Stroll through Catonsville’s Past
and Take a Peek at What Lies Ahead
From a disputed territory of Native American tribes… to a summer haven for wealthy Baltimoreans… to a thriving commercial and academic district firmly grounded in a cohesive community… Catonsville has a long and eventful history with plans for a bright future.
The first European settlers who arrived in this area found rich forests and abundant waterways south and west of the Baltimore harbor. It was a welcoming land populated by the Piscataway people…lying on the warpath of the powerful Iroquois nation and within the territory of the Susquehannock warrior tribe.
The local Piscataway villagers generally welcomed the colonists and were receptive to their Catholic teachings. In 1652, however, England’s Cromwellian revolution brought Protestant settlers who banned Catholicism and drove the Native population from their land.
Swept from their homes, the Piscataway were also devastated by to the Old World diseases brought by the colonists. As their weakened people struggled for survival, Susquehannock raiding parties moved in. The Susquehannock warriors were eventually conquered in their turn by the Iroquois, with equally disastrous attacks on the Piscataway.
By the time the Iroquois agreed to a peace treaty in 1685, the combined pressures of disease and war had reduced the Piscataway population from 2500 to 400. The survivors fled to Virginia, and despite invitations to return and resettle, they eventually moved north and changed their tribal identity to the Conoy.
With the land stripped of its original peoples, colonists continued to settle the region and spread westward. In 1805 the Maryland State legislature designated the west-bound road from Baltimore to the Ellicotts’ flour mill on the Patapsco River as the Frederick Turnpike (later Frederick Road). And in 1810, the town of “Catonville” was founded when Charles Carroll of Carrollton commissioned his son-in-law, Richard Caton, to develop the portion of his estate bordered by the turnpike.
The Birth of Catonsville as a Community
With all the traffic making the difficult journey by coach and horseback to the Ellicotts’ mill and points west, Catonville’s position along the Frederick Turnpike made it a natural resting point where inns and shops sprang up. Along with them came the beginnings of a diverse community: both Protestants and Catholics immigrants from European nations, along with African American Methodists, established new churches in Catonsville. Sometime during the 1830’s, ”Catonville” took on its current spelling of “Catonsville.”
During the latter part of the 1800’s, the growing town of Catonsville gave wealthy Baltimoreans a safe haven from the sweltering heat of the city. Families uprooted themselves and their servants each summer to make the long journey by coach to their cool and gracious country homes. A small but lively business district soon sprang up as entrepreneurs set up new shops along Frederick Turnpike to supply the summer residents’ needs.
By 1890, an electric streetcar line linked Catonsville to Baltimore City, and the summer haven was no longer limited to the wealthy. Drawn by the beautiful surroundings and the easy commute, developers built cozy neighborhoods of cottages and bungalows, and middle- and working-class families quickly moved in. New churches, schools and recreational facilities were established to serve the needs of the growing population.
As the community of Catonsville continued to grow, new neighborhoods brought new roads and commercial districts. When the trolley route was extended in 1896 from Frederick Road to Edmondson Avenue, its turnaround station at Edmondson and Dutton Avenues sparked the growth of Catonsville Junction. An expanding population led to a third shopping district in the Paradise neighborhood. In the surge of home-building that followed World War II, construction of the Baltimore National Pike and Baltimore Beltway led to thriving new commercial districts. Finally, the construction of Catonsville Community College in 1958 and the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 1966 brought a burgeoning student community to boost business revenues and summertime staff.
While many communities in America are foundering in the current economic storms, Catonsville appears to be riding the waves. Local businesses are holding steady, few homes have fallen to the mortgage crisis, and real estate agents are even seeing property values rise in some neighborhoods, says Chamber president George Brookhart.
Why? Unlike many communities, Catonsville has evolved slowly and gradually, with Main Street family businesses being passed on from one generation to the next and business owners living near their place of work. Certainly, new neighborhoods and developments spring up and new businesses are established… but by and large, changes have been conservative. Children and grandchildren go to the same schools their parents and grandparents attended, and babies are baptized on the altars that witnessed their great-grandparents' weddings. The result? A solid, stable community that comes together in mutual support during the tough times.To support its business community, Catonsville also boasts a asset in UMBC’s evolving Business Incubator and Accelerator, which is home to more than 20 start-up and emerging high-tech and bioscience companies. The Incubator works closely with the Chamber to boost local businesses, as well as operating an Idea Lab to help UMBC students and faculty develop businesses.
While we don’t possess a crystal ball, we can venture some predictions for the future of Catonsville…
Catonsville High School, with the support of the Catonsville community, is currently raising funds for planned renovations to its Comet Park Stadium. The stadium, which just added a new, state-of-the-art turf field, is slated to receive a new scoreboard, new press box, new concession stand, new restroom facilities, and new bleachers with seating to accommodate 2000 fans. Donors can dedicate seats, spread a message with a banner, or – for businesses only – name the stadium or any of the new additions. Contact 410-788-3147 for details or to donate.
UMBC’s Business Incubator and Accelerator is in an ongoing state of growth between new building construction and new tenant/client company relationships, and welcomes connections with new and growing Catonsville businesses. Check their site, or contact the Chamber at 410-719-9609 to hear the ways in which this could benefit your business.
To better serve their expanding patient population, St. Agnes is also expanding its facilities over the coming year. The planned construction includes a new patient tower with 120 private rooms; renovation and a 40% expansion of the Cancer Center; creation of private rooms in three floors of the current patient tower; a new medical office building; two new parking garages to accommodate up to 1,400 vehicles; updated on-campus roadways and signage; and an expanded front entrance to accommodate future growth. To learn more, or to donate to the St. Agnes Capital Fund supporting these improvements, click here.
Finally, and longest-range, is the proposed Promenade commercial development, planned by Whalen Properties for 50 acres along 695 between Wilkens Avenue and Frederick Road. Slated to break ground in Fall 2009 and open in late 2011, the green building complex is expected to include two hotels, 250-plus condominiums, 600,000 square feet of retail space, 10 to 12 restaurants, and 300,000 square feet of office space, as well as entertainment and athletic facilities. The local business impact? More than 12,000 jobs between construction labor and permanent positions, with a total projected payroll of over $500 million. Long-term tax benefits are projected at nearly $800 million to the State of Maryland and nearly $300 million to Baltimore County.
A Community Grounded in History, with the Promise of Tomorrow
Whether your family has lived here for generations, or whether you’ve just moved in, Catonsville is a community where you can live and work, shop and play. Our diversity and neighborly values have grown through the generations and been proven through challenging times. Our merchants and businesses uphold a time-honored commitment to value, quality and customer service. And whether you’re seeking education, volunteer activities, culture, or just plain fun, there’s always something interesting happening here.
Come and get to know us!
This history was based in part, with much appreciation, on the comprehensive account provided at CatonsvilleWeb.com.