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Full text of "The history and development of Jones' Falls in Baltimore / Wilbur A. Street."

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Th» history of Jones' Palls bogini with the history of the city of 
altimore Itself. It is a small, but at times "taken at the flood" an 
ingry and boisterous stream, rising in the northwest of Baltimore and 
entering the city at the intersection of North Avenue and Oak Street, 
flowing southeast until it intersects West Hoffman Street, thence south 
and slightly west until it intersects West Bid die Street, thence tout- 
to Hillen Street until it debouches into the Basin at the City Dock. 

Jones Falls, as it Is known to everyone today, got its name from 
David Jones, who was the first actual settler on its banks in the locality 
of Baltimore. On June 15, 1661, Peter Carrol surveyed for David Jonea 
580 acres of land on the line of what is now called Jones 1 Falls. The 
tract was named "Jones' Range". Jones also gave the name to the stre . 
He built his home on the North Side of the Falls, on what is now Front 
street, but of course, there was no street there at that time. Front 
street was originally Jones street, being so called when Jones town was 
laid out; hence the name of David Jones waB practically wiped off the 
..'.ap by the change of the name of Jones' town when it was merged with 

timore town and Jones street when it was named something else. It has 
often been proposed in late years to change the name of J'ohes Falls. 

The section east of the Falls was called Jones town until 1745, 
when the two towns were incorporated as Baltimore town. It was in 1797 
that the town assumed the magnitude of a city and was given that appella- 
tion. Until 1886 the Falls wbb the dividing line between eastern and 
western sections of the city. At that period Charles street was selected 
as the dividing line east and west and the houses renumbered. 


It has only boon recently that the falls deserved the name of a 
polluted stream — an open sewer. For many decades it was the pride of 
Baltimore city and the envy of other cities. It was famous then as a 
i"ragrant and beautiful stream. The change was brought about largely 
by the establishment of factories along its banks. At one time the 
stream was pure and undefiled and was the scene of many baptisms. 
Again in the early history of Baltimore it provided fine swimming holes 
for the boys. 

For many years no bridges crossed the Falls, Fords were constructed 
for teams and foot bridges for pedestrians „ The bridge at Qay street 
was the first to be built. This was in 17^5 and for many years this 
thoroughfare was known as Bridge street. Each of the bridges across 
the stream had Its history. The cost, location, design, and construction 
were problems of moment and afforded much discuss ion for the solons of 
those days. Many of the designs were ornamental as well as useful, 
and added materially to the tax: rate. 

A bridge at Baltimore street was erected in I76O, It was con- 
structed of stone which gave way when finished. A wooden structure 
took its place in 177 5 • Another stone bridge was built In 1808 at a 
cost of $22,000. The last iron bridge was built in 1855. 

At one time the stream swept along what is now Calvert street to 

Lexington street, washing the site occupied by the present post-office, 

then describing a "horseahow curve", flowed back north east to a poi 

where Jay street bridge used to span the stream. From thiB it struck 

a southerly direction to the water front. Incidentally it converted 

nearly all that section south of Q&y street into a swamp known as 


Looking south on 


Harrison's marsh. In spite of retaining walls, in apite of engineering 
ef forte of various characters, in spite of the money dumped into the 
ditch with the idea of converting Harrison's marsh into dry land, par- 
tial success only eae the result. 

Once upon a time gunners used to hunt reed birds at the corner 
Harrison and Baltimore — they don't do that now, but it has not been bo 
long ago that men were rowing up and down the thoroughfare in boats. 
The question, however, was not one of financial loss and inconvenience 
to the city of Baltimore in keeping bridges and walla in repair, but 
was one of health as well, for Jones' Falls finally became nothing more 
or less than an open sewer* 

The Falls has always been an expensive luxury. What were con- 
sidered vast auma of money in the old days were used in the construction 
of the bridges, the building of the retaining walla, the purchase of 
land at Back Basin so as to increase the wharfage, the construction of 
the sunken gardens at Mount Royal Terrace and the like. 

General P. C. Latrobe, who struggled valiantly with the Jones 
Falls problem at different times during his many terms as mayor, re- 
call* that in 1868 a loan for f 2, 500,000 was passed to be used on the 
Tails . A part of this m *iey was used in the construction of bridges at 
St Paul street, Calvert street, and Guilford avenue. They cost in the 
aggregate $700,000. 

The rest of the loan was used in reconstructing the retaining walls 

and building new ones. The masonry was built above the surrounding 

land, grades of adjacent streets were changed, and the channel toward 

the basin was deepened and widened. The work covered a period of two 

year* and was executed during two of General Latrobe'a early periods 

as mayor. From that time until about 1912 very little money was spent 
on the Falls. Previous to this time General Latrobe says in his 


jpinion not more than 3500,000 was epent on the walla, in building the 
imall bridges, changing the bed of the Falls, and deepening the channel, 
He estimates that up to 1910, the total spent on the falls is about 

The lower part of the city was continually subjected to floods. 
The first one occurred in 1795. Then on the occasion of August 9th, 
1817 another flood caused such serious and extensive destruction of 
property as to create a well-founded alarm for the future, and a 
general conviction that proper measures should be adopted to prevsnt 
recurrence of so great a disaster. Benjamin H, Latrobe, a civil 
engineer and architect, was accordingly employed to devise a plan for 
diverting the Palls. His plan for turning Jones' Falls from a point 
above the city into Herring Hun, was a bold one for that day, and his 
explanation of the operations of freshets in filling up the harbor, 
very convincing. The expense of carrying out his plan was probably 
too great for the limited revenue of the city at the time, and its 
postponement was perhaps natural, under a feeling of security which 
soon crept over the minds of all that such a disaster could only happen 
again at a remote period. 

From 1817 to 1857 > many partial inundations took place, not 
especially noticed except in private diaries. They were at periods 
of from four to five years, and rose to height sufficient to bring 
back water through openings for sewers, into Holliday and Harrison 
streets and the Marsh Market Space, and to fill numerous cellars and 
yards with water, inflicting serious loss on many citizens, although 
.iot brought to the notice of the general public. 

Old iron "bridge across Falls 

Fall sway crossing track of 
Northern Central R.R. 


On June 17th, 18J7 a groat and disastrous flood occurred. The 
water roee twenty feet at Centre street, ran through Harrison street 
at a depth of eight feet, and flooded all the streets from the Pall 
to Calvert streets, rising two feet above the pavement at the City 
Spring. The stone bridges at Baltimore and Pratt streets were destr :/ad. 
Seventeen lives were lost on this occasion. 

On July 24th, 1868 the Falls again broke its bounds and caused 
so much destruction that the people were forced to take immediate 
action. It was evident that the deposits of vegetable and animal 
matter in the cellars and other receptacles was conducive to an epide- 
mic* A commission of engineers composed of T. R. Trimble, B. F. Latr .jc, 
and John H. Tegmeyer was appointed to go over the whole subject, to 
take up the various plans submitted from time to time, and to come 
forth with some tangible practicable plan to better conditions. They 
considered two projects for preventing the inundations, vizt First, 
the diversion of the channel of the stream from a point near the 
Belvidere bridge to the mouth of Herring Run, at the head of the tide 
water in Back River, thus leading the waters of the falls entirely 
away from the city; and second, the plan of straightening and widening 
the channel or canal, as it existed, to such an extent that it would 
contain all the volume of water received by extreme freshets. 

The first plan was virtually the same as that proposed by 
Mr, Latrobe, before alluded to, but modified by the result of experic-uce 
since his day, as well as by a variation in the objects proposed to be 
accomplished by him. The second plan had often been considered aft or 
the flood of 18J7» and was more fully matured by Mr. Henry Tyson, s. 
the flood of 1863. Of this second plan there was projected two va 
tion* from the old channel — one conveying the waters by a straight line 

from Eager street to the channel at Baltimore street bridge, the 
other confined somewhat to the course of the channel at that time, but 
avoiding all abrupt bends, for which was to be substituted a channel of 
uniform and moderate curvature. The relative cost of the two plane 
was placed at $5,500,000 for the diversion plan, and $2,000,000 for the 
straightening and widening plan. 

The Tyson plan was adopted after much discussion. The board of 
engineers recommended that the plan of entire diversion would most per- 
fectly accomplish all the objects in view, and that they would advise 
its adoption, but for the muoh larger expenditure which it would involve, 
and their inability to show a money balance in its favor. 

The Tyson plan seems to have been regarded as an impossibility by 
many people. No definite action wae taken on the plan for a number of 
years, and it waB finally abandoned in 1874, and the improvements pre- 
viously alluded to were made. The ordinance confided the execution of 
the improvements to the Mayor and the Oity Commissioner, The expensive 
and useless commission was abolished after the expenditure of over 
$110,000 without any practical result. 

In 187^ George Y. Worthington proposed a plan in which he pointed 
out some absurdities of the Tyson plan. He pointed out that it would "be 
useless to widen the already too wide bed of the channel, " and suggested 
that an auxiliary channel be provided in an avenue and railroad rout 
along the east line of the channel, to be made such width and depth a» 
to form a channel of sufficient capacity to pass water of any overflow 
that might occur. Records show that his plan was never considered seriously 

a i ■ if ii i-i i 




Views of entrance to Guilford Ave. Tunnel 

Looking south along 
Fall sway 

Discharge end of 


When the city officials constituting the Jones' Fall* Commission 
took charge of the work in 188 J they could find no record of its pro- 
ceedings since 1878 and they were able to ascertain the various acts of 
the commie e ion only through the courtesy of the Engineer, who had kept 
.emoranda of the several verbal orders he had from time to time received 
for his guidance. This is an example of the inefficient methods of the 
men in charge of the important work on the Falls. 

From the engineers' reports of 1882 to 1885 we find that old wall* 
and bridges were being rebuilt and new structures being put up at the 
same time. Much blasting waB necessary at different points to secure 
a firm foundation for the walla, ' At some points it was necessary to build 
the walls on platforms resting on piles which penetrated the bed of the 
tails from 8 to 14 feet. 

The piles averaged 12 inches in diameter and were driven until the 
refused to go one inch under a 1600 pound hammer dropped 20 feet. The 
caps were 8 by 10 inches and the flooring 5 inches thick. These piles 
wore placed 2j to 5 feet apart across the wall, and 4 feet, center to 
center in the line of the wall. All of the timber foundation was placed 
well under the ordinary water surface, which necessitated considerable 
excavation and pumping. All of the adjacent yards were drained by built 
in iron pipes. 

The building of the walls confining the stream in its passage through 
the city was a wonderful improvement. From Gay street down the improve- 
ment waB especially visible as many buildings were torn down and recon- 
structed in a much improved manner. On the upper Falls , after the con- 
struction of the Chase and Biddle street bridges and the adjacent walls, 

Falls looking south 
from Charles St. 

M ■ 


Falls looking south 
from Maryland Ave. 

b locks of houses went up immediately and the ground waB everywhere 
In demand. 

After the completion of the retaining walls in 1886, no further 
developments were made on the Falls except the expenditure of about 
11,000,000 upon the building and maintaining of bridges. In 1904 another 
flood occurred which caused much material loesj a new storm water drainage 
and sewage system was constructed which kept the stream within its bounds 
for quite a while. 

Notwithstanding the general belief that the Palls would never again 
leave its banks, the city authorities deemed it expedient to close the 
stream and thus make it absolutely save. 

The enclosing of the Falls and the construction of a roadway on it 
cost approximately $1,500,000 and the revenue from the increased taxation 
of property in the vicinity of the improvement probably paid back a lar^.e 
percentage of this expenditure. 

The sewer begins at Guilford Avenue with a basin approach 100 feet 
long from which point the water flows in£o a tunnel 28 feet by 29 feet, 
1080 feet long, to a junction chamber where begins a series of three 
-nets, the east duct being 8 feet by l4|- feet, and the others each 17 
feet by 17 feet. These ducts lead 1,400 feet to where the east duct is 
enlarged to 15§- feet by 16* feet and the others to 15| feet by 20 feet 

At a point 1,500 feet farther down stream, the east duct Is enlarged 
to 18|- feet by X5£ feet and the others each to 20 feet by 15$ feat, 
"hence these aises are carried 5800 feet to the outlet into the harbor. 
The object in having the east duct smaller is to use It for the ordinary 


'.lischarge of the stream, and to keep the water so closely confined that 
it will rush through with sufficient force to prevent sediment and keep 
the duct clean. As the water increases in volume in the junction cham- 
ber and overcrowds the east duct, it finds its way into the central 
duct. Should even this duct be overcorwded, there is the third one, a 
it 1b believed that these three ducts will take care of even the worst 

Although not so apectactUar as many other engineering feata, the 
covering of the falls was not an easy thing, and the contractors had 
their handB full all the time. All of the work had to be done by con- 
structing coffer dams and even though these dams were high and steam 
pumps were employed the Palls contested every inch. 

For convenience and with the idea of better controlling the stream, 
the east duct was built first and after it had been carried down stream 
several hundred feet, work on the other ducts began, all the water bei; 
aent through the east duct* This method was pursued as much as possible 
•ilthough at certain points it was necessary to shift the stream from one 
aide to the other. 

While the granite retaining walls of the stream were bo lid the ductB 
were built independent with the retaining walla more as frame b than as 
supports, The side wills of the ducts are each two feet thick, and the 
top varies from 27 to J5 inches. Reinforcing was liberally used. The 
<-;itst duct has a brick invert, but the bottoms of the other ducts are of 

The construction was completed in 1914 and is one of the most far- 
reaching and best paying improvements the city of Baltimore ever under- 


' >ok. What was for more than a century a nuisance, an expense, and an 
eyesore was not only removed but the city reclaimed a strip of land 
75 feet wide and more than a mile long which has become a broad smooth 
roadway, affording a much needed relief in North and South traffic frc 
the docks to the business section of the city. 

The diverting of the Falls at a point in front of Union Station 
into the tunnel under Guilford Avenue effected a very large saving, by 
eliminating the long bend in the Palls, shortening the construction 
about 700 feet and giving a large quantity of excellent rock from the 
tunnel for the concrete necessary in the construction, which factor se- 
cured a much lower bid from the contractor and saved the city about 
; 150,000. 

The falls has given little trouble since being confined and it now 
rests as a monument to the skill and foresight of Maryland engineers. 

Looking south from 
North ave. along 
Perm. R.R. tracks. 

Falls emptying 
into harbor. 

i -—]■ 

fcr-' -v 

±1 I 


' 1 



Looking north from 
North Ave. bridge. 

Materia^ for this thesis was taken from the following; - 
Report of the Board of Engineers Upon Changing the Course of 
Jones Falls, 1868 and 1869. 

Report of the Sewerage Commission of the City of Baltimore, 
1906 and 1913. 

Extract from the Baltimore News- December 25,1916-. 
Report oi Jones' Palls Commission 1882 to 18SS. 
The Jones' Palls Question: Hygiene and Sanitary Matters, 
by Ross winans.