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file:///X|/Special%20Collections/purgatory/Phi%20Mu/Streett,%20Wilbur%20A/Blueprint.txt[5/16/2011 1:34:50 PM]
THE HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OP JONES 1 FALLS IN BALTIMORE
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
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, iv.is
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
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.
Falls looking south
from Maryland Ave.
b locks of houses went up immediately and the ground waB everywhere
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
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.
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.