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Historic Stone Hill area tucked in near Hampden


Streets named Pacific, Puritan, Bay and Field could take a prize for the least known addresses in Baltimore.

They are in Stone Hill, a tiny neighborhood of 47 stone houses that sits on the edge of the Jones Falls Valley nearly straight across from the Baltimore Zoo and due north of the 29th Street Bridge. Another way to think of this neighborhood is South Hampden.

If you wander into this enclave, you might think you made a left turn into a Welsh village.

At 719 Field St. (named for the meadow it once faced) lives Guy Hollyday, a 66-year-old who once taught German and has been a Community College of Baltimore administrator.

Some 13 years ago he and his wife found this neighborhood and bought one of its 1840-vintage homes. The spell of this isolated, but beguiling part of Baltimore rubbed off. He has now compiled a loving, often lyrical book of life there, most of the account transcribed interview material from the long-time residents.

"I am not a historian," Mr. Hollyday said. "I got the idea for this from my father. I was at a family gathering, a rather large party. I decided towear a favorite sweater of mine. It had a hole in it.

"My father didn't think this was appropriate for that kind of function. He told me so. I said we needed to talk, and through subsequent discussions, I learned about him and his father. This was the beginning of family history for me," Mr. Hollyday said.

His book is "Stone Hill, The People and Their Stories." He sells it himself for $15.75 and it is available at a few local outlets and the Maryland Historical Society.

The work is a kind of public family album. It records the stories of the people who worked at the old Mount Vernon cotton duck textile mills along Falls Road or maybe had a job on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

And it reads like a Sunday night sitting in a warm kitchen while all the aunts and uncles talked about their youth.

Stone Hill is a classic mill hamlet, where the company owned the looms, the houses and some would say the people.

It is hard to think of another place in Baltimore where all the streets are lined with charcoal-colored stone houses set on generous lots. The author's street, Field, remains unpaved and unimproved. This is clearly one neighborhood that escaped the grasp of conventional municipal improvements.

It wasn't until the 1920s that a private citizen could even buy a house there. They were all rented by the Mount Vernon cotton duck textile mill to its workers. Into the 1970s, the company still owned a couple of these solid houses.

With tape recorder and pad in hand, Mr. Hollyday, clearly the outsider within an insular neighborhood, talked to people. He took down their stories, their laughs, perhaps a few exaggerations along the way.

Most neighbors cooperated, but one 102-year-old lady won't talk and threatened to call the police.

Part of this work's charm is that it is so honestly homemade. The author took many of its photographs himself. He set the type on a computer and had it produced with a plastic spiral binding at a Charles Village photocopy-printing shop. It looks like a large version of a church-sponsored cook book. It reads better than many an academic treatise.

There are classic stories of religion, hard work at the mills, corner stores and a local baseball team named the Stones -- for a storekeeper named Stone who coincidentally lived in Stone Hill. There's also an account of the Klu Klux Klan, active in these parts in the early 1920s.

Its homemade manufacture seems right of the tradition of this self-sufficient, can-do neighborhood, where boys once rigged up push carts propelled by discarded baby carriage wheels or skis from barrel staves, and workers brought home old cotton spools to burn in kitchen stoves.

"I was growing up during the Depression on Stone Hill. We always had plenty to eat. There wasn't too much luxury, but everybody was happy -- always had a place to sleep, nice, clean home. We didn't have all the trimmings. The older you get, the more you fell in love with the Hill," said Dane Hammond, who lived at various times on Pacific and Puritan streets. He is one of the many voices in the Stone Hill chorus.

At his last count, Mr. Hollyday has sold or given away 300 or so copies.

"When I need more, I just to to the printer and get another 100," he said.

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