Read More UMBC News Blog Stories

October 16, 2008

The Gwynns Falls: Baltimore Greenway to the Chesapeake Bay

Book by American Studies Scholar Ed Orser Tells an Urban History

Mike Lurie

Office: 410-455-6380
Cellphone: 443-695-0262

Oct. 16, 2008

BALTIMORE – Baltimore’s well-known and diverse neighborhoods are linked by a lesser-known urban trail that is described by Ed Orser, Professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), in his new book, The Gwynns Falls: Baltimore Greenway to the Chesapeake Bay. Orser’s book uncovers the environmental and human record of this 15-mile urban landscape that binds the city’s westside.

The trail follows the Gwynns Falls for most of its route, linking roughly 2,000 acres from the hills of the city’s northwest border at the end of Interstate 70 to waterside gateways at the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch. Along the way, the area’s history is evident at sites once occupied by flourishing mills and in the tracks and viaducts of still-active rail lines, among the earliest in America.

The trail connects 30 Baltimore neighborhoods, from the city’s most affluent to some now experiencing considerable economic stress. The book also explains the role of race in shaping the heritage and social character of these neighborhoods along the Gwynns Falls.

“Indelibly marking the experience of residents of those communities, past and present, is the history of race relations―traditions of racial segregation and discrimination, as well as the ongoing struggle for equality and opportunity,” Orser writes in the preface.

A member of the UMBC faculty since 1969, Orser’s community studies projects have provided American studies students with important research and fieldwork experiences investigating the social and cultural aspects of Baltimore-area communities, including the Gwynns Falls.

Orser conducted the research for the 30 informational panels that have been erected along the trail by the Gwynns Falls Trails Council under a grant from the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Gateways program.

The Gwynns Falls amplifies that research beyond what could be conveyed on the panels. Chapters cover such topics as the distinctive rowhouse communities of southwest Baltimore, the streetcars that once passed through to Catonsville and Woodlawn, the three members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who grew up playing on westside sandlots and the decades of community opposition to the proposed east-west expressway through critical sections of parks now used by the trail.

Other area historians have provided content reflecting their special expertise in African-American heritage: Eric Holcomb of the Baltimore Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation on the Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood bordering the city’s pro football and baseball stadiums; John Breihan of Loyola College on Cherry Hill; and David Terry, director of the Reginald Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture, on the successful entrepreneur for whom the museum is named.

Posted by mlurie at October 16, 2008 4:03 PM