The Pavers of Baltimore, Part 2

Baltimore Lore, Bricks
Way back when, we highlighted one of the pavers that sits below our long-since-asphalted streets here in Baltimore. These pavers were used to pave streets before asphalt became commonplace in the 1920s.
We briefly discussed how a paver (also called a ‘block’) operation required more sophisticated machinery and infrastructure than your average brick operation. Because of this, Baltimore actually imported much of its stock of 10 lb pavers. Today we’ll look at another block that can be found under the streets of Baltimore.
The town of Windber, PA started as a company town for the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company (see what they did there?). The company brought over large amounts of Eastern European immigrants during the early years of the 20th century to work in the mines, and by 1910, the town that had formed only years earlier had a population of nearly 10,000.


Windber became a minor boomtown, with sawmills and brick manufacture joining coal mining as the main industrial activities. The W.P. Kelley Brick Co, which got off the ground in 1901, seems to have been behind the “Windber” paver brand.

windber paver.jpg

Next to the “Windber” name, you can see the four ovular lugs that acted as natural spacers when these pavers were laid on their edge, as seen in the photo. You can also just make out smaller circular bumps in the top corners of the paver: these were caused by indented screws fixed to the face of the mold.

News About the Novaks!

Baltimore Lore, Ghosts of Baltimore

2308 madison entry novak

Over a year ago, we spotlighted the man who built the houses we deconstructed on Eager Street, Frank Novak. Legend has it that Novak built 7,000 rowhouses in East Baltimore, beginning in 1899 with the 700 block of Patterson Park, and moving north and east to help construct Baltimore’s rapidly developing suburbs.
Several months ago, we got an email from Elizabeth Day,  Novak’s great-grand-niece (Novak was her father’s great uncle), who shared some family history with us. She told us that her father, James Scroggs, had come across the blog and had enjoyed reading about his great uncle’s role in shaping Baltimore. We sent James a brick from one of Novak’s houses, and he more than repaid us with the wonderful history that follows:
Frank wasn’t the only entrepreneurial Novak: in 1907 (the same year the houses on Eager Street were built), Frank’s older brother Joseph opened a saloon at 2308 E Madison Street. Joseph ran the saloon until Rudolph, a younger brother, took it over in 1913. Rudolph ran the joint until 1920, when Prohibition forced him to convert it into a soda/fountain. James recounts that, “my mother’s recollections of the place were of a friendly neighborhood gathering place, a kind of ethnic pub where her mother and aunt cooked up Czech delicacies.”
James’ mother was named Florence, and in the photo below you can see her with her cousin Mildred Raborg in front of Novak’s Saloon. The photo was taken in 1918.

'18 Mildred Raborg & Florence Novak at door of Novak Saloon

James also sent along a photo of the same address nearly 80 years later:

2308 Madison St in 1996

Here’s what the intersection looks like today:

2308 madison

You can see that some of the original details remain: the ornamental brackets supporting the entryway are still there under several coats of paint, as are the marble slabs framing the entry landing.
James ended his email by noting that “Frank Novak seems to have been a very modest man. He deserves more credit.”
James also sent along Frank Novak’s obituary, which we’ll discuss in more detail in a later post.

Bricks & Snow Removal in Baltimore

Baltimore Lore


1922 snow baltimore

Removing snow by the cart-full in Baltimore in 1922. (Image courtesy of

During these wintry times, when the majesty of falling snow has given way to the dread of dealing with mounds of it, let us pause and recall that our aching backs and calloused hands are nothing new, that our forefathers and mothers had to shovel out their wagons, de-ice their single-pane windows, and plow, or rather roll, the streets with snow rollers.
Until 1862, when Milwaukee adopted the first snow plows, snow rollers would be used to compact the snow, making streets passable. These rollers actually made the streets more passable, as the compacted snow served as a perfect surface for ski and sled-mounted vehicles.
Besides the rollers, cities heavily relied on their citizenry (and occasionally their police forces) to remove the snow. Snow was a major physical obstacle, something that appeared somewhat regularly and had to be regulated as such.
In the Baltimore of 1858, this regulation came in the form of Ordinance No. 33, Sec. 31. The broad ordinance was designed to “restrain evil practices…and to remove nuisances.” Sec. 31 dealt with snow removal from footpaths, and mirrors modern regulations: essentially, folks were required to clear the footpaths that fronted their property within three hours of snow falling.

brick and snow regs

What’s odd is the placement of this Section: it comes directly after Sec. 30 (not the odd part) which deals with brick kiln regulations! One can imagine the drafters of the city ordinances creating their list of nuisances, and saying, “Heavens yes, we must certainly regulate the foul odours and displeasing smoke coming from those brick kilns. Hmmm, you know what else is equally as problematic? Snow!”

New Series: Lumber Stamps of Baltimore

Anatomy of A Rowhouse, Baltimore Lore, Reclaimed Wood, Salvage
Old houses are filled with treasure. Sometimes, that treasure takes the form of old letters, photographs, newspapers, and other odds and ends that attest to the human presence that once filled a home. In the salvage world, the bounty is in the building materials themselves, the wood, brick, and stone that spent generations as parts of a house.
Occasionally, the treasure occupies both categories, and that is what we are concerned with here today.
Behold the scrawled name of Heise & Bruns, a lumber company that operated in our fair city from the 1860s to the 1920s, and the stamp of William Applegarth & Son, a shipping and commission house incorporated in 1850.
It's hard to make out, but this joist features the stamp of "Wm. APPLEGARTH & SON" and the painted names of "Heise & Bruns"

It’s hard to make out, but this joist features the stamp of “Wm. APPLEGARTH & SON” and the painted names of “Heise & Bruns”

First, let’s examine Heise & Bruns. The firm was started by German immigrants William Heise and John Bruns in 1862. Their offices and yard were at the intersection of Concord and Eastern Avenues (currently the site of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technolody, in Harbor East).
In this map fro 1876, you can see the location of the Heise & Bruns yard and offices. (Map courtesy of the Huntingfield Map Collection from the Maryland State Archives, made available to us by the always helpful, generous, and inspiring Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage)

In this map from 1876, you can see the location of the Heise & Bruns yard and offices. (Map courtesy of the Huntingfield Map Collection from the Maryland State Archives, made available to us by the always helpful, generous, and inspiring Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage)

The yard was the largest in Baltimore, occupying 30,000 square feet, with room for one million boardfeet of lumber. As you can see in the schematic below, from old Sanborn insurance maps, at Heise & Bruns, they did it all: in addition to fulfilling the raw lumber needs of a growing city, the firm produced doors, windows, trim, lath and shingles.
sanbornweb01In Baltimore, Gateway to The South, Liverpool of America, a monograph from 1898 extolling the virtues of this bustling city, the authors were kind enough to note that “Mr. Heise is one of Baltimore’s progressive and enterprising younger business men, and the firm as a whole, are gentlemen of that leading and public-spirited class which is accomplishing most towards keeping our city at the the front in trade and commerce and bringing its resources and advantages most prominently to the attention of the country at large.”
William Applegarth & Son made their money operating ships up and down the Atlantic Coast.  William was from a prominent Maryland family; he quickly moved from captaining ships to owning them, and eventually he became a master broker, overseeing a sizable fleet. In 1860, the value of William Applegarth’s real estate was listed as $13,000, while his personal wealth was estimated at $10,000.
In addition to ferrying loads of salt from the Caribbean and granite from Port Deposit, the Applegarth concern sent schooners up the Susquehanna towards the rapidly denuding pine forests of Pennsylvania. The image below, from the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, shows how the tall stands of Eastern White Pines that flourished in much of the state were clearcut, yielding boatloads (literally) of valuable lumber that made its way to cities across the Midwest and East Coast.
William died in 1873, but his sons Nathaniel and Thomas operated the company long after his passing out of their offices at 507 E Pratt, just down the street from the Heise & Bruns lumberyard.
It seems likely that our joist was stamped by the Applegarths as cargo, then painted with the Heise & Bruns name once it had been taken into inventory, or perhaps once it was being ready to be sent to a builder. After the joist had been set in its pocket, it would have had lath and plaster applied to its bottom and floorboards nailed into its top; strip by strip, board by board, the names on the joist would have been obscured as the piece of wood completed the journey from raw material, to usable lumber, to an invisible structural member of a Baltimore rowhouse.

The State of The Baltimore Lumber Trade in 1921

Baltimore Lore, Reclaimed Wood
reclaimed wood end grain
If the title of this post led you to believe that you were in for a white-knuckled thrill-ride of lumber pricing fluctuations and market conditions in the year 1921, prepare to be disappointed.
It’s not that such an exploration wouldn’t be rewarding, it’s just that the title of this post is taken directly from an article in The New York Lumber Trade Journal from 1921, an article that is perhaps the greatest and most glaringly obvious feat of filling space in a publication.

ny lumber trade journal

The article somehow manages to literally say nothing about the lumber trade, but it might rightly be declared a master class on subjective constructions of reality:
“Baltimore, Feb 10: Opinions in regard to lumber trade conditions here vary with the experiences of individual members of the trade and with their temperaments. If a dealer of manufacturer happens to be of an optimistic disposition he will be able to see some good in the situation; but if, on the contrary, he is pessimistically inclined, the prospect will look to him very dubious and he will draw a decidedly discouraging picture of the prevailing state of affairs. This will account for the varying opinions elicited in response to inquiries from half a dozen or any other number of lumberman. There are those who have nothing good to say of the market and who declare that business remains almost at a standstill…On the other hand, some members of the trade manage to see the good here and there.”
Just flawless reporting: both sides explored with no sides taken, empathy for all, a far-reaching exploration of the human condition hidden within a seemingly mundane trade report.


Why “Eager” Street?

Baltimore Lore
Eager, in this case, is not the familiar adjective, but rather a proper noun referring to John Eager Howard.
(Image courtesy of

(Image courtesy of

John Eager Howard (JEH) was quite the Marylander: he was a soldier in the Continental Army, a three-term governor of Maryland, a Continental Congressman, US Congressman, US Senator, and he turned down an invite from friend and lookalike George Washington to be Secretary of War. He died in 1827, and by 1832, city maps show an Eager Street.
This map from 1833 shows one of the streets named for John Eager Howard shortly after his death

This map from 1833 shows one of the streets named for John Eager Howard shortly after his death (Image courtesy of

The name “Eager”, a variant of “Edgar”, is of Anglo-Saxon origin predating the 7th century, and it combines “ead” which means prosperity with “gar” which means spear. Odd.
You’ll recognize JEH’s legacy throughout the state, notably in the eponymous Howard County. There’s also this commanding statue near Baltimore’s Washington Monument.
(Image courtesy of
JEH has one other distinction: he’s the only person with three streets named after him in Baltimore: John Street, Howard Street, and, our favorite, Eager Street.