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Guilford Reservoir will be safer for water customers, less picturesque for walkers

A pair of 6.8 million gallon concrete water tanks near completion where the Guilford Reservoir once stood in North Baltimore.
A pair of 6.8 million gallon concrete water tanks near completion where the Guilford Reservoir once stood in North Baltimore. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore’s complex water infrastructure is constantly being rebuilt. A visit to the Guilford Reservoir on Cold Spring Lane revealed the scale of work now transforming the 1893 water relic.

A construction crew is now placing concrete water tanks within the footprint of what once was an open square-shaped reservoir for drinking water. New pumps, a pumping station, mains, drains are due for the site.

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While the reservoir gets little historic recognition, it is among the neighborhood’s oldest features and predates all of the residential community that got its start in the years before World War I.

In its earliest history, Guilford was made up of land patents granted to British citizens before the American Revolution.

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“The entire region was sold in 1780 as confiscated property to Revolutionary War veteran Lieutenant-Colonel William McDonald. McDonald gave Guilford its name to commemorate the battle of Guilford Court House, North Carolina,” states a history prepared by Baltimore Heritage. “His son William, better known as ‘Billy,’ inherited the estate and in 1852 built the Guilford Mansion.”

Arunah S. Abell, founder of The Baltimore Sun, later acquired the house and grounds for a fancy summertime country seat. But it wasn’t just a place to escape heat and humidity. It was a savvy real estate investment. An account in his newspaper on July 15, 1893, when the reservoir was finished, indicates that plans were already in place to extend a grid of city streets through the trees and lawns of Guilford when the time was right.

The street that is today’s Northway — and borders the reservoir’s southern flank, was penciled in as 44th Street in 1893. Norwood Road was to have been an extension of Guilford Avenue.

The consequences of Baltimore's implementation of the federal water safety requirement will ripple throughout the city's neighborhoods.

The Guilford Reservoir, whose construction began July 31, 1888, held water collected from the Gunpowder Falls. That water found its way to Oliver Street in East Baltimore, where it was then pumped uphill, to Broadway, North Avenue, York Road, to what the newspaper calls 44th Street to the Guilford Reservoir.

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“The new reservoir is intended to supply the territory between Harford and Hillen roads on the east, the Falls Road on the west, Twenty-Fifth Street on the south, and beyond the northern city limits,” the paper said. At that point, all of the city was connected to fresh drinking water via a series of reservoirs, including the newly opened Guilford. Only one elevated section of Walbrook in West Baltimore was beyond the reach of the municipal pipes and valves.

Guilford’s historian, Ann G. Giroux, points out how that same Roland Park Company pressed the city’s Department of Public Works and its water engineers when a new pump house was constructed at Guilford nearly 100 years ago.

“It was fascinating that the Roland Park Company weighed in so heavily,” she said. “It worked out a plan that the pump building had some new and innovative features. There was plenty of subterranean soundproofing added so that there would be little noise to people living nearby.”

Over the decades the reservoir blended into the neighborhood. Its grassy green earthen side walls added a parklike touch. Runners liked the sidewalks along its perimeter. But more recently, city officials detected some leaks and considered the 1893 reservoir a potential safety issue.

An interesting fact is that the water in the Guilford Reservoir does not flow to the immediate neighborhood.

“Just because a reservoir is in your neighborhood, it does not not necessarily follow that it serves your community. The whole system is intertwined,” Department of Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said.

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