Catonsville Book

CatonsvilleAs you turn the pages of this book, Catonsville’s past does not seem that long ago.  You will recognize many buildings and locales which are familiar to you.  Your Catonsville is not that much different, in many respects, from the village of over 100 years ago. Many of the residents of the 1880s, or before, lived in the same houses, worshipped at the same churches, and attended the same schools that you do.

Street names will come to mean more to you than, well, just street names.  Many streets on which you live and often travel will bring to mind images of people, grand homes and estates which you will read about in this book. What was once a mundane green metal sign will be a ghost of Catonsville’s past in reminders such as Fusting, Hilton, Beechwood, Summit, Oakwood, Ingleside, Kenwood,  Bloomsbury, Devere, Keidel, Oak Grove, Gary,  Tanglewood, Dunmore, Uplands, Athol, Rosemont, Academy and Beaumont.

You may read about some locations (Uplands, Athol, Pine Crest, Ventnor Lodge) and say to yourself, “Why, that’s in the city, not Catonsville.”  You are correct by today’s boundaries.  In 1918 Baltimore County annexed a large section of its eastern border to Baltimore City.  This was due to County residents wanting to take advantage of City utilities and services.  Before 1918, Catonsville extended east on Frederick Road to approximately Augusta Avenue.

In the first chapter, “It all began with the Catons,” you will meet the town’s namesake, Richard Caton, and his wife, Mary “Polly” Carroll Caton.  Polly’s father, Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll, can almost be thought of as a “silent partner” in the creation of Catonsville.  It was upon his land, not land belonging to Richard Caton, that Catonsville was built.  Carroll sent his bankrupt son-in-law to manage the land he owned west of Baltimore City.  You could, in some respects, call Catonsville “Carrollsville” and still be accurately reflecting its origin.

The second chapter, “Grand Homes of Catonsville,” will take you to a time of great wealth and the halcyon days of the late 1880s and early 1900s.  A time before income tax, when a man was able kept every dollar he made. To escape the heat of Baltimore’s hot summers, many wealthy families built summer homes in Catonsville.  These homes not only served as luxuries, they served as status symbols as well.  The rivalry amongst the prosperous homeowners left behind some elegant enhancements to the area.  Some have stood the test of time and still stand either as private residences or institutions.  Some, sadly, fell in the path of progress, primarily Interstate 695, and were razed.  A few remnants remain; a gatepost here, a stone fence there.

You will also meet families who spent a few months out of the year in Catonsville.  Some of their fortunes were made in railroads, lumber, transatlantic shipping, chemistry, and banking, just to name a few of their successful endeavors.

The third chapter, “Main Street and Beyond,” takes you down Frederick Road, still called “Main Street” by many people today.  You will meet the proprietors and their businesses, which served the community then, and, in some cases, still do today. Turn of the 20th century real estate developments of Eden Terrace, Summit Park, Paradise and Forest Park brought additional well-to-do families, but unlike their summer dwelling counterparts they stayed year round.  They became the backbone of Catonsville’s commerce.

The completion of the Catonsville Short Line Railroad, in 1884, made the burg attractive to middle income families.  A diverse village was born.  The post World War II housing boom brought additional families. Between the years 1880 and 1940, Catonsville went from being a rural village to a modern suburb.

The fourth and fifth chapters, “Hallowed Halls of Learning,” and “Houses of Worship” pay tribute to the institutions that makes one truly feel that they are a part of a community.   Maryland is second only to New York in having the most immigrants settle here.  The region had a large German population which was responsible for, among other things, the formation of Salem Lutheran Church in 1849.  A German congregation was formed by the assistant rector at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Adolph Frost, shortly after it was founded in 1844.  Both of these churches, which still stand, are located on Ingleside Avenue.

Schools were attracted to the area due to its healthy, elevated climate and country setting.  It gave Baltimore families a place to send their children where they could concentrate on their studies and not be distracted by the hustle and bustle of city life.  Many of the schools achieved nationwide accolades.  St. Timothy’s School for girls and the Roberts-Beach School, to name a few.

When the Maryland State Hospital for the Insane, now known as Spring Grove, relocated to Catonsville, it began an era of mental health facilities in the area.  In chapter six, “Sanitariums,” you meet the Gundry family.  The Gundry’s were a multi-generational family of psychologists who were responsible for most of the areas sanitariums.  What appealed to the summer-dwellers and educational founders, also, it seems, made for an ideal location for those suffering from mental maladies.

The last chapter, “Faces and Places,” is made up of people and images that appealed to me in my research.  Many of these stories have never been told before.  I hope that you find them interesting as well.  Although she died before I was born, I feel as if I made a new friend in Trudy Brosenne after I spent the evening with her sister, looking through her scrapbook and hearing about her life.  I hope that you find her story and smile inspirational as well.

If this book is your first foray into Catonsville history, then I encourage you to not stop when you turn the last page.  Go and explore for yourself, and you just might make an historical discovery of your own!  If you are well versed on the subject of Catonsville’s history, I hope that I cause you to pause, once or twice, to think, “I never knew that!”