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 classes.
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
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
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.
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
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.
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
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.
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
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
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
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.
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
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.
From the Canton Company to the Future
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
According to the Baltimore Historical Society Canton became the Canton we now know because of the Canton Company that began in 1828 with the start of the Industrial Revolution that continued in Canton until well into the 1980s and many people feel that the Spirit of the Revolution continues even today. At one time, the Canton Company owned and leased more than 10,000 acres where industry could flourish under a benevolent company. Industries would come and go, but there was always another industry and a new idea that would replace it successfully. Today, we have an expanding Brewer’s Hill Technology Area that is spreading east and north to fuse with the expanding Medical Complex taking place at Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus, and we have heard about a new company involved with the Personal Genome Project. Yes, the Canton Company is very much alive in spirit even today.
The Canton Company and the Clinton Street Development
From 1828 until now, Canton was about the Canton Company that orchestrated the development of successful industries that graced its shoreline. Canton at the beginning contained itself around a central area just east of Harris Creek (buried now under the Safeway parking lot) and ending around Clinton Street. It was here in the manufacturing district that we would find the Oyster industry, the canning and packing industry, the Cooper iron company, the smokestack industries and to the north, breweries. 1828-1878 was the timing of this development.
The Canton Company was privately owned, but had been given a major boost from a State Charter that literally gave the Company the right to build and develop just about everything it needed to be successful with the 3,000 acres from the Captain O’Donnell Estate.
Right from the start the Canton Company was being successfully traded as a stock on Wall Street because of speculation arising from the coming of the B&O railroad and lots of land lying close to deep water. Perhaps, the most important thing the Company did early on was to build streets and houses to provide a community for its workers — a community that lasted for decades.
If you look at the map above, the top part represents the central area of Canton and later would be identified as Historic Canton. Just to the right of the map and going to the bottom of the map is an area that we called “going down Clinton Street.” It is here where major successful development took place from 1878 on that had to do with the building of piers and the Canton Waterfront Terminals and Canton Warehousing.This was made possible by the Canton Company purchasing 7,000 additional acres from the Colgate Estate.
This was the beginning of port activity that would continue and flourish to this day. It also played a major part in the development of the Maryland Port Authority. The Canton Company would build its own Union Railroad to be the connector line between the pier industry and the larger trunk railroads. The Pennsylvania Railroad already had been hauling coal from Pennsylvania to the Canton Piers and decided to invest heavy cash into the area, first by purchasing the Union Railroad and building additional piers for the developing Coal Industry.
In 1921, the Rukert Company came into this area and become a major player in building the Rukert Pier Terminals approaching now 100 years ago. In recent years the Rukert development has shifted many of its operations to the end of Clinton Street and eastward toward the Seagirt and Dundalk Terminals. It is here where the cargo handling from the large container ships is having its greatest impact.
The Maryland Port Authority has seen its successes because of these shifts and changes. The Clinton Street development, orchestrated by the Canton Company, was a major reason for facilitating this success.
What is the Steel Structure in the water off the Canton Waterfront Park?
It has many names, but it is known best as a Railroad Transfer Bridge that once allowed the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad to ferry freight cars between Locust Point and the Canton area. They were transferred on and off rail-adjusted barges called carfloats.
Carfloating started in the Baltimore Harbor about 1871 and ended in 1969. This one in Canton was thought to have been built about 1912. This two story gantry was left behind as a remnant of the Industrial Revolution that began in the Canton area in 1828 and continues today. It is a reminder of the working harbor that once was needed by the railroad companies to rapidly transport cargo from Locust Point to Canton and destinations further north. Steve Cree of Canton Neighbors Facebook page, provided the following picture of a carfloat and Railroad Transfer Bridge in use on Clinton Street.
The Charter that the Canton Company received from the State of Maryland in 1828 would allow the Company “exclusive rights to build piers, wharves, industries and warehouses along the shoreline.” When it purchased the 3,000 acres of the Captain O’Donnell Estate the Canton Company acquired 2.5 miles of shoreline property next to deep water and access to the Chesapeake Bay as well as to the many farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Canton Cove’s steel icon can be seen in picture scenes throughout the Canton area. I was contacted recently by someone from Light City who wanted to know a structure in Canton that could be lighted up to show Canton off. I immediately thought of the iconic carfloat of Canton, so look for it when Light City Baltimore comes around again.
Harris and Gorsuch Creeks, 1815
Canton in 1815 shows Harris Creek dividing the Canton area. To the West was Fells Point and Baltimore City. To the East of Harris Creek was the 2,500 acres of the Colonel John O’Donnell Estate that was called Canton.
Notice how large Harris Creek was at that time. It even extended into Patterson Park. Looking closely, you can see the David Stodder Boat Yard where the Constellation was launched in 1797.
The interesting aspect of this map is the finding of Gorsuch Creek at the top of the map. It looks as if the Clinton street area was a peninsula with water on both sides of it. Just like Harris Creek, the Gorsuch Creek no longer exists. Both have been covered over.
First U.S. Navy Yard was in Canton at the foot of Harris Creek
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
The Copper Company in Canton and the Guggenheim Family
Many successful Industries developed in the Canton area as a result of the Industrial Revolution that spread throughout the historic designated section and then down Clinton Street and along the deep water where port activities were taking place.
To the left of Clinton Street, inside the large industrial park site, other successful industries were taking place to fuel the Revolution. Perhaps, the most famous was the “Baltimore Copper Smelting & Rolling Company” which began in 1850 to refine copper. By 1927, it would become the largest copper refining plant in the World. In 1860, the business was turning out 6,000,000 pounds of refined copper annually, the largest production in the United States. It covered 45 acres and employed 12,000 workers.
Over the many years of its existence, it underwent many mergers to consolidate this Industry. The interesting aspect of the copper company had to do with its workers who were often Welsh laborers. In early days, copper smelting was a closed trade and fathers guarded their knowledge closely, handing it down only to their sons.
At one point, the president of the Canton Company went to Europe to get workers and bring them into the country.They came from the Swansea district in Wales. The Canton Company went on to build a row of three-story brick houses which became known as Copper Row. When this was not enough, they congregated their houses around the their Welsh church on Toone Street.
Two prominent backers of this copper company were Johns Hopkins and John W. Garrett. Johns Hopkins’ copper-earned money went on to begin the Johns Hopkins University and the Johns Hopkins Hospital. John Garrett became President of the B&O Railroad and lived in the mansion now known as the Engineers Club in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore. Garrett County is named after him.
The Copper Company would continue as a working plant until 1975 when it closed. At this point, it was known as the American Smelting and Refining Company and ended up being owned by the Guggenheim Family, the same family known for the Guggenheim Museum in Washington.
Just below this copper plant in Canton was once a very swampy area caused by the Gorsuch Creek that had its run arising near the Bayview Hospital. At some point, this entire area was filled in and became the rail yard for the Canton Company’s Canton Railroad and their warehouses. Today, we can see huge pilings of salt (white) and coal (black) in between these warehouses.
I wanted to do this piece because for many years I would travel down Clinton Street and never knew what occupied the land to the left of my drive. Now I know and it is even more important to me because my father worked many years for the “Copper Company” as workers would call it.
The Rise and Decline of the Canton Company
The Industrial Revolution began in Canton in 1828 just outside Baltimore and east of Harris Creek. It resulted from the Canton Company obtaining a unique Charter from the General Assembly of Maryland to take advantage of the 3,000 acres (recently purchased from the Captain O’Donnell Estate) in setting up an industrial neighborhood that would provide a stable force to work in local industry for decades to come.
It did not hurt that mobile steam power became available and was replacing stream power from the falls….. or that railroads for transportation were being perfected…. or that there were food needs that could be met with the canning and packing industries, the most successful being the Oyster Industry that helped to supply needed food to the ’49ers in California and the soldiers in the Civil War being fought nearby.
The proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and the farms of the Eastern Shore of Maryland were a constant source for water and land produce to fuel these industries in Canton. The Smokestack Industry in Canton had begun. However, the Industrial Revolution would not end with the Smokestack Industries, but would expand and extend further south and east and last for many years into the 1980s.
(Click on image above to enlarge.)
This map shows that the original footprint of 3,000 acres would grow even more with the purchase of 7,000 acres from the Colonel Colgate Estate and go further east to Back River. Along the way, industries would come and go but there would always be new industries to step up, flourish for a while, start to decline, and then give way to another industry cycle. The direction of this industrial flow can be seen in the map above and the various industries associated with each approximate time period are as follows:
Wooden Historic Ships
Canning and Packing Industry
Cooper (Abbott) Iron Company
Can, Tin and Bottle Companies
Standard Oil Company, Humble Oil, Esso
Copper Smelting and Refineries, American, Baltimore Copper
(3) Pennsylvania RR Coal Pier
Rukert Piers, Terminals and Warehouses
Union Railroad Company
Sand and Gravel Companies
Port activities exporting and inporting
Canton Railroad Company
Lower Canton Piers
Western Electric Company
Lever Brothers Soap Products
Later, Amazon Companies
(5) Brewers Hill
Personal Genome Company
AOL and other Tech Companies
Anchor Post Products
Cross and Blackwell Company
(6) The Canton Center Industrial Park
Eastern Stainless Steel Company
In summary, these companies represent only a fraction of the many companies that took advantage of the Canton Company over close to 190 years that the Company would stay in existence.
The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that the Canton Company dynamically kept companies coming and helping with their success by either entering into partnership with them or creating conditions that would benefit their products.
Overall, the Canton Company is the reason behind what Canton is all about today and the industrial success story continues east as the fusion with medicine from the Johns Hopkins Bayview Campus is about to take place. Keep an eye on this futuristic endeavor!
The Role of Saint Brigid Catholic Church in Canton History (1854 – 2018)
The Canton Company began the Industrial Revolution in Canton in 1828 and enjoyed successful adventures up until the 1980s. The Canton Company was able to transform the Canton area into a complete industrial neighborhood that would provide a stable working force for decades. It has been said that the Company had a 70% employee retention rate which is very high for any era. The Canton Company was benevolent with its workers and provided them with affordable housing, social amenities, and even churches.
The cornerstone of St. Bridget’s Church was laid in May, 1854. It was established as a mission of St.Patrick’s Church on Broadway whose Pastor was Rev. James Dolan. He named the new church in honor of his mother, Bridget O’Donnell Dolan. Later, the name was changed to St. Brigid.
The first resident priest was the Rev. James Gibbons who was delegated by Rev. Dolan in 1861 to run the mission church. The new church was needed because of the large number of Catholics employed at Abbott’s Rolling Mill and the Clinton Street blast furnaces.
However, in 1862, there was a shortage of priests due to the Civil War and Rev. James Gibbons was asked to also assume care of a church in Locust Point, now called Our Lady of Good Counsel on Fort Ave.
Every Sunday morning at 6 AM, the young priest would row from the Canton Waterfront Park across the river to Locust Point to hear confessions, say Mass, preach, baptize and attend sick calls at the church there. He then would row back across the river to Canton in time for the 10:30 AM High Mass at St.Brigid where he would also deliver a sermon.
Father James Gibbons would go on to become the youngest Archbishop of Baltimore and 10 years later in 1887 became the second Cardinal of the United States. In his 40+ years linked to the Basilica in Baltimore he ordained more than 2,400 men to the priesthood in the Basilica sanctuary.
Today, James Cardinal Gibbons stands as one of the greatest churchmen of America. His public utterances commanded immediate attention. Cardinal Gibbons developed a warm relationship with several U.S. Presidents who consulted him on a number of issues. Teddy Roosevelt would often come to Baltimore to get the Cardinal’s advice.
In 1884, the Pope asked him to preside over the Third Plenary Council in Baltimore and the Baltimore Catechism resulted and has been used around the world. His strong commitment to the Catholic Church can be seen in the book “The Faith of our Fathers.”
A personal note from Dr. Bahr…
St. Brigid Church in Canton closed abruptly Saturday, June 30, 2018, after its last Mass. What does this say about this church that has occupied this space on the corner of Ellwood Ave. and Hudson Street for 164 years and now has been closed abruptly for it’s parishioners?
It is true that churchgoers have been down, but St. Brigid’s has occupied a sacred space in this community for over 164 years and was the first church assigned to perhaps the most important and influential priest in our Archdiocese, James Cardinal Gibbons. It’s Historic Value to the Catholic Church needs to be preserved and not sold to a developer who could do anything, even tear down the church for more condos to be built.
Personally, it is a shame to quickly have a Mass to end St. Brigid’s without a special Mass in which the Archbishop participates and invites many priests of the diocese to join and Celebrate the life of the Church here and the early life of James Cardinal Gibbons.
My family spent most of their life in St. Brigid activities. My wife Pat and I got married there in June 1962. There are many like us who will miss going to St.Brigid’s Mass. Hopefully, we can preserve the spirit of St. Bridgid’s with Knowledge of the above Historic Significance.