Dundalk Historic District
The Dundalk Historic was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
The Dundalk Historic District, while primarily in the county, extends slightly into Baltimore City so as to fully encompass the significant resources of this early 20th century community. Although bisected into eastern and western sections (commonly known respectively as Old Dundalk and St. Helena), the district is a cohesive unit made up of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. Structures generally date from 1910-1940 and document all phases of the district's growth during that period. Major architectural styles represented include Period Revival (particularly Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival) and Art Deco & Art Moderne. Much of the district is laid out in a plan which is a good example of Garden City Movement planning precepts. The integrity of this plan is excellent, including the retention of a variety of open space areas. Such integrity is also seen in the buildings of the district, which have generally undergone relatively reversible alterations. This integrity of plan and architectural fabric, plus the relative lack of intrusive modern structures, makes the Dundalk Historic District a cohesive and significant source of architectural documentation. The District comprises 982 resources, of which 98% (962) contribute to its significance.
The Dundalk Historic District is bisected by Dundalk Avenue, a 6-lane, divided road, which serves to geographically, visually and psychologically separate the district into distinct eastern and western sections. Although both sections are considered part of the greater Dundalk area, the eastern is commonly known as Old Dundalk, while the western section is often known as St. Helena. These names will hereafter be used to differentiate between the eastern and western sections of the district. The two areas are linked by continuities in appearance and design which mesh the district into a unified whole, however, each section also has distinct characteristics which subtly differentiate the areas. Thus, the district can be profitably considered not only in terms of its unifying themes, but also in terms of sectional specificity.
The district contains two separate residential areas. In Old Dundalk, the residential section is bounded by Shipway Road, Eastship Road, Northship Road, Admiral Boulevard, Portship Road, Sunship Road, and Dundalk Avenue. In St. Helena, the residential area includes portions of Baltimore Avenue, Patapsco Avenue, and Colgate Avenue, and includes all of St. Helena Avenue, Parnell Avenue, and Ventnor Terrace. Parnell Avenue and part of St. Helena Avenue fall within the boundary of Baltimore City.
The most significant relationship between the residential areas is their historical association: approximately 90% of the houses were constructed as two housing developments by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) in 1918-1919. The architect for the development was Edward L. Palmer, who was responsible for creating the basic residential designs which are repeated throughout the district. Thus, the vast majority of the district's houses are directly linked, both historically and visually, and tend to collectively produce the feeling and appearance of a cohesive unit.
The EFC houses are of hollow-tile construction and originally had stuccoed exterior walls and slate roofs. In designing the houses, Palmer worked with a limited stylistic vocabulary, the simplicity dictated by the government's need for expediency and low cost. Stylistically, the emphasis is on simple, picturesque Period revival motifs. All of the houses exhibit a combination of elements, including steep roof slopes (with combinations of gable, jerkin head, shed, and flared shapes), and contrasts in materials. While the overall impression in all of the houses is of picturesque, vaguely Tudor Revival design, the basic motifs were combined to produce a variety of distinct house types.
In St. Helena, only one such design type is represented. The houses were originally "convertible houses," without kitchens, designed to house bachelor shipyard workers. After being sold by the federal government to a private real estate speculator, the houses were converted for family use, but still remain the smallest and least pretentious of the district's EFC houses. A typical example is 117-127 Patapsco Avenue. Each house is 2 stories plus attic, 2-bays by 2-bays, and arranged in rows of 4, 6, 8, or 10 units. The end units of each row project slightly, creating a pseudo-H shape. Roofs are gabled and eye brow vents vent the attic story. Each house has a 1-story porch with hipped roof, the end houses having individual porches and the center houses sharing double porches.
The row houses in St. Helena are sited in straight lines on grid pattern streets, creating continuous linear streetscapes, notably on St. Helena Avenue, where EFC houses are uninterrupted by any other housing type. Presently, the majority of the front facades of these houses have been altered from their original appearance, usually through expansion and enclosure of porches and/or the application of formstone or aluminum siding. In almost all cases, however, the integrity of the buildings could be restored relatively easily.
In Old Dundalk, the EFC houses were originally constructed for families rather than bachelors and therefore tend to be more substantial and variegated in design. The houses range from 1-1/2 stories to 1-1/2 stories plus attic and include row houses, semi-detached houses, and detached houses. Nine distinct designs can be identified. In all of the designs, fenestration tends to be somewhat irregular, with paired windows often used in dormers and upper stories. Ornamentation is minimal, with windows delineated only by brick lintels contrasting with the stucco wall. The focal points of visual interest are the roofs, which exhibit a picturesque juxtaposition of styles and shapes. To briefly summarize the styles, below is a list of typical examples and their key characteristics:
In addition to houses for families, the EFC also constructed two boarding houses in Old Dundalk, both essentially identical in design. As 1 Friendship Circle shows, these boarding houses are 2-1/2 stories tall and K-shaped with jerkin head roofs. Large shed roofed dormers break the roof of the main block and the roofs of the side blocks. There is a 3-bay, 1-story, hipped roofed front porch. After leaving government control, the buildings continued to be used as boarding houses/hotels. Friendship Circle being known as the Marine Hotel, while its counterpart 2 Friendship Circle was called the Dundalk Hotel. Today, both buildings are still partially rented out to roomers.
The EFC houses in Old Dundalk are intermixed in an asymmetrical street plan. Unlike the flat, traditional grid-iron streets in St. Helena, there are curved streets, streets set on a diagonal, and one circle. This attempt to depart from the grid-iron plan and to introduce a more variegated pattern is a clear reflection of the influence of Garden City ideals during the 1910s. Straight streets appear less linear because of the slope of the terrain, which falls downward from Shipway Road. One street, Admiral Boulevard, is wide, with a streetscape characterized by a broad, sloping, curving view. Most other streets, like Township Road, are narrow, creating an intimate feeling of enclosed space and interrupted vistas with numerous curves and corners. A large number of trees and plantings line the streets.
The integrity of most of the EFC houses in Old Dundalk is good. To a greater degree than their counterparts in St. Helena, the houses of Old Dundalk have retained their stucco covering, with only a relatively small portion being covered by formstone or aluminum siding. Most front facades have remained relatively unaltered, except for the enclosure and extension of porches, which has altered the symmetry of many of the duplexes and rows. As in the case of St. Helena, however, most alterations are reversible.
While the houses built by the EFC represent the bulk of the residential structures in the district, other houses document the area's history both immediately before and immediately after the intervention of the federal government. Documenting the early rural character of the area is the Sparks Farmhouse at 2540 Liberty Parkway, one of the few surviving 19th century farmhouses in the immediate region. The house was originally owned by John W. Sparks, part of whose land would be subdivided to create St. Helena, while other Sparks property would be developed by the EFC in Old Dundalk.
The Sparks Farmhouse is believed to have been built in 1893, the owner stating that this date is inscribed on the chimney. It is a 2-1/2 story, frame house, now covered by asbestos shingles. T-shaped, each block of the house has a gable roof, and there are two interior chimneys. In the inner corners of the "T" are modified towers, 2 stories tall with modified cross gable roofs. A 1-story, partially enclosed porch wraps around the front of the house, while another 1-story porch decorated by simple bargeboards extends across the rear of the building. Much original material, such as moldings, doors, staircase, etc., remains on the interior.
Sited behind the Sparks Farmhouse is 19 Northship Road, another house built by the Sparks family. While the exact date that the house was built is unclear, it seems to appear on an 1898 atlas of the area. A 2-1/2 story frame house on a raised basement, it is essentially square, being 2 bays on each side. The roof is pyramidal with a gable roofed extension on the north side, this extension being lit by a palladian window. There are large gabled dormers on the main and south facades. A 1-story enclosed porch extends the length of the main facade.
Prior to 1918, slow development had occurred in the St. Helena area, which had been subdivided by John Sparks in the early 1890s. While many of St. Helena's older houses are not included in the district, several do fall within its perimeters and serve as evidence of the area's character prior to the arrival of the EFC. These houses are varied in design, but tend to be relatively simple houses, some having vaguely Colonial Revival motifs.
Other houses in the district reflect the direction taken by private development after the EFC disassociated itself from the area. The primary agent behind new development in Old Dundalk was the Dundalk Company, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. One of the company's development priorities was utilization of an area, bounded by Township Road, Northship Road, Leeway Road and Flagship Road, which had been used as a sand and gravel pit by the EFC. In 1926, the Dundalk Company subdivided this land and in the next one to two years constructed 36 houses.
Because of the size of the area they were working with, the Dundalk Company found that subdivision into standard lots still left a central part of the section undeveloped. Their solution was to divide this center section into small lots which were sold along with the larger house lots. Today, these small center lots are generally used for gardens, thus producing a pocket of open space within the residential area.
More imposing than the houses built by the Dundalk Company is the Reier House at 4 North Center Place. The house was built for a local physician, Dr. Adam W. Reier in 1927-1928, and the design is attributed to a Baltimore architect, William H. Emory. Once again, the Colonial Revival style is the primary design influence. Built of red brick laid in Flemish bond, the house is 2-1/2 stories tall. The gable roof is broken by two pedimented gabled dormers. The house is made up of a central block (3-bays by 2-bays), a 1-story western wing (1-bay by 2-bays) and an eastern hyphen and 1-1/2 story wing (1-bay by 3-bays). The eastern wing was added shortly after 1967 while the house was being used as offices for the Dundalk Community College. Decorative elements which reflect the Colonial Revival influence include a 1-story pedimented porch supported by simple Doric columns; central entrance with side lights and transom; louvered shutters; and lunette windows. In addition to being used by the Community College, the house was later used during the 1970s for county government offices. Presently, it serves as the office of the community's newspaper, The Dundalk Eagle.
In St. Helena, post-war development centered around the area of Ventnor Terrace. 201-203 Willow Spring Road is a typical example of the row houses built in the area prior to 1929. Two stories tall and built of brown brick, the houses commonly have 3-bay fronts. The flat roofs are parapeted with tiled shed roof projections at the cornice line. One-story porches supported by square wooden columns on uncoursed stone bases cover each facade.
An interesting curiosity in St. Helena is 128-136 Patapsco Avenue. Built prior to 1928, this row closely mimics the design of the neighboring EFC houses. The design is virtually the same as the earlier EFC design except that the roof pitch is less severe and there are no roof vents. Presently the houses are sheathed in asbestos shingles and aluminum siding.
Servicing the residential areas of the district are two churches, of which the oldest is the First Baptist Church on St. Helena Avenue in St. Helena. Originally known as the Community Church, the building was constructed in 1920 and also served as a social center, including within it a gym, game room, stage, etc. T-shaped, the original building now has a modern addition on the east. The original building is 2 stories and stuccoed, the stucco serving to visually link the building to the nearby EFC houses. On the main facade, 2-story entrance pavilions project slightly at each end. On the second story of the center section is a series of arcaded windows, delineated by bands of stucco. Stucco belt courses serve to define each story. The roof on the front section of the building is hipped, with each entrance pavilion having its own hipped roof. A low octagonal cupola tops the building. The rear section of the building has a gable roof and is lit by arched stained glass windows. The church is set back on a large lot, which is the largest area of open space in the St. Helena section of the district.
The Dundalk Historic District is a significant community for its historical associations and for its architecture. Historically, the district is important for encompassing the only two housing developments built by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) in Maryland during World War I. (Only 36 such projects were carried out by the EFC nationwide.) As such, Dundalk is representative of the Federal government's first venture into the field of housing. Essentially intact in terms of buildings and plan, the community is a particularly good source of documentation for the EFC projects. In addition to serving as concrete evidence of a crucial broadening of the government's role and responsibilities, Dundalk is also significant as an expression of early 20th century community planning. The plan of much of the district, with its curvilinear streets and planned community center (including parks, school, shopping center, etc.), reflects experimentation with Garden City planning ideals. Reinforcing this "model" character of the community was the early and continued influence of planners and administrators of Roland Park, an early, precedent setting model suburb of Baltimore. Another important influence upon the community's development was the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, which controlled much of the district's physical growth to a greater or lesser degree. Thus, Dundalk is also significant as an example of one type of "company town." With respect to architecture, the district represents a significant and well-preserved collection of examples of early 20th century Period Revival and Art Deco/Art Moderne styles applied to residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. This general architectural cohesiveness, plus the overall integrity of the district, tends to produce a distinct sense of place. While many changes have occurred around the district, and to some degree within it, the community retains a distinctive visual appearance and feeling of cohesiveness. Many of the buildings within the District represent the work of noted Baltimore architect Edward L. Palmer.
Until the 1890s, the area now known as Dundalk was predominantly rural, the landscape dotted by scattered farmhouses, such as the Sparks Farmhouse now at 2540 Liberty Parkway. Nascent urbanization began in the 1890s, after John W. Sparks subdivided part of his farmland to create the community of St. Helena. Growth in St. Helena was slow, however, and the take-off period for the area did not begin until 1916. In that year, Bethlehem Steel Corporation took over the blast furnaces of the Maryland Steel Corporation, located on nearby Sparrows Point. Anticipating the need for worker housing, Bethlehem purchased approximately 1,000 acres and created a subsidiary, The Dundalk Company, to oversee development.
With United States entry into World War I, work at the Bethlehem Steel shipyards at Sparrows Point increased dramatically, leading to a parallel need for workers and worker housing. This problem was part of a larger national trend, with many industrial urban centers facing acute housing shortages as demand for labor in war industries outstripped the supplies of available housing. The severity of the situation and its potential impact on productivity forced the government into an unprecedented recognition of federal responsibility for housing. As a result, the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) was given the task of administering a federal program of housing construction for industrial workers.
The EFC had been formed nearly a year previously to expedite the responsibility of the Shipping Board to build, purchase, and maintain merchant ships. However, since the housing shortages at shipyards were having a negative impact on shipbuilding, the EFC was given the additional responsibility of providing needed housing. Thus, the EFC entered into a program whereby it would lend money to shipbuilding companies to fund housing construction. The EFC retained, however, a great deal of control over design and management.
In 1918, Bethlehem Steel created another subsidiary, the Liberty Housing Company, which entered into an agreement with the EFC to develop two projects, to be known as Dundalk and St. Helena. In the Dundalk project, 531 houses and a group of stores were constructed, while in St. Helena, 284 "convertible" houses for bachelors and a mess hall were built. Today, both projects exist in their entireties, except for the St. Helena mess hall, which was razed sometime in the 1930s.
On the state level, the Dundalk Historic District is important for including the only two EFC projects built in Maryland. However, the Dundalk and St. Helena projects are also two of only 36 built throughout the entire country, thus making the district important nationally as a representative example of the work of the EFC. But, more importantly than its significance which derives from numerical scarcity, the district is important for what it reflects about the changing definition of federal responsibility. Previous to the work of the EFC, the idea of the federal government providing housing was totally alien to the American experience. Only a crisis situation, such as that created by World War I, could overcome this laissez faire tradition and push the federal government into its first venture into the field of housing. The Dundalk Historic District serves as excellent documentation of this critical expansion of the role of the federal government.
While representative of changing government responsibility, the Dundalk Historic District is also important as a reflection of changing concepts of urban planning. Many of the leaders of the EFC were architects, housing reformers, and planners, who saw in the EFC building program an opportunity not only to provide shelter, but also to set standards and to experiment with emerging principles of urban planning. Thus, they used the EFC as a laboratory in which to experiment with the most modern planning concepts, including that of the Garden City.
Ebenezer Howard's "Garden City" ideal was a major influence on the emerging planning field since the concept's introduction in 1898. Seeking an alternative to the industrial urban slums of his native England, Howard envisioned satellite cities to house industrial workers, cities limited in area and population and designed to offer attractive homes, open spaces, community services and amenities.
The influence of such concepts can clearly be seen in the development of much of the Dundalk District. Typical to Garden City planning, a variety of housing types (detached, semi-detached and row homes) were placed on curvilinear streets. To serve residents a community center was planned which was designed to include shopping facilities, churches, a school, and other needed community services.
The EFC's Dundalk Building (one of the earliest "shopping centers" in Maryland) was the original cornerstone of the community center, which would grow over the years to fulfill its function of giving the community amenities and a sense of self-sufficiency. Also typical of the Garden City ideal, open space was an integral part of the EFC's plan for Dundalk, including area reserved for parks in front of and behind the shopping district and an area for recreation near the proposed school.
The integrity of the plan for the Dundalk project is excellent. The configuration of residential streets remains unchanged. Likewise, the community center continues to serve the community and includes stores, a movie theatre, library, police station, school, church and post office. Original open spaces also remain intact, except for the park near the post office, part of which has been converted to a parking lot. Thus, the overall integrity of the Dundalk plan makes it a good example of Garden City planning. At the same time, the district also serves to provide comparison with earlier planning forms through the juxtaposition of the EFC plan with the traditional grid-iron plan of St. Helena, laid out in the 1890s.
Despite the enthusiasm and progress of the architects and planners of the EFC, they soon found that their unique opportunity for experimentation in urban planning was to be short lived. In November, 1918, the armistice was signed, coming only four months after construction began on the Dundalk and St. Helena projects. In EFC projects throughout the country, construction was ordered to be immediately curtailed, and a debate began over the future of those houses which had already been constructed. Congress was anxious to restore normalcy after the shocks of World War I, and federal intervention in the housing market was considered an abnormality. Therefore, Congress resolved to finish those projects which, like Dundalk and St. Helena, were nearly complete and to sell the houses on the market as soon as possible.
By June 1920, the EFC houses in Dundalk and St. Helena had been sold either to private individuals or to the Dundalk Company. The Dundalk Company, originally formed to oversee development in Dundalk, still owned a large amount of undeveloped land in the area, and with the purchase of many of the EFC buildings, replaced the federal government as the major force shaping the community's development. A charter member and the first president of the Dundalk Company was Edward H. Bouton, who brought to the company his experience as president of the Roland Park Company. Roland Park, a suburb of Baltimore, had been begun in 1890, and under Bouton's direction had developed into a precedent setting community, carefully planned to be a "model" suburb. The application in Dundalk of techniques used in Roland Park helped to assure that development continue along the lines implied by the community's Garden City plan. One important technique was the use of restrictive covenants, which gave the Company control over the uses and appearance of property. Likewise, in constructing new housing, the emphasis was on building substantial detached houses, which though less pretentious than homes in Roland Park were nonetheless quality housing for the working class. The Roland Park example was also important in shaping the development of the community's shopping district, since Roland Park had pioneered in this area with the construction of what is recognized by many as the first shopping center complex in the nation. Thus, the historic district is significant for drawing directly upon the example of the nation's pioneering model suburbs as the pattern for its growth during the 1920s and 1930s.
While the Dundalk Company was greatly influenced by the example of Roland Park, company policy was more fundamentally shaped by its parent company, Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Essentially Dundalk was a "company town," in which a large number of the residents worked for Bethlehem Steel and the company exercised control (through the Dundalk Company) over the community's physical development. The physical symbol of Bethlehem's control was the office of the Dundalk Company (now Dundalk Library) at the heart of the community. Bethlehem's control over the community was not rigid as in some earlier company towns where virtually every aspect of the lives of the residents was prescribed. Nevertheless, as typical in later company towns, Dundalk was influenced by a general degree of moderate, paternalistic control. As a result, Dundalk is important as an example of one direction taken in the development of "company towns" during the early 20th century.
Under the direction of the Dundalk Company, further development in Dundalk followed, to a great degree, the architectural precedents set by the EFC. Architect for both the St. Helena and Dundalk projects was Edward L. Palmer, a noted Baltimore architect. In later years, Palmer would go on to design several important buildings in Baltimore, including dormitories for Johns Hopkins University and many of the buildings for City Hospital. However, Palmer may well be best known as architect for the Roland Park Company. Being architect for both Dundalk and Roland Park, he was naturally one of the key individuals responsible for linking the two communities philosophically and stylistically.
As he had done in Roland Park, Palmer used Period Revival motifs in his designs for the EFC buildings, and Period Revival styles continued to be a primary influence on the area's architecture throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Several good examples reflecting the Colonial Revival Style include the Reier House, the Dunleer and Dunkirk Buildings, and the library. Likewise, St. George's and St. Matthew's Episcopal Church is a good example of Tudor Revival/Gothic Revival styles. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Art Deco/Art Moderne style was introduced to the community. Many of the businesses along Dundalk Avenue, particularly the Lane Theatre, exhibit the stylized geometrical motifs typical of this style. The Art Deco/Art Moderne and Period Revival styles dominate the district, giving the community a distinct, unified architectural character. The architectural integrity of the district and its many good stylistic examples, make Dundalk a significant source of documentation for early 20th century architectural development.
The district has remained relatively cohesive architecturally through six decades of sometimes rapid change. Although development was slowed by a postwar recession in 1919-1920 and by the Depression of the 1930s, the population of the greater Dundalk area had risen by 1974 to be over ten times what it had been in 1920. Suburban sprawl has enveloped the EFC projects of Dundalk and St. Helena; however this early core district has retained a clear sense of place and community. Approximately 90% of the district is united visually and historically by being part of the EFC projects, while the remainder of the district is architecturally cohesive and designed to adhere to the community's original plan. There are some modern buildings within the district, but they are limited in number and often not visually intrusive. But, in addition to the district's visual unity, there is also a distinct sense of community and of community vitality. The shopping district is still well used, residents recently fought a successful fight to keep the Dundalk School open, and the parks and recreation fields are used year round for a variety of community events. There is a clear feeling of community loyalty and interest in community history on the part of many residents, a loyalty and interest which frequently extends to the area's early buildings, although organized preservation activity has not yet taken place. However, with its unique historical importance and its significant cohesiveness and integrity, the Dundalk Historic District will no doubt continue to receive further recognition and increasing amounts of preservation activity.
Druscilla J. Null, Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, Dundalk Historic District, Baltimore County, MD, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.