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Frank R. Shivers Jr., longtime Bolton Hill educator, writer and regional historian, dies

Frank R. Shivers Jr. wrote two books on Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood.
Frank R. Shivers Jr. wrote two books on Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Frank R. Shivers Jr., an educator, historian and writer who enjoyed documenting the residents and architecture of his beloved adopted Bolton Hill neighborhood, died Tuesday from complications of dementia at his longtime Bolton Street home.

He was 96.

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“Frank was one of the kindest most gentle souls. He really was amiable and the definition of the term,” said Walter G. Schamu, president and founder of SM+P Architects. “He’d breeze into my office on Morton Street wearing that little pouch of his and ask what I was building. He was such a delightful person and adopted Baltimore and loved it.”

Charles Duff, a teacher, developer and historian and president of Jubilee Baltimore, is an old friend.

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“More than anybody, Frank made Bolton Hill as an idea that people have in their minds,” said Mr. Duff, who is a Bolton Hill resident. “Bolton Hillers are civilized and tolerant and he created that and he taught us a lot about ourselves, and he embodied both of those worlds.”

He added: “It’s amazing that Frank Shivers and [former state Sen.] Jack Lapides, who were the first citizens of Bolton Hill, passed away within 90 days of each other.”

Barbara A. Hoff, an architectural historian and a former Bolton Hill resident, was another longtime friend.

“I knew Frank during the time I was in Baltimore beginning in the 1970s,” said Ms. Hoff, who now lives in Los Angeles. “He was such a special person and a true gentleman. Whenever I think of that word you can substitute Frank Shivers’ name.”

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Frank Remer Shivers Jr., the son of dairy farmers Frank R. Shivers Sr. and Emily Wilkins Shivers, was born in 1924 in Haddonfield, New Jersey. He was descended from a long line of Quakers, family members said.

“He was born at home and died at home,” said a daughter, Lottchen Shivers, of Rhinebeck, New York.

Mr. Shivers began his education in a two-room country schoolhouse and was 16 when he graduated in 1941 from Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly, New Jersey. He began his college studies at New Jersey Teachers College in Trenton, before enlisting in the Army in July 1944, and four months later, was sent to Yale University to study Japanese under the Army Specialized Training Program.

“Dad scored so high on a test in the Army that he was taken out of the infantry that was set to go into the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was sent to Yale University to study Japanese,” Ms. Shivers said. He left Yale in 1946 to serve with the Counter Intelligence Corps in Japan during the occupation that followed the end of World War II.

In 2001, Frank Shrivers holds a mockup of a plaque that will be hung on a house on Park Ave where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived.
In 2001, Frank Shrivers holds a mockup of a plaque that will be hung on a house on Park Ave where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived. (Lloyd Fox)

He attained the rank of private and after being discharged returned to Yale, where he was a member of the Elizabethan Club and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 in English. A year later, obtained a master’s degree, also in English.

One of his undergraduate Yale classmates was future President George H.W. Bush. “President Bush was our class insurance agent when we were in New Haven,” he told a Baltimore Sun reporter some years ago.

From 1949 to 1951, when he moved to Baltimore, Mr. Shivers had been on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati.

He was married in 1950 to the former Lottchen Vondersmith and from 1951 to 1954, he did graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University where he was also a teaching assistant.

Mr. Shivers had planned on obtaining his Ph.D. at Hopkins, but the responsibility of raising a family made graduate school difficult. In 1955, the couple purchased a Bolton Street rowhouse where they raised their four children.

He was hired in 1954 to chair the English department at Friends School, where he taught for the next 26 years until retiring in 1980.

Mr. Shivers still remained actively engaged as an educator from 1980 to 1999, teaching writing as an adjunct professor at Hopkins in its School of Professional Studies, Business and Education, and also at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Towson University.

For Mr. Shivers, Bolton Hill was more than a place to live, it became his muse, and he reveled in its inherent quirkiness and its residents.

And Mr. Shivers himself could at moments reflect the quirkiness of the neighborhood.

“Whenever he came to see his daughter Natalie, who then lived in Los Angeles, he always wore two wristwatches,” Ms. Hoff said, with a laugh. “One was set to L.A. time and the other was on Baltimore time.”

In addition to a busy academic life, Mr. Shivers found time to write four books and co-authored two others. He was the founder of the Bolton Hill Bulletin, the neighborhood newspaper; a founder of the Bolton Hill Swim and Tennis Club, whose charter was signed in his living room; and played an instrumental role in getting Bolton Hill placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, which spared it from urban renewal and a proposed highway.

Mr. Shivers, along with his neighbor, Chase Davis, led the way in the “greening” and beautification of their neighborhood by planting the first gardens in front of their rowhouses in place of concrete. They did the same thing at nearby Episcopal Memorial Church where they removed concrete on the same two sides and replaced it with gardens.

He was a much in demand lecturer on Baltimore history, neighborhoods and architecture and spoke at Hopkins, the Maryland Historical Society and Goucher College.

It was Mr. Shivers and neighbor Polly Duke who initiated Bolton Hill’s Blue Plaques program, which drew its inspiration from a similar program in London. The plaques honored such Bolton Hill residents such as writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, Greek mythology expert Edith Hamilton, entertainer Gary Moore, President Woodrow Wilson and Dr. Jesse Lazear, the Johns Hopkins Hospital malaria and yellow fever expert.

“I think it’s important for us to generate some interest and pride,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 2001 about the project. “When you walk around, you’ll see them and feel like you’re in a special place.”

An ubiquitous walker who seemed to be everywhere at once, Mr. Shivers created walking routes for a full-length guidebook to waterfront Baltimore and surrounding neighborhoods, and enjoyed leading popular walking tours.

Mr. Shivers was a longtime member of the Mount Royal Improvement Association and the Citizens Planning and Housing Association.

“As a community activist, he promoted downtown living for people from all socio-economic groups through his writing, lecturing and participating in community projects,” Ms. Shivers wrote in a biographical profile of her father. “He played an active role in helping stem families’ flight from the city. He was adept at bringing people together and encouraging collaboration.”

Two of Mr. Shivers’ books were paeans to his neighborhood: “Bolton Hill: Baltimore Classic” and “Bolton Hill: Classic Baltimore Neighborhood: Blue Plaque Edition.”

“One blessing was the confidence of the residents. Bolton Hill always gave the town-dwellers an excellent spot to perch,” Mr. Shivers wrote in “Bolton Hill: Classic Baltimore neighborhood. Blue Plaque Edition.” “It occupied the highest ground within city limits and stood isolated above the Jones Falls. Also, it was just the right length horse-car ride to town.”

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Mr. Shivers had served on the boards of Baltimore Heritage, the Peale Museum, the Flag House and the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

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“Frank had an insatiable curiosity and I remember sitting at the table at the Hamilton Street Club when he talked of things that stretched your mind,” Mr. Schamu said.

Mr. Shivers was a man of certain culinary habits and he favored Maison Marconi on West Saratoga Street, where in the springtime, it wasn’t uncommon to receive a phone call from him announcing in his trademark whispy voice that it was “Shad row season at Marconi’s and suggesting a luncheon,” his daughter said.

“That’s where he liked to eat whenever we went out which wasn’t that often,” his daughter said. “And I think we only went to Haussner’s one time.”

In addition to being a member of the Hamilton Street Club, he was a longtime member and former senior warden at Memorial Episcopal Church.

Plans for a memorial gathering are incomplete.

In addition to his wife of 70 years, and daughter, he is survived by a son, Philip Shivers of Guilford; two other daughters, Maggie Heyward of Washington and Natalie Shivers of Pennington, New Jersey; and six grandchildren.

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