Most motorists speeding along St. Paul Street probably haven't the faintest idea who that heroic bronze figure is, the one with the Prince Albert frock coat and Vandyke whiskers atop a granite pedestal staring at Mercy Hospital.
Only the occasional pedestrian through Preston Gardens learns that this figure, in a grove of young crape myrtle trees, is that of John Mifflin Hood, railroad president and philanthropist. Its inscription hardly begins to tell the story of a man who helped rescue not only a business but a city.
At his death in 1906, The Sun observed, "Probably no citizen of Baltimore within the memory of men of this generation contributed more largely to the material welfare and prosperity of this city and of the State of Maryland than did John Mifflin Hood."
Born in 1843 near Sykesville, Hood began his railroad career as a 16-year-old. After serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, he worked for several railroads before joining the Western Maryland Railway in 1874.
What he found was a debt-ridden, 90-mile railroad operated with twelve asthmatic locomotives," said The Sun.
H.L. Mencken described Hood as "the amiable but unimportant president of what was in his time undoubtedly the worst railroad in the United States."
When he took over command of the Western Maryland, Baltimore had an investment of millions of dollars in the lagging enterprise. Stockholders hadn't received dividends in years; Enoch Pratt suggested that the city's investment was probably a total loss.
But by the time of his retirement in 1902, Hood had successfully extended the railroad's route mileage to 268 miles through Western Maryland and Pennsylvania. Coal, agricultural products and passengers flowed to and from Baltimore on trains pulled by a fleet of modern steam engines.
At the new Hillen Station in Baltimore, wealthy passengers boarded for Pen-Mar, a fashionable summer mountain resort created by Hood in the early 1890s.
When the railway was sold in 1902, the city earned a whopping bonanza of $8.7 million and retired its loans.
After retiring from the railway in 1902, Hood became president of the United Railways and Electric Co., where he remained until his death. He is buried in Druid Ridge Cemetery near Pikesville.
The rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire of 1904 cost $6 million, much of which was accomplished with the Western Maryland sale money. Hood also donated his own money to assist in the city's recovery.
In gratitude, the last $10,000 of the Baltimore Burnt District Commission fund was spent to erect a statue in his honor. It was unveiled on May 11, 1911, by Hood's grandson, John Mifflin Hood III.
The statue stood in Hopkins Place until 1962, when urban renewal caused its relocation. The move wasn't without controversy. Relatives complained that their famous ancestor was consigned to "a secondary street facing backward," reported The Sun.
A letter carrier wrote the editor of The Evening Sun lamenting Hood's removal:
"So-long Mr. Hood. They are taking you away from Hopkins Place. I'm going to miss you. I've been tightening the laces on my shoes on the rim of your monument for a number of years now. The delivery of mail down Hopkins Place just won't seem the same without you."
"He was a man who accomplished remarkable things, and their accomplishment was all the more remarkable because of the quiet way in which he labored. The secret of his success lay in his unwavering fearlessness and determination; and in his uniform courtesy," wrote Bernard C. Steiner in his 1907 book, "Men of Mark in Maryland."
Pub Date: 5/02/98