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Mary Ellen Hayward, historian, preservationist, curator and author whose expertise was Baltimore rowhouses and alley houses, dies

Dr. Mary Ellen “Mimi” Hayward worked at the Maryland Historical Society, where she was maritime curator and general history curator, from the early 1980s until 1996. She's pictured here in front of a maritime display in 1984.
Dr. Mary Ellen “Mimi” Hayward worked at the Maryland Historical Society, where she was maritime curator and general history curator, from the early 1980s until 1996. She's pictured here in front of a maritime display in 1984. (Irving Phillips/Baltimore Sun)

Mary Ellen “Mimi” Hayward, a historian, preservationist, museum curator and a founder of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Baltimore who also was the author of books that ranged from the Civil War in Maryland to architecture, died July 25 of undetermined causes at her farm in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. She was 72.

”Mimi’s death is a big loss for historic preservation and the museum field,” said Courtney B. Wilson, former director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, who first met Dr. Hayward years ago at the Maryland Historical Society.

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“We always kept in touch and collaborated on projects, and I learned a great deal about Baltimore from her over the years,” said Mr. Wilson, a former Brooklandville resident who lives in Naples, Florida. “And through the years, our lives just kept intersecting.”

Said Joseph M. Coale, a Ruxton historian and writer: “She was a history devotee who loved Baltimore culture and architecture. What she researched and wrote about will be her legacy. She’ll be remembered for it.”

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Nancy Proctor, a Silver Spring resident and executive director of The Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture, said, “She was a great scholar and writer and a real leader in terms of scholarship.”

Mary Ellen Hayward, daughter of John Albert Hayward, a liquor distributor, and his wife, Eleanor Berry Hayward, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Lutherville.

Mary Ellen Hayward, right, visits a small East Baltimore house that belongs to the Baylor family in January 1997. Albert Baylor is on the left. At center is project photo documentarian Wayne Nield. Dr. Hayward was working on the "Alley House Project," documenting East Baltimore's small houses on small streets.
Mary Ellen Hayward, right, visits a small East Baltimore house that belongs to the Baylor family in January 1997. Albert Baylor is on the left. At center is project photo documentarian Wayne Nield. Dr. Hayward was working on the "Alley House Project," documenting East Baltimore's small houses on small streets. (BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR/Baltimore Sun)

Her historical interests stirred early in her life as she was a descendant of the founders of Lutherville, the 19th century Baltimore County village that had been established by the Rev. Charles Augustus Morris, a Lutheran minister, and Dr. John Gottlieb Morris, founder of the Lutherville Female Seminary, and Dr. Benjamin Kurtz.

Dr. Hayward was a 1965 graduate of Roland Park Country School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College. She obtained a master’s degree in early American culture from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and her Ph.D. from Boston University.

In 1980, she was the architectural historian for the “Baltimore: A Patchwork Quilt of Neighborhoods” exhibition that opened at City Hall.

“There are a lot of things that have made the Baltimore neighborhood what it is,” she explained in a Sunday Sun interview. “Baltimore’s tradition of home ownership is an obvious one. but the importance of the church, which helped enable people who came here to assimilate. There is the proximity of the neighborhood to the workplace, which enabled people to live happily and productively in the neighborhood and never leave it.

“There is the role of ethnic societies — benevolent societies, lodges and so on, which were organized on a neighborhood basis, and which provided services people couldn’t get from the city.

“Then there are the aspects of what allowed Baltimore to grow and its neighborhoods to exist and survive — the geography, the port, the sail and steam commerce, the city’s conservatism, the stability of its industries,” she said.

Left to right, Steven Blake, president of the Arabber Museum of Baltimore; Dr. Mary Ellen Hayward; and architect Charles Belfoure review plans for the Irish Railroad Workers Museum on Lemmon Street in West Baltimore in June 1997.
Left to right, Steven Blake, president of the Arabber Museum of Baltimore; Dr. Mary Ellen Hayward; and architect Charles Belfoure review plans for the Irish Railroad Workers Museum on Lemmon Street in West Baltimore in June 1997. (JED KIRSCHBAUM/Baltimore Sun)

She was also the exhibition curator for the Baltimore City Life Museums and Peale Museum’s “The Baltimore Rowhouse — A Baltimore Style of Living,” which debuted in 1981.

“Her role was particularly crucial because at the time we knew so little about the rowhouse,” wrote Barry Dressel, who was deputy director and curator of the Peale from 1976 to 1985, and who had conceived the rowhouse exhibit, and had hired Dr. Hayward as research curator, in an email. “She was never an ’object’ curator — that was my interest — she was interested in data.”

Mr. Dressel, who left Baltimore to head Detroit’s now-gone history museum system, said Dr. Hayward became a “preservation force, protesting the bulldozing of rowhouses for newer developments. I think the lasting legacy was to instill pride in Baltimore’s distinctive urban house type — proof that the rowhouse bus tours that I gave dozens of times after the exhibition opened have recently been revived.”

From the early 1980s until 1996, Dr. Hayward worked at the Maryland Historical Society where she was maritime curator and general history curator, and in 1984 curated “Maryland’s Maritime Heritage,” an exhibit that traced the history of the port from the era of sailing ships to modern container vessels.

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After leaving the MHS, she did Historic District National Register nominations for Baltimore neighborhoods while pursuing a prolific career as researcher and author.

In 1994, along with co-author Robert I. “Ric” Cottom Jr., who had been editor of the Maryland Historical Society magazine, published “Maryland in the Civil War: A House Divided,” which led a Baltimore Sun critic to observe that it was a ’what-not curiosity cabinet of Maryland Civil War history, its 128 pages shoe-horned with excellent photos and engravings. The authors deliver buckets of the small detail, those interesting sidelights that animate this turbulent and emotional period.”

Dr. Mary Ellen Hayward walks down Durham Street in January 1997 in her role as survey project director for the "Alley House Project," which was studying small rowhouses on small streets in East Baltimore.
Dr. Mary Ellen Hayward walks down Durham Street in January 1997 in her role as survey project director for the "Alley House Project," which was studying small rowhouses on small streets in East Baltimore. (BARBARA HADDOCK TAYLOR/Baltimore Sun)

Mr. Cottom, a Roland Park resident and WYPR commentator, wrote in an email: “Mimi was always the quiet consummate professional. In matters of research, she knew all the hidden places to look, and she dug deep. Her contributions to ’Maryland in the Civil War,’ colorful details and a sterling chapter on the war’s aftermath, are original and lasting. In that and other books, she has left her mark on Maryland history.”

Her interest in the Baltimore rowhouse led to three other books: ”The Baltimore Rowhouse,” written with Charles Belfoure; “Baltimore’s Alley houses: Home for Working People”; and “The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History,” edited with Frank R. Shivers Jr.

In discussing her work researching city alley houses, Dr. Hayward told The Sun in a 1996 interview: “The old alley houses are a central part of the city’s history. It would be a tragedy if they were all wiped out.

In 1997, when her alley house book was published, The Sun observed that “Mary Ellen Hayward doesn’t quite fit in America’s throwaway society. In rowhouse neighborhoods long abandoned by the middle class, she walks dangerous streets in search of old tin ceilings, hand-carved mantels and cornices with more gingerbread than a German bakery.”

Dr. Hayward and Mr. Belfoure published “The Baltimore Rowhouse” in 1999, which resulted in The Sun’s architectural critic describing it as the “definitive story of the rowhouse.”

In a 1999 article, The New York Times lamented that Baltimore’s rowhouses were falling beneath the wrecker’s ball. Dr. Hayward told the Times that the city’s efforts in rowhouse demolition were “misguided.”

The Sun called “The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History” the “definitive inventory and guide to the architectural history of one of the premiere old cities of the United States.”

“We feel this book will acquaint general readers with the richness of the city’s building stock and the enduring legacy of the architects, artists, skilled workers and others who built Baltimore, said Robert J. Brugger, her former husband, who was history and regional book editor at the Johns Hopkins University Press, publisher of the book, in an interview with The Johns Hopkins Gazette.

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No doubt, it was her work chronicling alley houses that led her to join hands with Judge Thomas H. Ward in establishing the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, which opened in 2002 in adjoining 1848 Lemmon St. rowhouses near the B&O Railroad Museum at Mount Clare in Carroll Park.

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“She was an amazing historian and researcher and she did very important work documenting life and the architecture of the City of Baltimore,” said Gregory Weidman, of Bolton Hill, a former MHS colleague, where she had been curator of furniture.

In 1991, Catherine Rogers Arthur, who was hired by Dr. Hayward to be the assistant maritime curator at the MHS, said Dr. Hayward was responsible for getting 35 Maryland skipjacks onto the National Register, “noteworthy as the last working sail fleet in the country,” she wrote in an email.

“Mary Ellen was timeless, and her interests and enthusiasm were steadfast,” wrote Ms. Arthur, former curator of Homewood House at Hopkins, who is now senior curator and director of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property in Annapolis. “Whenever I encountered her over the ensuing years, it was if no time had passed at all, picking right back where we left off. I am so grateful to have worked and known her for three decades.”

Susan G. Mink of Riderwood was a Lutherville neighbor and friend since they were 3 years old.

“Mimi was brilliant. It came easy to her,” Ms. Mink said. “She was imaginative and creative. She did what she wanted and loved what she did.”

Dr. Hayward, an animal lover, enjoyed spending time at her farm on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Plans for a memorial gathering are incomplete because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Hayward is survived by a daughter, Mary Eleanor “Milly” Brugger of Houston. An earlier marriage to Ahmed Ermin Yehia ended in divorce, as did her marriage to Dr. Brugger.

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