Timonium resident and poet Ann Kolakowski says that what she discovered when her grandmother turned 99 has haunted her to this day. Now, nearly 12 years later, she has published a book of poetry about that discovery.
"When my brothers and I were clearing out our grandmother's home when she moved to an assisted living facility," said Kolakowski, "I found a shabby notebook. I opened it and read, 'Marian Brown, Domestic Science/Warren School, Maryland.' I was really confused."
In fact, the town in which her grandmother, Florence Marian Brown Eichler, had spent her childhood and attended Warren School had been bought, razed and flooded in 1921 to create a municipal water supply. Not only was she upset that her grandmother's entire city had been erased, Kolakowski was shocked to learn that she had grown up and lived just a few miles from this progressive little town called Warren, now under the waters of Loch Raven Reservoir, and never even knew of its existence.
"When I was a child," Kolakowski reflected, "we fished from the shores where Warren once stood. I have very faint memories of my parents asking me to look for a flagpole in Loch Raven, but I never knew why."
Curious about the connection between the childhood memory and the old notebook she had recently discovered, Kolakowski contacted former Baltimore County historian John McGrain, who shared with her photographs, notes and articles about Warren that he had collected.
"I was hooked. Unfortunately, by the time I found out about Warren, my grandmother had forgotten most of it," said Kolakowski.
She searched for other survivors of Warren, but had no luck.
"I was unable to locate another living person who had any memories of Warren or who had even lived there, as a baby or young child. I felt compelled to capture and preserve it," she said.
To do her part to archive both the history of the town and her grandmother's legacy as the oldest survivor of Warren on record (she died in 2006 at the age of 103), Kolakowski wrote "Persistence: Poems of Warren, Maryland," just published by David Robert Books.
The 78-page book is filled with original poetry; some poems are written directly about her grandmother, while others capture the possible experiences of real residents that she read about.
In the Introduction to her book, Kolakowski writes, "Many of these poems are based on newspaper accounts; others were inspired by photographs, anecdotes and my own imagined version of the truth."
According to Kolakowski, the town was known as much for its engineering as it was for its progressive and rich cultural life.
Many of her poems, including "Making Rounds," "Evening Service," and "Imagining the Flood," take the personas of Warren residents before and after the sale of their engineering town in 1908, which was kept a secret for more than a year. "Witness" is the book's signature poem about Kolakowski's pursuit for information and the challenges she faces with an aging grandmother.
Sally Riley, of Mays Chapel, has been a library and research volunteer at the Historical Society of Baltimore County for the last five years, where she has conducted extensive research on the town of Warren.
According to Riley, Baltimore City voters approved a multi-million loan in 1908 to fund improvements to the city's water system. After the loan was approved, the City Water Board had "quietly" negotiated to pay Warren Manufacturing Co. $725,000 for the mill and town, whether the area was needed or not.
As part of a larger expansion that cost the city a total of one million dollars, the town of Phoenix had also been marked for flooding, but was never touched.
Under this agreement with Baltimore City, the Warren Manufacturing Co. had agreed to pay rent to Baltimore City so that the company could continue to operate until the expansion of the reservoir was completed.
In 1921, the citizens of Warren were kicked out, the town was dismantled, and the area was flooded. The town of Bosley was also sacrificed for Loch Raven Reservoir, according to Riley.
To this day, portions of Warren can still be seen.
"There are foundations from four bungalows visible on Herring Hill, just east of the reservoir and north of Warren Road, and some additional rubble from other building foundations up along the hill, well above the water line," said Riley.
Riley also explained the mysterious flagpole that Kolakowski's family had told her to look for when fishing in the reservoir.
"The only mention of anything left in tact by the city of Baltimore was the flagpole, which stood in the schoolyard," Riley said. "Supposedly, it was visible for about 25 years, but it eventually rotted away and disappeared."
According to Riley, the process of purchasing towns for expansion was not exclusive to the Loch Raven reservoir project.
"There were also towns in northwestern Baltimore County which were purchased when the Prettyboy Dam construction was being planned, among them Hoffmanville, Rockdale and Schamburg."
Kolakowski's chosen form — poetry — to remember the residents of Warren seemed like the best choice for her to capture the stories of the individuals who were displaced.
"I hope that [readers] can appreciate that when the town was destroyed, so much more was lost than buildings. That sometimes what we call progress requires great sacrifice," she said.
Ned Balbo, an associate professor of writing at Loyola University and resident of Rodgers Forge, reviewed Kolakowski's work and agrees.
"I think it's essential to preserve the lives of ordinary people whose voices often go unheard and whose experiences don't always make it into poetry," Balbo said. "It's even more important when a whole community is wiped away and its shared memory resides only with those few who survive to tell its stories. Persistence is not just a book of poetry but a way to give a lasting voice to the lost — and to an important part of Maryland's history."
Ann Kolakowski and Sally Riley, as well as Fred Rasmussen, will be presenting Rumor or Fact? A Town under Loch Raven Reservoir? on May 25, 2-3:30p.m., at the Historical Society of Baltimore County Almshouse Headquarters, 9811 Van Buren Lane, Cockeysville. For more information about this event, go to annkolakowski.com.