Northwest Baltimore is home to the remarkable 745-acre Druid Hill Park. It was formally organized just prior to the Civil War around the same date as New York’s Central Park. Grand Victorian buildings and monuments serve as reminders of its glorious past, yet, if you were to ask the average person in Baltimore what they think about Druid Hill Park today, more often than not the response you’ll hear is “is it safe?”
Last weekend I took a walk around the Resevoir at Druid Hill Park and found it was a resource in Baltimore City that I had been under-utilizing. As I walked along I came across a father and daughter flying a kite, individuals rollerblading and riding bikes, and people resting on benches that surround the resevoir.
How did the park gain its current unsavory reputation? Most of it seems to come from a few too many headlines in the last twenty years of delinquent activities taking place in and around the park. If you grew up in Baltimore in the 1940's, chances are your family took you to this park for a wide variety of reasons including a notoriously great hill for sledding in the winter time. By the 1960's around the time of the riots in Baltimore (and many other similar cities) there was a flight to the suburbs and increasing ambivalence about the viability of the neighborhood around the park.
This was my father's generation and I was raised in the suburbs outside of Baltimore. The reason we went to Druid Hill Park was to go to the Baltimore Zoo, now known as The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The Zoo still stands and its a fantastic destination. So we went to the zoo, but we never ventured beyond the safety of its walls.
Here's a picture of The Moorish Station designed by George A. Frederick, erected in 1864. You'll find it on crest of the hill at the top of the walking path around the resevoir. It's a monument you can see from a number of vantage points throughout the city. See those lights surrounding the base? They still have the purple filters in place that we use in this town to light up monuments when our beloved Ravens are in the playoffs. My research tells me that at one time there was a miniature train track that ran through the park and this was one of the big "stops" on the rail line. Gotta love those Victorians, an era when more was more (or in this case Moor).
Visible from the walking path surrounding the Resevoir, you'll see a bunch of tennis courts. (more than this picture suggests). They were filled with people enjoying themselves on a Saturday afternoon. All I had ever known about the tennis courts was that they were at one time a place where racial segregation came to a boiling point and a historic protest took place. I am a terrible tennis player, but if I were any good, this seems like a great place to play.
Need a place to cool off? How about this amazing public pool. Its free and it offers swim classes. There are also kiddie pools and shady places to get out of the sun. My understanding is this spot can get crowded on a hot summer day.
Across from the pool I came upon this sign that points the way to the Jones Falls Trail. This trail runs for over four miles and includes a loop through portions of the park. The Jones Falls is the river that flows through Baltimore City, it's the water that once powered a number of industrial mills that dot the landscape along the way. Apparently there are guided tours and other related programming available upon request. I knew nothing of this until this week for two reasons; first, I am just not much of a nature gal, and second, because I had admittedly let the negative chatter I heard about the park influence my decisions.
I'll end my tour through Druid Hill Park with this guy, William Wallace the Scottish Hero. This monument is at least 40 feet tall. Looking up at him I felt some sorrow that this was a park where citizens at one time placed civic monuments, sorrow that the glorious history of the park had been overshaddowed by a few bad apples and too much fear.
This makes me think, if I didn't grow up in Baltimore County, if I didn't hear cautionary tales about the park, what would my opinion be? I'd probably see the park for what it is, a fantastic free resource in the middle of Baltimore. I really only scratched the surface with the park amenities in this blog post, there is so much to explore.
That's it, I'm rethinking Druid Hill Park. I hope to be hitting the trail around the resevoir in the early mornings this summer to get in some fresh air and exercise before the days turn into scorchers. Am I going to exercise some caution as well? Yes. But I am no longer going to let a negative reputation prevent me from getting to know this place. Not when I can see plenty of colorful playgrounds filled with kids having a good time.
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