
Baier was only 43 when he died, leaving his widow with a popular and thriving business.
Three years later Anna Baier married Frederick Wunder, a brewery employee. Wunder would have ambitious plans for the Johann Baier Brewery. By 1872 the brewery consisted of extended lagering premises that incorporated the original cellars; a three-storied brew house; new cellars for renting out; and a Tavern, Beer Garden and Pavilion for dining and dancing. These additions were all financed by mortgage agreements with their malt suppliers, H.Strauss Brothers and Bell.
Wunder died in 1881 leaving Anna a widow for the second time. Beer production fell. The Strauss Brothers foreclosed on their loan and established the National Brewing Company on the corner of Conkling and O’Donnell Streets.
H.L. Mencken and the Gunther Brewing Company
Later on the Gunther Brewing Company would establish itself just south of the National Brewing Company on Conkling Street.
Prohibition applies to the period (1920-1933) in the history of the United States during which the prohibition of alcohol was enforced. Prohibition was instituted with ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors in the United States. Congress would pass the “Volstead Act” to enforce the law.
However, most large cities were uninterested in enforcing the law, leaving an understaffed federal service to go after bootleggers involved in organized crime associated with this illegal activity.
Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression. The repeal movement got started and emphasized the enormous sums of much needed tax revenue and weakening the base of organized crime. The Repeal of Prohibition was accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1933.
In the Memoirs of Michael V.Lardner, Mr Frank Gunther and his brother, George, had a Brewery on Conkling Street just south of the National Brewing Company. They were looking for an office boy and hired Michael Lardner who was then 15 years old. When Michael was 17 years old, he became secretary to both brothers and was sent to school in 1919 to become a bookkeeper for the Gunther Brewery.
After prohibition set in, the Brewery made real beer and then pumped it back to the kettle to de-alcoholize it by boiling it off to reduce it to the required 1/2 of 1% alcohol. Many Gunther workers opted to work on the roofs of Gunther Company to inhale the vapors that were coming up!
With prohibition and good beer at the brewery, the Gunthers found a lot of “long lost friends” who wanted to come and get some real beer! It was Michael Lardner whose job it became to procure the food for parties throughout the days and evenings.
George Gunther would say, “Mike, you take charge and get any of the help from the employees you need.” Mike always had on hand 5 barrels of Chincoteague Oysters, two dozen Diamond Back Terrapins, a deer, a bear, various cheeses, celery by the crate, large cans of pretzels, pounds of raw beef, onions, and a good supply of rye and pumpernickel breads.
Dignitaries got wind of the real beer and sumptuous food and came. Governor Ritchie, Mayor Broening, Frank Kelly, Danny Loden……and H.L. Mencken who became the centerpiece for many parties to follow. The Saturday Night Club parties would last from 9 pm until 3 or 4 in the morning. The singing became very loud, especially when it came to the German Songs.
H.L. Mencken always led the singing that would go round and round the table with lots of hilarity at some of the impromptu compositions. They would always reminiscence about the Days of Canton-past which were vibrant days full of fun and adventure.
This spirit has never left Canton. Fells Point may have its ghost stories of sailors being hijacked to far-away places and being paid by the boom on return, but here in Canton there are many stories of real men and women, courageous and risk-taking, to go along with the real beer!
Canton Race Course and a Beach!
The center of Canton in the past was at the intersection of Boston St and Clinton St where in 1840 existed the Canton Race Course. Beside horse racing, boxing matches also took place at the track.
The Race Course in Canton hosted large gatherings of people and it was here in 1840 where the Whig Party assembled and held their Convention. William Henry Harrison was nominated for President of the United States.
You may have heard of the expression, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!” Harrison had been a U.S. General in the war against the American Indians and had defeated them at the battle of Tippecanoe. John Tyler became his running mate
General Harrison went on to win and become our 9th President. Unfortunately, on his Inauguration Day, March 4, 1941, he delivered the longest inaugural speech ever (some 8,444 words but had to do so in a freezing rain, standing coatless and hatless. He died of pneumonia one month later, April 4,1841.
Forty-eight years later, his grandson Benjamin Harrison became President and this time a Harrison lasted four years in the office.
The corner of Boston St and Clinton St has always been a busy place. Even today, it remains one of the busiest places in Canton because of the traffic.
Captain O’Donnell who founded Canton is said to have lived in a large white house near this intersection. Jerome Napoleon and Baltimore’s own, Betsy Patterson, were married in this same white house by Bishop Carroll.
James Cardinal Gibbons started his priesthood at St. Patrick’s in Fells Point and was assigned two parishes, one in Locust Point (Our Lady of Good Counsel) and the other in Canton (St. Brigid’s). It is reported that he would say an early Mass in Locust Point, then row over to Canton Cove (Canton Waterfront Park) where he would walk up to St. Brigid’s and say a late morning Mass.
Later, Father Gibbons would become Archbishop of Baltimore and was elevated to Cardinal in June,1886. He became one of the favorite and longest lasting Cardinals in the Catholic Church.
The Southwest corner of Boston and Clinton streets had a beach to the water and for many years served as a full immersion baptizing area for many of the churches in and around Canton.
The future of this area now has a lot of development planned. We can only hope that our leaders in the Canton Community Association, business owners, and our thousands of happy residents are able to stay ahead of developments and address the issues before they become our problems.
Canton Grand Tour 1963
We cannot separate Canton from the Canton Company that was a leader throughout the nation’s Industrial Revolution and beyond, beginning with the start of the Company in 1828 and continuing well into the 1980s.
The Canton Company footprint consisted of approximately 3,000 acres from the O’Donnell Estate and later 3,000 acres from the Colgate Estate which took it out Eastern Ave into Baltimore County where the last pieces of the Canton Company were for sale in the “Canton Center.”
As shown in the map (below), published by the Canton Company in 1963, the Company offered a tour for potential VIP investors. They would be picked up at Penn Station and given a train tour through the Canton Company footprint which runs down Clinton St before it comes back and goes out to Baltimore County. This was promoted as the Canton Grand Tour 1963.
The President of the Canton Company traveled to Europe to bring back skilled workers in the copper refining industry and provided homes down Clinton St (Copper’s Row and Copper’s Park). In the evening after work the Company’s skilled workers started a men’s reading room which later led to Enoch Pratt’s Free Library System in Baltimore.
Canton’s ‘Industrial Revolution’ continues to this day, but is transforming in many ways that have yet to be defined. The center of this activity appears to be shifting eastward along the Boston Street corridor. The Canton Railroad, once owned by the Canton Company, now is owned and operated by the State of Maryland.