Tuesday, August 9, 2011


When I wrote the previous post, I had one more postcard to include, but I wanted to verify the background details with Charles Cadle, the authority for everything you want to know about the history of the city fire department. Before I was able to arrange that, however, Charlie spoke with a Capital reporter, whose story appeared in today's newspaper, filling in the details that I needed to get.

The postcard shows two horses racing down King George Street, pulling the city's steam engine behind them. They appear to have just passed the intersection with Martin Street, heading for Randall Street and Gate 1. Horses powered the steam engine from 1884, when it was purchased for the Independent Fire Company No. 2, until they and the steam engine were replaced in 1911 by the horsepower of the city's first motorized fire engine.
The above image is taken from the 1885 Sanborn Company map of Annapolis. The periodic series of Sanborn maps show the footprints of all structures in the city as well as building height and fabric. The first set of maps for Annapolis was prepared just in time to capture the new fire station in City Hall. By that time, the fire department had celebrated the arrival of its new engine by hosting a Thanksgiving Day parade in November 1884 -- an opportunity to show off their new equipment. [“History of the Independent Fire Company from an Old Program,” p.4.] The engine was housed in City Hall until the city government built a larger facility across the street. The fire company occupied the new two-story brick firehouse from 1917 until 1983. But the steam engine was gone by that time.

Fortunately, postcards and photographs, like the one above, record a time when city residents and property owners depended on the power and speed of horses, as well as the skills of members of the fire department, to protect their property.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

And now for something completely different...

When the Heritage Area staff and I began discussing how to turn a proposed exhibit on the place of horses over time within the Four Rivers area into a narrative publication and then more realistically into a blog, we grappled with how to control our large and shapeless subject. Our solution envisioned a two-dimensional matrix. Divisions of time would provide one dimension: the five centuries during which horses have been an integral part of life in this area. The other dimension would attempt to sort the relationship between horses and the area's residents into four categories of activity: agriculture, transportation, recreation, and business.

Both of our dimensions are arbitrary. Using centuries as our time divisions blurs relevant political, social, cultural, and economic changes that occur independently of the stroke of midnight marking the boundary between one century and the next. The "iron horse" began to supplant the animal horse as a means of long-distance transportation by the middle of the 19th century, not on the first of January 1800. Horsepower harnessed in car engines rather than equine bodies became a significant means of moving people and goods in the second quarter of the 20th century, although automobiles first appeared in the 19th century. Our activity categories overlap, making assignment to one or another equally arbitrary. Racing and riding stables are businesses for the owners of horses, race tracks, and stables, but they provide entertainment for racegoers who cheer for and bet on their favorite horses and for children and adults who take riding lessons or go on trail rides.

Being a historian, I've approached the posts on this blog from that perspective. How did the first horses arrive? How were they used? How did their numbers increase over time? How did settlers reshaped the landscape to accommodate travel by horse? How did informal competition between owners develop into formal races? Trying to answer these questions, previous posts have focused on the first two centuries of the county's history, although they do touch to greater or lesser degrees on the activity dimensions of the matrix.

At the same time, I've been collecting a growing stack of newspaper and magazine clippings dealing with more current topics. Most recently, a feature on a fundraiser for a therapeutic riding program and a news article about the recent joust at St. Margaret's Church await being carried from the kitchen counter to be added to similar material in my office. What they haven't yet done is appear online.

Inspired, however, by this month's meeting of the Annapolis History Consortium, this post moves a century forward in time. The meeting featured the generous sharing by one member of images from his Annapolis postcard collection. The collection covers about 100 years of the city's history and a wide variety of subject matter, but my attention focused on a half-dozen images that included horses. Thanks to the even more generous permission to copy them, I'm able to include them here.

Okay, these horses are not in Annapolis or the Four Rivers Heritage Area. But I could not resist including this use of horses to sell flour. I'm not sure how one gets from the image of Ben-Hur in a chariot race to the retailing of flour, but presumably Messrs. Campbell and Phipps expected their customers to see a connection.

George Jones's early 20th century postcard shows harness racing at Parole. Spectators' carriages line the sides of the track, and the racers can be seen approaching in the distance in the center of the postcard.

Mame Warren's Then Again...Annapolis, 1900-1965 includes an interview that describes the early races:
"Mr. Rullman, who had a drugstore right across from the Farmers Bank on West Street, had a horse that he used to ride out West Street every evening in good weather. At that time it was an oyster-shell road and...you'd see the trail of dust all the way down the road.

Mr. Rullman used to go out to Parole. He used to race out there....Races would be announced in the paper, and they were only on holidays,...so that people could get there. There was just a field with markers around a partial fence to denote where the track was. There were no stands; it was just a field. So people would take their horses out there from time to time and run them around the track. These were harness races...in the days when I knew it. The horses were locally owned."

By the 1930s, a more formal track had replaced the one on which Rullman raced and the harnesses now connected horses with sulkeys, not the owner's carriage.

The race track at Parole gave way to Parole Plaza shortly after this aerial view was taken in 1959. The then-modern shopping center has since yielded its place to the shops, restaurants, and residences of Annapolis Towne Centre.

Horses, dogs, and people took the ferry across Spa Creek while the second Eastport bridge was being constructed. The new bridge opened on 8 April 1907.

Early 20th century transportation in a nutshell: horse-drawn carriages, a bicycle, and the trolley of the Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis electric line in this view looking down the first block of West Street toward St. Anne's Church.

Photographs and prints similarly show the ubiquitous presence of horses in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More to come.