A Brief History of Reservoir Hill
The area known as Reservoir Hill can be traced back to colonial times. In the late 1700’s Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who signed the Declaration of Independence, was granted permission to buy 1,000 acres of land north of Baltimore Towne, which included Reservoir Hill.
In 1789, Carroll sold a portion of his estate to Dr. Solomon Birckhead. Birkhead named his estate, “Mt. Royal.” The Birkheads owned a home on Calvert Street, but wanted Mt Royal as a summer retreat, outside the city. Mt. Royal was between Druid Hill (north), the Jones Falls (east), North Ave. (south) & McCulloh Street (west). A 20 room gray stone mansion was built at the corner of Park Ave & Reservoir Street & was surrounded by gardens with exotic plants. The terraced gardens extended down to the Jones Falls River. In the southeast corner stood a beautiful hilltop lake that attracted visitors from miles around. This area is now occupied by the Jones Falls Expressway, On Sundays; people would stroll around the base of the hill, while youngsters scrambled to the top to get a view of the entire city.
The area surrounding Mt. Royal was considered to be rural. It was so rural that during the Civil War, Union soldiers used the cavity of Druid Park Lake as a dumping ground for dead horses. The site was given the name of Horse Heaven.
Many notable Baltimoreans bought tracts of land from Dr. Birkhead for their own country retreats. Among those were Charles & Walter BROOKS (Brooks Lane), G.W. Gail, a tobacco firm owner, Rob’t WHITELOCK (Whitlelock Street) & Enoch Pratt Carroll. Carroll’s tract was known as CALLOW GROVE (later Callow Ave.), a famous picnic area with a spring located in the 2100 block of Bolton Street. Two other notable Baltimoreans who bought tracts were Gen. Stricker (Civil War) & Robert Garrett the founder of the B&O Railroad.
Up until the 1830’s Mt. Royal remained very rural, but by the 1840’s newcomers began to migrate north from the inner city. The area above North Ave. attracted wealthy Baltimoreans who constructed large three & four story homes & large churches.
In 1860, Lloyd Rogers sold the area north of Reservoir Hill to the city. This is now what we know as Druid Hill Park. It had elaborate gardens, lakes, trails & sculptures & now contains the Maryland Zoo.
During the 1880’s Reservoir Hill’s streets were widened & paved. Among them were Reservoir Street, Madison Ave. (named for Pres. Madison), Ducatel Street, & Park Ave., which had been part of a private estate. Bolton Street was a steep narrow thoroughfare, & during the winters was roped off & used for sledding. Eventually it was widened for horse traffic. Garden Ln. (now Linden Ave) was also widened & by 1896 all of Mt Royal had been sold or developed, except the area surrounding the mansion house.
Notables who lived in Reservoir Hill include writer Gertrude Stein, Jos. Banks, the founders of both the Hecht Company and Hoschild-Kohn’s Department Stores, Isaac Emerson who invented Bromo-Setlzer, the McCormick Spice family, and the founding family of the SUNPAPERS,. Carrol Rosenbloom, the one time owner of the BALTIMORE Colts, lived in the last house on Mt Royal Terrace, and entertained then Sen. John F. Kennedy there. Babe Ruth played baseball on an open lot just east of Park Ave near the lake.
Reservoir Hill was the place wealthy Jewish Baltimore resided. It was a who’s who of Jewish Baltimore from the late 1880’s until the 1960’s.
If you tour Reservoir Hill imagine yourself as one of the elegant ladies or gentlemen who would stroll through the gardens in the 19th century.