In winter, houses and structures are more obvious than in other seasons when abundant foliage obscures their view. On a recent walk in Roland Park, we passed one longstanding institution after another. I thought of what staying power these neighborhood institutions have had, and what anchors they have been to the community.
Architects and planners have long studied the design of Roland Park. The integration of educational and religious institutions, along with an off-street business block at the center, has given this community vibrant life since its earliest days. Recreational facilities also were built in early: the Stony Run Club on East Lane and the Roland Park Golf Club (now the Baltimore Country Club) in the heart of the community on the west. From their beginnings, institutions and businesses have fostered a sense of community that is is increasingly valuable in a digital age.
On a long January walk, we left home and headed south to the water tower. I could not help thinking of a similar water tower on the west side of the city, one in derelict condition with its roof is collapsing. I thought of the demolished water tower that once stood not far from the Roland Park fire station. I also thought of efforts that have begun to repair the one still standing, of a bond bill that might help secure its future, of the February 25 community chili fundraiser at the Radisson in Cross Keys.
After we walked around the water tower loop, where trackless trolleys and buses once turned, we headed north. We passed the site of the former St. Mary’s Female Orphan Asylum (now Roland Springs and 4401 Roland Avenue), The Woman’s Club of Roland Park, the first Roland Park Country School building in the 4600 block of Roland, St. David’s Church and the former Grace Methodist Church (now the North Baltimore Mennonite Church) across the street.
Next came the former St. David’s rectory, the fire station and the Roland Park Shopping Center, with the Roland Park Presbyterian Church across Roland Avenue. Farther north came the library, the Eddie’s block, the new Roland Park Country School campus, Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, and St. Mary’s Seminary. After a loop around the back of that majestic structure, we crossed Roland Avenue to Gilman (which moved to its current location in 1910) then via footbridge to Bryn Mawr.
Many of these institutions were built in the early days of Roland Park. Others, like Bryn Mawr, Friends, Calvert, the Cathedral School and the now-defunct Girls’ Latin, moved up from in-town locations.
The Roland Park Company sited most institutions on picturesque corner lots with ample space, front and side. Most of those corner structures are in tact today. That is no mean feat. With increased costs of running physical plants, century-old institutions are testaments to their roles and to their leadership.
Ditto individually owned stores like Gundy’s, Tuxedo Pharmacy, Victor’s (now part of Eddie’s) and the oldest store in the neighborhood: Schneider’s Hardware, established as a meat market in 1896 by the current owner’s great-grandfather.
Multi-generational, family businesses add another layer of continuity. Many current owners have known three, sometimes four, generations of customers. Many owners and their children have attended neighborhood schools and know residents in several ways.
The strength of this community, however, is not only the continuity of business ownership and institutions but also the influx of residents from elsewhere. The diversity enjoyed today, in residents and institutions, strengthens the fabric of Roland Park.
Institutions and structures are only as solid as the people who steward them. The foresight of community founders and the ongoing dedication of institutions and residents have produced a community that is almost as unusual today as it was at it founding.
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