Posts tagged Ken Mars

Belair Road And North Avenue – The First Intersection Of Beer and Baseball in Baltimore

The hardscrabble intersection of Belair Road and North Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland, has no marker noting the importance of the area to the history of Baltimore baseball, or to the history of Baltimore beer, for that matter. However, Eagle Brewery and Malt House, which once stood in the northwest quadrant of that intersection, has deep baseball roots.

Detail from E. Sachse, & Co.'s Bird's Eye View of the City of Baltimore, 1869. (Library of Congress) (courtesy Ken Mars) (http://www.loc.gov/resource/g3844b.pm002540/#seq-1)

Detail from E. Sachse, & Co.’s Bird’s Eye View of the City of Baltimore, 1869. (Library of Congress) (courtesy Ken Mars)

Built on the former site of Richardson’s Oil Cloth Mill, the brewery was started by John Henry Von Der Horst in 1866 as part of the J. H. Von Der Horst Brewing Company. In 1880, John Von Der Horst gave his son, Henry R. “Harry” Von Der Horst, an interest in the brewery and renamed the company J. H. Von Der Horst & Son Brewing Company. With profits from the Eagle Brewery, Harry Von Der Horst in the early 1880s purchased a franchise in the American Association, a new major league hoping to rival the National League.

Baltimore Orioles American Association Scorecard 1884 (courtesy of Ted Patterson)

Baltimore Orioles American Association Scorecard 1884 (courtesy of Ted Patterson)

Unlike the National League, however, the American Association permitted its franchises to sell beer at their home games. Harry Von Der Horst installed a beer garden in his ballpark and encouraged fans to remain even after the game had ended to consume more beer. Although the American Association Orioles (they were the first professional Baltimore baseball team known as the Orioles) never placed higher than third during their decade in existence, the sale of beer at the games proved quite profitable.

Baltimore Orioles American Association Scorecard 1884 (courtesy of Ted Patterson)

Baltimore Orioles American Association Scorecard 1884 (courtesy of Ted Patterson)

In 1892, with the demise of the American Association, Harry Von Der Horst’s Orioles entered the newly-expanded National League, and just two years later, in 1894, brought Baltimore its first ever professional baseball championship.

Baltimore Orioles, 1897, John McGraw at bottom left (laying down) and Wilbert Robertson second row, third from right

Baltimore Orioles in 1897 (Manager Ned Hanlon pictured in suit)

Eagle Brewery and Malt House was bounded by Belair Road and Vonderhorst Lane (now Homestead Street) to the East, Sinclair Street to the North, Patterson Park Avenue to the west, and North Avenue to the South.

Maryland Map Circa 1892 (courtesy of Ken Mars)

Maryland Map Circa 1892 (Johns Hopkins University) (Courtesy of Ken Mars)

By the 1880s, Eagle Brewery was one of the largest in the city. According to the book Baltimore: Its Past and Present, A Souvenir Of The 27th Convention of the United States Brewer’s Association (A. Von Degen, 1887), the main brewery building was erected in 1880, was five stories high, and included three large steel boilers.

Von Der horst Brewery Circa 1880s (courtesy of Ken Mars)

Von Der horst Brewery Circa 1880s (courtesy of Ken Mars)

Eagle Brewery also had its own six-story malt house which produced 100,000 bushels of malt each year, and a five story ice house which provided refrigeration through the use of two DeLaVergne steam-driven ammonia compressors. The brewery’s annual production was 40,000 barrels.

Von Der Horst Brewery Circa 1890

Von Der Horst Brewery Circa 1890s

The two drawings above depicts the brewery as it looked fronting Belair Road, just south of what is now Homestead Street (formerly Vonderhorst Lane). The picture below shows that plot of land as it appears today, at the intersection of Belair Road and Homestead Street. The street address is 1920 Belair Road (formerly 10 Belair Avenue Extended).

Former Site of Eagle Brewery and Malt House, Baltimore, Maryland

Former Site of Eagle Brewery and Malt House, at intersection of Belair Road and Homestead Street, Baltimore, Maryland

There are no buildings from the Von Der Horst brewery at the site today. A portable building located at the former entrance to the brewery on Belair Street is owned by Power House World Ministries, which also owns several other buildings across from the site on Belair Road.

Power House World Ministries Building on Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland

Power House World Ministries Building on Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland, Across the street from the former site of Eagle Brewery.

On the day I visited the site with Ken Mars, a Baltimore baseball historian, the head of that church, Bishop James A. Winslow, Jr., was whacking weeds on the property. Bishop Winslow hopes to acquire other properties on the block to help fulfill his noble mission of serving those who “are less fortunate and have been beaten down by life.”

Bishop James A. Winslow, Jr. and Baseball Historian Ken Mars.

Bishop James A. Winslow, Jr. and Baseball Historian Ken Mars.

Behind the former entrance to the brewery on Belair Road is the Allender Bus Company, located at 2301 Sinclair Lane.

Sinclair Street, Baltimore, Maryland

Allender Bus Company, 2301 Sinclair Lane, Baltimore, Maryland, Former Site of Eagle Brewery

The Allender Bus Company sits on the portion of the property that once included the five story brewery building and the six story malt house.

Allender Bus Company, 2301 Sinclair Lane, Baltimore, Maryland, Former Site of Eagle Brewery

Allender Bus Company, 2301 Sinclair Lane, Baltimore, Maryland, Former Site of Eagle Brewery

The tract of land that fronts Belair Road sits at a higher elevation than the tract where Allender Bus Company is located. At about this spot once sat the five-story ice house, which had deep vaults located several stories below ground. One can only wonder what an excavation of this area might reveal.

Former Site of Eagle Brewery, between Belair Road and Sinclair Lane

Former Site of Eagle Brewery, between Belair Road and Sinclair Lane

Running parallel to Homestead Street is the former Goetze Meat Plant. A Baltimore landmark that remains to this day is the large, metal Goetze sign that sits along Sinclair Lane, just south of the railroad tracks.

Geotze Meat Plant and Sign, Baltimore, Maryland

Geotze Meat Plant and Sign, Baltimore, Maryland

Homestead Street today is really nothing more than an alley, now closed off and impervious to vehicular traffic.

Homestead Lane (Formerly Vonderhorst Lane), Baltimore, Maryland

Homestead Street (Formerly Vonderhorst Lane), Baltimore, Maryland

In 1929, during the height of prohibition, the Baltimore City Council voted to change the name of the street from Vonderhorst Lane to Homestead Lane because local residents did not like the road, or the surrounding area, being linked to the former brewery.

Homestead Lane and Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland

Homestead Lane and Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland

However, perhaps as a homage to the former landmark, the city changed only a portion of the street and left a one block stretch of Vonderhorst Lane east of Belair Road on the map and at the site.

Vonderhorst Lane and Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland

Vonderhorst Lane and Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland

Across the street from the former brewery on Belair Road is a sign for Vonderhorst Lane, which marks a right of way which now is nothing more than an alley.

Vonderhorst Lane, Baltimore, Maryland

Vonderhorst Lane, Baltimore, Maryland

The eastern end of Vonderhorst Lane terminates at Baltimore Cemetery, which perhaps is appropriate because Baltimore Cemetery is the final resting place for the Von Der Horst family.

Eastern Terminus of Vonderhorst Lane, Baltimore, Maryland

Eastern Terminus of Vonderhorst Lane, Baltimore, Maryland

In 1894, John Von Der Horst died and was interred in a mausoleum near the entrance to Baltimore Cemetery.

Von Der Horst Mausoleum, Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

Von Der Horst Mausoleum, Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

Also interred in the family vault is John’s wife Johanna, and his son John H. Von Der Horst, Jr., and his wife Mary.

The Von Der Horst Vault, Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

The Von Der Horst Vault, Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

After his father’s death in 1894, Harry Von Der Horst inherited a large portion of the brewery and formed Von Der Horst Brewing Company. In 1898, Harry Von Der Horst moved to New York, where he was part owner of the Brooklyn Superbras (which included several former Oriole players, including manager Ned Hanlon). In 1899, Von Der Horst Brewing Company became part of the Maryland Brewing Company, a consolidation of 16 or 17 Baltimore breweries. Harry Von Der Horst retained a share of that company, but eventually sold his shares to the Gottlieb-Bauernschmidt-Strauss Brewing Company. By 1904, Gottlieb-Bauernschmidt-Strauss had ceased making beer at the Eagle Brewery site and leased the former Von Der Horst property to Wilson Distilling Company.

Wilson Brewery Whiskey Label

Wilson Distilling Company Whiskey Label

Harry Von Der Horst died in New York in 1905, and is interred in the Von Der Horst vault along with his wife Emma, and his daughters Charlotte and Louise.

Von Der Horst Cress

Von Der Horst Cress on the Door to the Family Mausoleum

As for the former brewery site, during prohibition, the property was used to make alcohol products not intended for human consumption, although stories in the Baltimore Sun talk of bootlegging raids on the premises. In the 1930s, a car dealership, Backus Chevrolet, opened at the site, and in 1938, H.J. Weissner converted the dealership to a used car lot. In the 1980s a Church’s Fried Chicken restaurant was located at the site.

Former Site of Entrance to Eagle Brewery and Malt House, Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland

Former Site of Eagle Brewery and Malt House, and Wilson Distilling Company, Belair Road, Baltimore, Maryland

During his time as a baseball executive in Baltimore, Harry Von Der Horst brought the city three baseball championships, in 1894, 1895, and 1896. He also owned and/or helped construct three ballparks to house his teams. The first was Oriole Park (Oriole Park I), known as Huntington Avenue Grounds and American Association Park), at the southeast corner of what is now East 25th Street and Barclay Street. The American Association Orioles played there from 1883 to 1889. The second was Oriole Park II, located at the southwest corner of what is now Greenmount Avenue and East 29th Street, where the American Association Orioles played from 1890 to 1891. The third was Oriole Park III, also known as Union Park and the Baltimore Baseball and Exhibition Grounds, where American Association Orioles played in 1891. The National League Orioles played at Union Park up through the 1899 season.

Baltimore Skyline As Seen From Von Der Horst Mausoleum in Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore Skyline As Seen From Von Der Horst Mausoleum in Baltimore Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore Cemetery sits on one of the highest spots in the City of Baltimore, approximately three miles northeast of Camden Yards, the home of the current Baltimore Orioles. Although the neighborhood has changed dramatically since Harry Von Der Horst’s death, it seems fitting that the city skyline is readily visible from the front steps of the final resting place of the man who first brought together Baltimore baseball and beer.

John McGraw’s and Wilbert Robinson’s Former Baltimore Homes Damaged By Fire

Chances are most people who live in the 2700 block of St. Paul Street in Baltimore, Maryland, have no idea that the two houses on their block that caught on fire on February 7th were once owned by two future baseball Hall of Famers, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson.

2700 Block of St. Paul Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Where Wilbert Robertson and John McGraw Once Lived

2700 Block of St. Paul Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Where Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw Once Lived

McGraw and Robinson lived next door to each other at 2738 (McGraw) and 2740 (Robinson) St. Paul Street.

2738 and 2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Where Wilbert Robertson and John McGraw Once Lived

2738 and 2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Where John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson Once Lived

Both McGraw and Robinson played for the world champion Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s, when the team was a National League affiliate.Both players also were partners in the Diamond Cafe, located just two miles south of their homes, at 519 Howard Street in Baltimore. The Diamond is considered one of the first sports bar in the country.

Baltimore Orioles, 1897, John McGraw at bottom left  (laying down) and Wilbert Robertson second row, third from right

Baltimore Orioles, 1897, John McGraw, at bottom left (laying down) and Wilbert Robinson, second row, third from right

Robertson bought his house at 2738 St. Paul Street in 1898. McGraw bought the adjoining house at 2740 that same year. Robinson lived in the house with his wife and children. McGraw lived next door with his first wife, the former Minnie Doyle, and McGraw’s brother Mike. See The Real McGraw, by Mrs. John J. McGraw (p 112), The houses were located only two blocks north and four blocks east of the Orioles home ballpark, Union Park.

Rear of Row Houses at 2740 and 2738 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Former Homes of Wilbert Robertson and John McGraw.

Rear of Row Houses at 2740 and 2738 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland. Former Homes of Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw.

On February 7, 2015, a fire broke out in one of the homes and quickly spread to the other. Five people, including two children were injured in the blaze, although none appeared to be life threatening. Robertson’s home at 2740 St. Paul Street sustained the bulk of the damage. All of its front windows have been boarded up and the city has condemned the property because of the damage.

Fire Damaged House at 2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Former Home of Wilbert Robertson.

Fire Damaged House at 2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Former Home of Wilbert Robinson.

2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Circa 2013

Before the FIre, 2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Circa 2013

Hopefully both buildings can be saved and restored. Although neither house is listed on any historic register, they should be given their connection to two Baltimore’s greatest baseball players.

Fire Damage To 2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Forrmer House of Wilbert Robertson

Fire Damage To 2740 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Forrmer House of Wilbert Robinson

Several other homes of former National League Orioles Hall of Famers still stand in Baltimore City. These include Joe Kelley’s former home at 530 East 22nd Street, which is located next to St. Ann’s Catholic Church, where John McGraw married his second wife Blanche Sindall, on January 8, 1902.

Former Home of Joe Kelley

530 E 22nd Street, Baltimore, Maryland (three story tan brick row house). Former Home of Hall of Famer Joe Kelley

A former boarding house where John McGraw and Hughie Jennings both lived also still stands, at 12 West 24th Street (just six blocks west of Union Park’s former site).

Former Boarding House at 12 West 24th Street , Baltimore, Maryland, Where John McGraw and Hughie Jennings Once Roomed

Former Boarding House at 12 West 24th Street , Baltimore, Maryland, Where John McGraw and Hughie Jennings Once Roomed

Another house where Jennings once lived also still stands, but just barely, at 529 East 23rd Street.

529 East 23rd Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Former Home of Hughie Jennings

529 East 23rd Street, Baltimore, Maryland, Former Home of Hughie Jennings

As Joni Mitchell once famously sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.”

Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Joe Kelley, and Hughie Jennings

Former Orioles and Baseball Hall of Famers Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Joe Kelley, and Hughie Jennings

The past, as seen through these buildings, is with us today. Like Al Kaline’s boyhood home, these buildings are an important part of Baltimore’s history. They should be preserved and their history celebrated. Unfortunately, the passage of time and a lack of vision have  a way of allowing structures like these to slip away.

Thanks to local Baltimore baseball historian Ken Mars for contacting me about the fire.