Stone Hill Historic District
The Stone Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. 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 Stone Hill Historic District, a complex of workers' housing dating to the mid-19th century, consists of seven gridded blocks overlooking the Jones Falls. Associated with Mount Vernon Mills, the district is comprised of 21 granite duplexes, a granite Superintendent's House, and a granite service building, now converted to a duplex. The unusually cohesive district, unified by its corporate plan, repetition of massing and articulation, and distinctive use of stone construction, meets Criterion C as an excellent example of workers' housing in a textile mill village. The associated landscape created by private streets, lawns, gardens, picket fences, and front porches contributes to the singular character and rural village feeling of this unique historic district.
Stone Hill's higher site isolated the residential component of the mills from the active manufacturing that once bordered it on two sides. Mount Vernon Mill No. 1 is situated to the southwest across Falls Road from Stone Hill; the Packing House is situated immediately south of Stone Hill. Mount Vernon Mill No. 2 is immediately west of the district. The Stieff Silver Factory south of Stone Hill sits on property once owned by Mount Vernon Mills. An alley running alongside the eastern boundary of the district separates Stone Hill from the later row houses lining Keswick Road. Buildings at the north end of the district face a field formerly associated with Stone Hill, now occupied by a 1952 house.
The 23 free-standing, stone buildings in Stone Hill exhibit three basic typologies with a variation on one typology. These typologies are duplex workers' housing, a Superintendent's House, and a support structure. The most prevalent type is the two-story duplex. Of the 21 duplexes, two larger structures along Pacific Street east of the Superintendent's House constitute a three-story variation of the typical two-story duplex type. 700-702 Puritan Street, constructed as a support structure, was later converted to a duplex.
The uniformity of size, scale, massing, materials, and facade articulation of all these buildings reflects the single corporate ownership that created the neighborhood. All of the buildings feature roughly-coursed granite walls, gable roofs, front porches, and interior end chimneys with brick stacks. With the exception of the houses on the south side of Bay Street, all of the houses face south. Physical evidence found in the attic of 719 Field Street shows that the houses originally had wood shingle roofs. Sanborn Maps and surviving porches suggest that original hipped roof porches projected out from the two paired doors of each duplex. (The original porch configuration remains at 722-724 Street.)
For the most part, the duplexes are two-story, four-bay, double-pile buildings with interior end chimneys and low-pitched, side gable roofs. The houses, which rest on raised basements, have a rectangular footprint with one-story kitchen wings extending out from the rear. The kitchen wings have gabled roofs pierced by center chimneys; the ridge line of the kitchen wing runs perpendicular to the ridge line of the duplex. The original form of the kitchen remains at 713 and 719 Field Street. 708-710 Puritan and 716-718 Puritan have wood-frame kitchens that echo the form of the stone kitchens. Architectural detail consists of stone sills and brick lintels. Original windows, which remain only at 713 Field Street and 719 Field Street, were six-over-six sash. Most of the houses now display one-over-one sash. Transoms top front doors. Although porches have been replaced and altered over the years, all of the houses still feature front porches, which contribute to the distinctive character and social culture of the neighborhood.
The houses are approximately 1200 sq. ft. in size. The original plan consisted of a parlor, dining room, and kitchen, each approximately 15 ft. x 15 ft., with two bedrooms above the parlor and dining room. Consistent with two-bay Baltimore row houses of the period, the houses had no hall; a side stair led to the upper floors. There were no accessible attics or cellars; some cellars were excavated at a later date.
Two of the four duplexes facing Pacific Street (702-704 Pacific and 726-728 Pacific) feature an attic story and dormered roofs. These buildings also have rough stone lintels instead of the brick used in the two-story buildings. The variation in these buildings may be due to an earlier date of construction.
Stone Hill streetscapes proclaim the character of the district as a designed landscape. Buildings are regularly spaced on uniform parcels of land that are laid out in a rough grid. To the extent the topography allowed, two duplexes were sited on roughly square parcels of land. Only the Superintendent's House, which occupies a full square parcel, and 700-702 Puritan Street, which is squeezed into a small triangular shaped lot, depart from this pattern. With the exception of the Superintendent's House and 700-702 Puritan Street, all of the buildings respect a uniform setback from the street.
Each individual street bas a distinct character. Pacific Street, formerly Front Street, tops the hierarchy of streets within the district. Overlooking the green slope to Jones Falls and Mount Vernon Mill No. 1 beyond, these houses could also observe activity in the Packing House, situated immediately below Pacific Street. Houses on the north side of Puritan Street are sited off axis from the houses on Pacific Street. Consequently, their front facades can be glimpsed from Pacific Street, contributing to the intimacy and internal cohesiveness of the district. The dogleg in Worth Street provides an unobstructed vista to 722-724 Puritan Street. Bay Street is the only street lined with buildings that face one another, creating a rich streetscape framed by front gardens and uniform stone dwellings. Three duplexes on Field Street face onto a large lot outside the historic district. This lot, once the cow pasture for Stone Hill, is occupied by a house constructed in 1952. Because of the size of their lots and the vacant land across the street, these houses have a more isolated, rural feel than other duplexes in the district, a feeling shared by 738-740 Puritan, and 735-737 and 726-728 Bay Street, which terminate dead end streets.
While Stone Hill has changed over the years, it continues to possess a high degree of integrity. Mill ownership maintained a consistency of appearance within the historic district until 1925, when Mount Vernon Mill began to dispose of the houses. For example, in 1922/23 mill owners added bathrooms in the back, outside corner of the dining rooms. Small windows with wood lintels were inserted in the side facades at this time. Typical changes private owners made to mill buildings include replacement windows, new and extended porches, replacement of wood picket fences with chain link fences and new wood fences, and replacement roofs. Many owners have added wood-frame and concrete block shed roof additions to the kitchen wings. Several of these wings appear to date to the early 20th century, establishing an additive tradition characteristic of the historic district. Eleven recent, nondescript concrete block garages and frame sheds, which do not contribute to the historic district, have also been constructed.
Most of these changes have had minimal effect on the distinguishing architectural characteristics of the historic district. Replacement windows are a reversible treatment. The consistency with which one-over-one sash has been used maintains the horizontal line of the meeting rail and simple character of the duplexes. (A 1930s photographs documents the longtime use of this sash configuration.) Far more important than changes to the porches are the survival of uniform streetscapes of porches and the interest porches lend to the massing of these simple stone buildings. Similarly, low wood picket fences are a landscape treatment long associated with the neighborhood, reinforcing the rectilinearity of its gridded framework. The shape and uniform height of the gable roofs survives even if earlier roof surface is gone. Changes to the rear facades signal the shift from corporate to private ownership. The variegated texture of these alterations does not detract from the overall integrity of the historic district.
Constructed ca. 1845-1847, the Stone Hill Historic District is one of the original mill villages along the Jones Falls developed to house textile mill workers. The Stone Hill Historic District is evidence of changing settlement patterns in the Jones Falls valley beginning in the mid 19th century. The district exemplifies the distinctive characteristics of the Rhode Island-type of textile mill village, significant within the urban environment of Baltimore city, namely housing for families developed adjacent to manufacturing. The period of significance for the district extends from ca. 1845, the date of the first houses at Stone Hill, to 1925, the year Mount Vernon-Woodberry Mills began to sell the houses to individual owners.
The origins of the Stone Hill Historic District lie in the transformation of Baltimore's economic base between 1800 and 1850 from exportation of agrarian goods to industrial production. As a leading American port in this period, Baltimore's economic climate was closely tied to international conflicts. Exportation of flour to the Europe and West Indies at the beginning of the 19th century, spurred by struggles between Britain and France, stimulated development of grist mills powered by the waterways emptying into Baltimore Harbor. The 12 mile-long Jones Falls was a primary site for these mills when the Falls turnpike was established along a Native-American way in 1804. The trade embargo, established by Thomas Jefferson in the years leading up to the War of 1812, prompted Baltimore's leading families to diversify their commerce and to begin to manufacture products that had been primarily imported, such as textiles, for domestic markets. Baltimore's thriving ship building and ship repair industry offered a ready market for cotton duck, used for sailcloth. Renovation of existing grist mills was a logical step and the first cotton mill was constructed on the Jones Falls in 1815 at the Mt. Washington flour mill. By 1810, the United States boasted 87 cotton mills, eleven of which were situated in or near Baltimore.
David S. Carroll (1811-1881) and Horatio Nelson Gambrill (1810-1880) purchased the Mt. Washington mill, known as the Washington Manufacturing Company in 1832. By 1839, these men, working in partnership with Richard W. Hook, Captain William Mason, Henry Leaf and others, spearheaded the use of new industrial technologies that would transform the settlement of the Jones Falls valley. In 1837, they purchased the Whitehall flour mill (on the site of the present Clipper Mill) and by 1839 outfitted it with five power looms, integrating spinning and weaving in a single location. This group of men bought the Woodberry Flour Mill in 1843 and the Laurel Mill in 1846 (on the site of the present Mount Vernon Mill No. 1) and constructed textile mills at these locations as well. Steam power was introduced into the mills in 1846, further boosting output. The textile mills required an extensive workforce to operate the newly mechanized factories.
The Stone Hill Historic District reflects the fast period settlement of the valley by textile workers. Families migrated to the Jones Falls valley from farms and villages in the region. The earliest wave arrived from the agricultural region in northwestern Baltimore County, northeastern Carroll County, and southern Pennsylvania. Next came the Virginians from the Blue Ridge mountain region northeast of Charlottesville, who arrived beginning in the 1870s, with the largest number arriving around World War I. Also, workers arrived from the Patapsco River mill towns, such as Oella, Ellicott City and Laurel, around the turn of the century.
Between 1845 and 1890, the portion of the Jones Falls valley north of city limits grew from the remote cluster of villages to a suburb of the city of Baltimore and the national center of cotton duck production. The early villages in the Hampden-Woodberry section of the Jones Falls, most of which were linked to a mill, were called Mount Vernon, Clipper, Druidville, Woodberry, Hampden in Woodberry, Sweetaire and Hampden Village. Stone Hill was a part of Mount Vernon and is now a small section of Hampden. As late as 1860, the combined workforce of all the area's textile mills totaled only 536. Employment in the industry leapt from 616 in 1870 to 2,931 in 1880. The city of Baltimore annexed the villages in 1888. By the 1890s, the mills along Jones Falls were operating at their peak. Employing almost 4,000 workers, Baltimore's textile mills constituted one of the largest workplaces in the entire nation.
H. N. Gambrill, D. S. Carroll and their partners, the original owners of Mount Vernon Mills, built the duplexes of Stone Hill for families of workers beginning in 1845. A deed for Mount Vernon Mill No. 1 and a newspaper account suggest a ca. 1845-1847 date of construction for the houses in the district. The county transfer book entries of 1846 show that Gambrill, Carroll and Co. took ownership of the Laurel grist mill as well as the new Mount Vernon Factory, its machinery, and six stone and six frame houses. An 1847 description of the Woodbury (sic) Mill describes nearby houses that Gambrill and Carroll also constructed, almost identical to those in Stone Hill.
The earliest known map that shows any of the houses of Stone Hill is the Topographic Map of Swann Lake and Aqueduct of the Baltimore City Water Works (1862), an impressionistic rendition of the Jones Falls valley, which shows three structures in Stone Hill. The 1877 G.M. Hopkins Atlas of Baltimore County unambiguously demonstrates the presence of the houses of Stone Hill.
The physical relationship of the Stone Hill village with neighboring mill structures and underlying topography, its ordered plan, recurrent duplex house form, and durable materials of construction characterize the district and distinguish it from its surroundings. Stone Hill exemplifies the Rhode Island type of mill village. In this mill village typology, single family homes, duplexes or row houses, designed to attract and retain families as the primary workforce, are the chief form of housing. Dwellings were usually developed on land directly adjoining the mill. Owners repeated a common model over a large area of settlement. Early mill villages (1840-1870) were often developed in direct response to the surrounding topography, while by 1880 the villages were most often laid out on a gridded plan.
Local topography, the site on the banks of the Jones Falls, informs the plan for Stone Hill. Mount Vernon Mill No. 1 and the streets of Stone Hill are both set approximately parallel to the Falls. The district is set atop a rise. The rectilinear grid of the district street plan responds to the land form in its parallelogram shape and the integration of stairways where streets dead-end at the steep slope.
Stone Hill dwellings are substantial buildings constructed of local granite. Quarries were located along the Jones Falls in the period of construction and granite would have been readily available. Nonetheless, the fact that the owners chose to employ such enduring materials may reflect their attitudes toward the industry and the workforce. The longevity of the construction materials implies that the Mount Vernon Company recognized the manufacturing base as a long-term investment. Stone Mill contrasts with villages surrounding extractive resources, such as coal, which were usually wood frame construction. Fire prevention was a key concern throughout the life of the mill villages, but was especially troublesome before reservoirs and fire departments were established in Woodberry-Hampden in the 1860s. Well maintained stone houses were impressive to workers as well, most of whom would have been moving from wood-frame farm dwellings. Bill Harvey recorded that an old resident said: "This place looks so prosperous and all compared to what we had."
The Gambrills and Carrolls constructed Stone Hill directly adjacent to Mount Vernon Mills for economic efficiency and employee supervision. When Mount Vernon Mill No. 1 and the first housing at Stone Hill were constructed in 1845, Baltimore City limits were a mile downstream. On-site housing was a primary requirement to cultivate the requisite workforce for the new mills. The mill owners developed, owned, and maintained the residences on Stone Hill with the objective of attracting an initial workforce, reducing employee turnover, increasing productivity, and providing a stable supply of new workers. Organizing the village as an extension of the mill environment was a compact and efficient use of land. The houses of Stone Hill are duplexes set on spacious lots, intended to accommodate families. The rational grid plan of the streets is carried through to the placement of the houses, which are evenly spaced along the streets.
Control of the workforce was also a fundamental concern of the Mount Vernon Company. The supervisor's house was adjacent to the workers' homes and closest to the factory. Not only was the supervisor in direct visual contact with the mill and packing house, but with the employees who passed by his doorway on the path to and from the workplace. The architectural articulation of the village reinforced the hierarchy of the employees. The supervisor's house is clearly differentiated in form, scale, and ornamentation. The worker's duplexes are essentially identical.
The Stone Hill Historic District is strongly associated with the patterns of life of the workers at Mount Vernon Mills. Many of life's milestones took place in the home. Early twentieth century residents speak of the births, deaths, and weddings that took place in the houses of Stone Hill in Stone Hill: The People and Their Stories. The yards were the site of gardens, wood and coal sheds, laundry lines, and ducks and chickens. The alleys and streets were the arena for childhood games and socializing.
The average wage for workers in the mill in 1923 was roughly 30 cents/hour, which was minimal income. For example, in 1928 average wages in Baltimore, at 46.7 cents/hour, were by far the lowest in the leading men's clothing manufacturing centers. Workers in New York were earning 91.5 cents/hour at that date. There were 463 women and 342 men working in Mount Vernon Woodberry Mills in 1923. Women were encouraged to enter the mills, so that the families could stay in company housing and the men could find more lucrative work elsewhere. Large families often lived within the five room houses. The 1900 manuscript census, taken at the height of productivity at Mount Vernon Woodberry mills, reports that families with up to 12 members were living in the houses at Stone Hill with between one and four family members working at the mills. The vast majority of these residents were born in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, with a few born in Ireland and Scotland.
Despite 25 to 75 years of private ownership, Stone Hill Historic District retains a high degree of integrity. Under mill ownership, from 1845 to 1925, changes to the buildings were minimal and consistent throughout the district. The primary change prior to private ownership was the addition of plumbing, at the behest of the city, which resulted in the addition of a bathroom window on the side facades. Since the end of the period of significance, changes to the buildings have been concentrated in the rear kitchen wings and less permanent elements, such as porches and windows. These changes evidence how the culture of mill village residents changed after the paternalistic charge of mill ownership. The integrity of the district compares favorably with other textile mill associated housing in Baltimore, as it retains the full effect of its original setting. Woodberry, for example, has similar duplexes constructed during the same period, but has been impacted by city streets, mill fires, and recent housing.
† Jennifer Goold and Berry Bird, Berry Bird & Associates, Stone Hill Historic District, Baltimore City, MD, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.