History

The Original East Baltimore Historic District developed as an extension of Jones Town, or Old Town, one of Baltimore's three early eighteenth century settlements, which became part of the city in 1745.  The district comprised of seventy city blocks covering approximately 194 acres, generally bounded by the Jones Falls, Greenmount Cemetery, North Avenue, Broadway, and Eager Street.

This area flourished as a market town and proliferating commercial center in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

The blocks, north of E. Chase Street, between Aisquith Street or Central Avenue on the west, and Bond Street on the east, were filled with three-story, three-and-two-bay-wide early Italianate-style houses between 1868 and 1873. Most of the builders put up three-bay-wide houses on the main north-south arteries like North Bond, Caroline, and Eden Streets, but narrower, and therefore less expensive two-bay-wide houses on the connecting east-west streets. For the narrow, mid-block "alley" streets—Bethel, Dallas, and Spring, they developed a tiny, two-story, two-bay-wide early Italianate house, with a shed roof and projecting cornice just like that on the main street house. In this way, builders provided affordable housing for all levels of people needing, or wanting, to live in the area. 

As the residential areas expanded, a number of important new churches and institutional buildings also opened in the post-Civil-War decade, all associated with the Catholic Church and designed to serve the needs of the new Irish and German residents of the area.

The brick Harford Avenue Methodist Church, at the northeast corner of Harford Avenue and Biddle Street, built in 1850, was a modest two-story structure fronted by a central tower.  The former North Avenue M.E. Church, on the southwest corner of North Avenue and N. Caroline Street, designed by J.E. Laferty, in 1895; and the much simpler former Lutheran Church of the Reformation, on the northwest corner of Caroline and Lanvale Streets, designed by Laferty in 1892-93 and rebuilt by him after a fire in 1914.

 

The last large church built in the Historic District, St Paul's Roman Catholic Church, at the southeast corner of Caroline and Oliver Streets.  The dominant structure served as St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church until the congregation of St. Francis Xavier took it over. They remained here until 1968 when they merged with the Catholic congregation at St. Paul's (Oliver and Caroline Streets) and renamed that much larger structure St. Francis Xavier.

 

Originally the public grammar school was built in 1890, with an annex added in 1931, the old building now houses the Oliver Multi-Purpose Center and has large, modern additions to its north.  Before the erection of this school the local grammar and primary schools shared a building at the northwest corner of Preston and Eden Streets, now gone.

A Historic Faith of Saint Francis

Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church

 

Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church was the first African American Catholic Church in the United States!  The building, located on the corner of Calvert and Pleasant Street in Baltimore, Maryland, was originally constructed in 1836. By 1839 the structure sustained damages from a heavy flood and filed bankruptcy.  The building was then transformed into a public place and used as an assembly hall.

 

The majority of the black Catholics in this city hailed from the arrival of six ships in 1791 that docked at Fell’s Point and held both free and enslaved peoples who spoke French and practiced the Catholic faith.  In 1857, the Jesuit Fathers of Loyola College invited the growing congregation of St. Francis to use the basement of St. Ignatius Church.  The newly acquired St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church received some renovations, and was blessed on February 21, 1864 by Archbishop Martin J. Spalding.  

 

Missionary priests arrived in response to the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore meeting in 1866, which addressed the need for administering to the African American Community.  Pope Leo XIII asked the Mill Hill Fathers to work for “Negro Missions.”  In response they assumed the administration of St. Xavier Parish. They encouraged black men to join the priesthood and Father Charles Randolph Uncles, the first African American ordained priest in the United States, hailed from the Baltimore Josephites. In 1932, the church moved to Eager and Caroline Streets and then moved again in 1968 to the corner of Caroline and Oliver Streets, where the church continues to reside and serve black Baltimore Catholics today.

National Great Black in Wax Museum

The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum was established by Dr. Elmer and Joanne Martin in 1983. It was originally located on Saratoga Street, but then moved to its present location in Historic Oliver in 1985. The museum is the first one of wax in Baltimore, Maryland and the first wax museum of African American history in the nation. The museum was established in 1983 with several objectives in mind:  to inspire our youth, and to focus on displays that show the reality of slavery through modern-day issues. 

This place no longer merely celebrates black history and culture. The museum’s no Bars-Hold approach is apparent through the storytelling as It also serves as the Holocaust Museum for African-Americans, with bloody, graphic depictions of the historic brutality and gore of slavery and racism.

Wax figure of Frederick Douglass

Perhaps the most controversial exhibits have to do with the Atlantic slave trade, lynching, and racism. It is estimated 12 to 12.8 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic over a span of 400 years under horrible conditions. The wax exhibit leaves nothing to the imagination. 

The museum is preparing for an expansion of over 40,000 sq.ft, which will include shops and restaurant.  This will be supportive in the growth of Historic Oliver and its neighbouring communities.

St. Josephs Hospital

St. Joseph's Hospital, originally known as The Hospital was opened in 1864 as St. Joseph's German Catholic Hospital by three Franciscan nuns in three donated row houses on East Caroline Street to serve German immigrants. The hospital tended to 50 patients in its first year and expanded its outreach to other communities. In 1965, the hospital relocated to where it is today on Osler Drive. And from 1901 when the hospital launched a nursing program it graduated 2,100 nurses until the school closed in 1988.

St. Joseph's Hospital, 1400 North Caroline Street

Black Panther Party

The Baltimore Black Panther Chapter (1968-1972) was founded by Warren Hart but not much was accomplished outside of socialization. Hart was expelled from the party and left without any qualms. It was later discovered that he was a National Security Agency informant the entire time. After the Central Committee sent in members to reorganize the party, they became a legitimate chapter eventually led by Paul Coates, father of author Ta-Nehisi Coates.  The headquarters moved to 1209 N. Eden Street and even later to a house on 1248 N. Gay Street. In June of 1970, when Paul Coates became the defense captain. His first priority was to get the people out of jail that were unjustly sitting in there.

 

Dr. King’s assassination and the riots that followed were a large factor in promoting a new era of greater urgency surrounding civil rights. A high Black unemployment rate, a poor school system, inferior healthcare, lack of effective Black representation, and desire for Black empowerment helped give rise to the emergence of the Black Panther Party in Baltimore. 

 

Because Maryland prohibited the open carry of firearms, the Baltimore chapter did not engage in armed programs. This, alongside the discouraging of police patrols after Huey Newton’s arrest, gave the chapter freer time to focus on education and survival programs. Baltimore survival programs include A free Breakfast Program started in 1969 at St. Vincent’s D. Poore’s church at Valley and Eager Street., which was mandatory for all chapters, as well as a Free Lunch Program they created for younger children during the summer.

The Breakfast Program had to change locations three times in two years, due to the lack of funding and support the chapter was receiving. With police repression, a large amount of funds went to legal fees and bail.  They established a Free Legal Clinic and, for a while and ran a Food Co-op. The legal clinic helped citizens with rent disputes and educated people on the law, which was helpful in police interactions. The Panthers also did clothing giveaways and helped welfare mothers and poor residents by giving them money directly.  They helped found the People’s Health Clinic, which was located at Greenmount Avenue and 33rd Street in East Baltimore.

 

In 1973, the Black Panthers left Baltimore for Oakland, California. “Several community leaders in Baltimore said the Black Panthers’ failure here was primarily due to the unacceptability of its original gospel of armed struggle and the publicity it received in its confrontations with police” (The Baltimore Sun, April 14, 1973).

References

Baltimore Sun

Historic Oliver, Giselle Bella