Building Community-Brick by “Baltimore Brick”

A blog post by Director of Education Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click here.

The wonderful weather over the weekend enticed many of us to be outside – and yesterday, my husband and I picnicked at North Point State Park in Eastern Baltimore County. I had been to the park in 2014 when the JMM celebrated the citywide anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner with our exhibit The Amazing Mendes Cohen. The JMM developed a living history character Mendes Cohen for the exhibit and the actor Grant Cloyd did an outstanding job in the role as Mendes.  

Grant Cloyd as Mendes Cohen, photo by Will Kirk.

The JMM was invited to bring the Mendes Cohen performance to the park for the commemoration and reenactment of the Battle of North Point. This battle was part of the War of 1812, where Mendes Cohen volunteered to serve as part of the militia to defend the City of Baltimore. I remembered that the park was on the water but I was so focused on the arrangements for the performance that I did not pay attention to the area.

Mendes performs at North Point Park. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.
Reenactment of the Battle of North Point. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

The park is absolutely spectacular. We ate lunch on the pier and on a clear day, you can easily see across the bay to Kent and Queen Anne’s counties and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I was amazed to learn that the site was once called the Bay Shore Amusement Park and in its heyday, it was a bustling park that offered recreation and relaxation to the residents of Baltimore.  The park included a dance hall, bowling alley, restaurant, roller-coaster, rides and a pier that jutted out to the Chesapeake Bay. Bay Shore was accessible by trolley car from Baltimore and was considered a premier attraction on the Chesapeake Bay.

While exploring we noticed remnants of the large fountain and the trolley station that remain on the property. We hiked along the water’s edge and we stumbled on some huge driftwood, concrete slabs and lot of junk and pieces of scrap. I noticed some bricks that had been stamped with the word Baltimore, and I immediately stopped to document them so could learn more later. We continued to explore and when we got home I started to do some research about the bricks.

A “Baltimore Brick” at North Point Park. Photo by Ilene Dackman-Alon.

I found out that the Westport Paving and Brick Company manufactured the bricks and was founded around 1905 by William Wise of Baltimore. The company was one of the largest manufacturer of bricks in the Delmarva area, many were used in both the commercial and residential sectors. My guess is that these bricks were used in the buildings of the Bayshore Amusement Park.

I also learned that these bricks were so well regarded that they were known as “Baltimore Bricks” and were exported to other cities for construction of government buildings, streets alleys and sidewalks. By the mid-1920’s with more automobiles on the road, a more refined surface was needed to provide drivers a smoother ride, and the use of brick streets came to an end. Westport Paving and Brick disbanded after World War II.

Photo by Wikipedia user Pietro Valocchi via.

One trivia fact about the bricks is that they can be found at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West Florida. The bricks were shipped to Key West in the 1910’s and a few years later the town decided to upgrade the streets to include concrete formulas. Mr. Hemingway purchased 20,000 bricks from the city of Key West at the cost of one cent per brick that now make up the surrounding wall of his property.

Baltimore brick outside Hemingway’s home. Photo by Wikipedia user Abujoy, via.

In thinking more about the bricks and the development and growth of Baltimore and Jonestown, I wondered if there were synagogue buildings built in the early 1910’s that might include these “Baltimore Bricks? Wouldn’t be so cool if the bricks in the matzah oven might be “Baltimore Bricks? Perhaps there are Jewish cemeteries in our community that might include the “Baltimore bricks?” It turns out that the afternoon visit to the park sparked my curiosity and helped me to think more about the buildings and the development of Jewish Baltimore. Now I will be on the look-out for Baltimore Bricks!

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