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    89 Orchards in Baltimore City 100 years ago

    BOP Summer Intern Elena Makansi tells of her remarkable discovery:

    This past Thursday I got to feel like a true historian: buried in the depths of the cold Johns Hopkins University library, surrounded by dusty books and unattractive PC computers, poring through a humongous book that has probably spent 98% of its life just where I found it, that is, locked away in a drawer. But it was pretty exciting for someone who likes maps, because this one was quite the beauty.

    I was looking at the 1897 Atlas of the City of Baltimore, sleuthing around for a few lost orchards here and there as part of my ongoing summer project to research the urban history of fruit trees in Baltimore City. This Atlas was perfect for this detective project because, unlike most other historical maps in the JHU collection, this one had symbology specifically for orchards, as well as farmland, clearings, vineyards, forest, marsh, sand pits, and more.

    I wasn’t quite sure what to expect–I wasn’t even sure I’d find any orchards at all. Maybe a couple if I was lucky, then I could sleuth around in some other old atlases. Well, surprise! I found eighty-nine orchards! It seems I hit the jackpot on my first attempt (many thanks to Jim Gillispie and Bonni Wittstadt at the library).

    Everyone knows that our landscape has changed drastically over the past 100 or so years, but it’s always shocking to witness the difference between then and now in cold, hard proof. People tend to like Before and After photos–by taking out the shades of grey, you go straight from white to black. Sometimes a little distance, a birds-eye view, let’s say, is necessary to understand our changing landscapes, as well as our changing selves.

    A few examples. One orchard existed where a 7-11 and a Citibank stands now. Another sat north of “Liberty Turnpike” which is now known as Liberty Heights Ave and is, by all accounts, a somewhat major road. In 1897, it sat on the very western edge of the city boundary. A third existed in a quiet country estate known as Homewood Park; now there is a museum dedicated to this historic site within the campus grounds of the busting JHU campus!

    I observed several interesting things while looking through this atlas:

    1. Most orchards belonged to a private landowner. Only a few seemed to be in “public” spaces–in parks, on church grounds, cemeteries, etc. This is not altogether surprising. Most people who lived beyond the city’s urban grid were rich landowners who likely had gardeners and groundskeepers. Nonetheless, it shows that orchards had traditionally been part of many ‘country’ (read: suburban) homes.

    2. There was a very clear difference between the urban core and the ‘country’ with regards to trees, let alone fruit trees. Unless the cartographer simply chose not to record them, there were virtually NO trees within the urban grid. This is not something we hope to emulate, of course, but it illustrates a divide between urban/rural that was a cultural norm that is reflected in modern landscaping expectations today. Neighborhoods with more trees have higher real estate values. That is something we hope to change: we want to bring the beauty and joy of fresh fruit and fruit trees to ALL neighborhoods in Baltimore.

    3. Again, there were a LOT of orchards. I’d guess (an estimated guess, but a guess nonetheless) the average size was about 150-200 square feet. Some were much larger, and many more that were probably just a few trees. This shows a decentralized system that was relatively evenly distributed throughout the city, as long as we discount ‘downtown.’

    While there is a lot we don’t know about these lost orchards, we DO know that they existed. And that there were around 89 of them, give or take, in the year 1897. And that, since they existed, a lot of people (and livestock!) were enjoying fresh fruit grown right in their backyards. We also know that a LOT has changed since then, both in our landscape and our beliefs. So let’s learn from the past but move forward toward a Baltimore where everyone can enjoy fresh fruit.

     

     

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