Hollins Roundhouse neighborhood has rich Irish history

Planning maps say a section of Southwest Baltimore is called Hollins Market. I've learned its name has been amended to Hollins Roundhouse, because it marries the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's circular landmark, the roundhouse, with the Hollins Market. However it's recognized, the neighborhood is a gem of Baltimore antiquity.

The neighborhood claims attention this weekend for its association with the Irish of Baltimore. The railroad was getting going just as ships were bringing immigrants to American. There were ready jobs available in this industry.


The B&O established a thriving industrial enclave around what are called the Mount Clare Shops in Southwest Baltimore. The railroad hired thousands to build and repair everything from bridge parts to locomotives. The fine museum with its centerpiece roundhouse, where passenger cars were built and repaired, has evolved into a tourist magnet.

The railroad workers lived within walking distance. They were named Dolan, McGraw, Durkin, Flannery, Malone and, in the 19th century, a B&O boilermaker James Farley and his wife, Sarah Liberty Farley. Their home, at 918 Lemmon St., has been lovingly preserved, as the Irish Railroad Workers Museum.

Wear climbing shoes if you attempt its second floor. This compressed Baltimore rowhouse has an almost vertical, turning staircase. A second home, at 920 Lemmon, is a more traditional museum with a modern stair.

The house stands on small Lemmon Street, which runs between West Pratt and Lombard. A green line painted in the street stretches from Pratt and Poppleton to its wooden doorstep. The middle of the block is intersected by Amity Street (Edgar Allan Poe lived a few blocks north). And when you look that way, you spot the bluish windows of another landmark, the Maryland Forensic Medical Center, the state morgue.

The neighborhood mixes ancient Baltimore with the rail museum and some newer University of Maryland structures. The Hollins Market endures as a working city market and preserves the honest historic atmosphere. A Saturday trip through its aisles gives you a glimpse of what putting a Sunday dinner together would have been like in 1860.

This is the weekend for Baltimore's Irish community. I met three of its stalwarts, Baltimore City Liquor Board chair Thomas Ward, who is a former judge and City Council member; Michael Mellett, who lives at Pratt and Poppleton (his deck has a view of the historic train yard); and state Ancient Order of Hibernians President Tim Harvey. His great-grandfather, Owen Harvey, lived around the corner.

The middle of March is not peak Irish museum season, Mellett said. "It's the summer when we get the uptick, when the Orioles are playing against Boston or New York or other teams. About four-fifths of our visitors have an Irish-American background, and they find out about us," Mellett said.

Ward, who donated nearly $70,000 to stabilize and preserve the museum, is a legend among Baltimore preservationists. He doggedly battled 1950s tear-down urban renewal in Bolton Hill on Linden Avenue (where he lost), then was a prime organizer who successfully kept the 1960s interstate highway out of Fells Point and Federal Hill.

As a 17-year-old during World War II, Ward got a summer job as a rail clerk on the sprawling Camden Yards property. He describes the grandeur of the flickering red and green switch lights, the locomotives as they carried troops off to the conflict and the brakemen's swinging kerosene lanterns. He went on to get his law degree, but Ward never forgot the railroad legacy created by the people who made it possible.

Ward has placed a bronze plaque in the Lemmon Street home in memory of his father, Thomas J. Ward, a B&O brakeman who rose through the ranks to become general supervisor of all B&O terminals.