Waverly Town Hall was social hub

There's a lot going on in Waverly, in case you haven't noticed.

Late last month, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed a bill designating the old Waverly Town Hall at Greenmount Avenue and 31st Street as the city's latest historic landmark.

The building's second-floor hall had once been a popular meeting place for 19th- and 20th-century politicians, as well as a neighborhood gathering place for Waverly residents.

"A lot of us who live in the Waverly area are excited that this has happened," said Joe Stewart, a Waverly activist who is an attorney with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

"There is a lot of real history in Waverly that's not recognized or appreciated, and this will help rectify that," said Stewart, an Avon Avenue resident who serves on the board of the Waverly Main Street Association and the Better Waverly Community Association.

"Waverly Main Street as an organization is working hard to improve not just the image of our community but to make it a place where people want to come because of its history," he said.

The effort to gain landmark status for the Waverly Town Hall began several years ago, Stewart said.

"I helped steer the effort through CHAP [Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation], the city Planning Commission and City Council," he said in a telephone interview the other day.

"There was a tremendous outpouring of effort and support from residents of Waverly, Oakenshawe, Charles Village and Greater Homewood."

Other organizations that joined in the push for landmark status included the Abell Improvement Association, Oakenshawe Improvement Association, Waverly Improvement Association, Baltimore City Historical Society, Baltimore Heritage Preservation Maryland, Charles Village Civic Association and the Johns Hopkins University.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Del. Maggie McIntosh also assisted in the effort.

Landmark status for the town hall means that its exterior cannot be altered, said Stewart.

"This also ensures that it will not deteriorate," he added.

The Town Hall is a 19th-century Classical Revival-style building that was erected circa 1873 by the Huntington Co. of Waverly at a cost of $12,000, according to CHAP's Stacy Montgomery, who researched and wrote a thoroughly detailed account of the building, which in its day served as Waverly's version of a New England town hall and community social center.

Waverly was originally known as Huntingdon when the country village was established in the 1830s; at the time, it was part of Baltimore County. Since its 1888 annexation, it has been part of Baltimore City.

It acquired its present name in 1866 when residents requested a post office. Postal authorities were willing to comply, with one stipulation: The name would have to be changed because there were already too many Huntingdons.

According to legend, Henry Tyson, superintendent of the York Road Transportation Co., suggested naming the village after the Waverly novels of Sir Walter Scott.

A Greenmount Avenue horsecar line, later replaced by electric streetcars in the 1890s, connected Waverly to Towson and the city.

"Churches, fraternal and social organizations of the community as well as from Baltimore City, flocked to the woods on balmy spring days or during hot summer afternoons for picnics," reported The Evening Sun in a 1956 neighborhood profile. "The dirt roads leading into the woods would be clogged with horses and carriages."

The location of Waverly Town Hall contributed to its importance, wrote Montgomery.

Montgomery writes that its proximity to a major streetcar route made "Waverly Town Hall a significant gathering place for the community. The Hall hosted many state and local candidates for city offices. … Citizens of Waverly utilized the Town Hall as a place for civic engagement and debate of important issues."

According to an 1897 article in The Sun, citizens asked City Councilman E. Clay Timmanus to introduce to the council a petition that required the Consolidated Railway to "give the residents of the Waverly neighborhood the same facilities for local travel which were offered City and Suburban traction companies before the consolidation of the two systems."

A 1900 New Year's wish list, according to The Sun, included a call for better sidewalks, street beds, better policing and "new flagstones [to] be placed at the crossings to St. John's Protestant Episcopal Church and at Annex School No. 2," among other things.

Four years later, activists wanted York Road to be lined in part with Belgian blocks and not paving stones.

City Councilman Andrew Wright reported that he had spoken to the mayor. "Whatever the people wanted was satisfactory to him and … we could be assured of his support," Wright said.

The hall was also a popular venue for lectures, social and fraternal orders, and a church, Dunkard Church, was founded there in 1882, and regularly held services.

The first-floor storefront housed a number of businesses through the years, including a post office, cigar factory and retail store, drugstore, beauty shop and dental office.

At one time or another, three restaurants had been located in the space: S&D Restaurant, Wolfe's Restaurant and Dutchman's Cafe.

"Later in [the 1920s], the upper stories were divided into four apartments and remained residential," wrote Montgomery.

Despite alterations and modifications that were made over the years, Montgomery still thinks the building is architecturally significant.

"Although much of its character has been lost with the removal of architectural details, many of these details could be restored in the future," she writes.

Stewart said that a historical marker will be added to the building's facade.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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