Story of Masonville

In 1952 the B&O RR started to purchase the houses and land of Masonville, The houses were torn down and the railroad yard was expanded. Masonville was gone.

Masonville was a small community of 52 houses on the south side of the Patapsco River in Northern Anne Arundel County,( 1910 U.S Census). In 1910 Baltimore City acquired Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, Fairfield, Masonville and Wagners Point and those communities became part of Baltimore City. A number of street names were changed because of this. Mason Street was changed to Matson Street. Hospital Drive was changed to Chesapeake Ave. and Baltimore Street was changed to Baltic Ave.

The land on the south side of the Patapsco River from Hanover St. to Fairfield consisted of three parcels. The first parcel from Hanover Street to about Ninth Street was owned by the F. A. Furst Realty Co. The second parcel from Ninth Street to Sun Street was owned by Martin Wagner. The third parcel, where the hospital and cemetery were located was owned by the City of Baltimore.(Md. Map X914 Pratt. Lib.)

I have not been successful in finding the actual date when the houses in Masonville were built. Early records indicate that the Johnson Lumber Company owned a number of the houses and rented them to other people.

Some of the old timers that are still alive, namely, Bill Johnson said that Masonville was known as “Cracker Town” and Curtis Bay was known as “Puddin Town.”

The name Masonville probably originated from the name of the land owner James. D. Mason. The Mason family was a prominent Baltimore family. James D. was one of the representative men in the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland. He was the founder of the James D. Mason & Co. that was an unrivaled Ship Bread, Cake and Cracker Bakery. The factory was located on the north west corner of Stiles and President Sts. In Baltimore City.The superior quality of their product had become proverbial. Their trade extended as far west as Indiana, as far south as New Orleans and as far north as New York. He died in 1906. JD Mason & S.C Mason owned the land in Masonville, but they did not make make crackers there. The bakery employed 300 workers. (MHS)

According to the 1893 Fairfield Journal there were 51 houses in Masonville with a total population of 218 people; 66 Adult males, 56 adult females. Under the age of 21 there were 51 males and 45 females. (Baltimore American)

Masonville was built on a small portion of land known as the J. D. Mason and S. G. Mason Estate located between the F.A. Furst Realty parcel and the Martin Wagner parcel of land. The Mason family subdivided the land into 127 lots, each approximately 16 ft. wide by 50 feet deep. (Mason’s addition to Brooklyn 1916) with street names such as James St. and Graham St. Masonville never reached the developers goal. The hamlet virtually remained the same in 1952 as it was in the early 1900s.

Masonville was located in between Brooklyn and Fairfield off of Chesapeake Ave. near the bottom of 9thStreet. The town had three (3) streets. Matson Street, Mavin Street and Hollins Street. Matson Street ran North and South off of Chesapeake Ave and ran for two blocks and into a field near the Patapsco River. Mavin St. ran East & West. It started near the B & O railroad tracks and went East and ended near the baseball field. Hollins Street was one block long and ran North and South as you entered Hollins Street from Chesapeake Ave. and ended at the railroad tracks. The land that Masonville occupied can be seen on the right hand side of route Interstate 859 as you approach (The Harbor Tunnel) in the north bound lane at the large metal bridge just before the toll booths. All that is left of Masonville is railroad tracks and weeds. (See 1914 Map Pratt Lib.)

In the 1930’s the areas close by became highly industrialized. This included the Maryland Dry dock Co., Weyerhaeuser Lumber Co., Gulf Oil Corp., the Union Ship Yard Co., that later became the Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard. The Arundel Sand & Gravel Corporation Shipyard was located next to the Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard, plus all of the other fertilizer, chemical and oil companies that were located nearby in Wagner’s Point and Curtis Bay.

The Union Shipyard Co. was in the business of scrapping ships. On September 8, 1934, the passenger ship “Morro Castle” was enroute from Havanna Cuba to New York City when the ship ran into a storm and caught fire off of the coast of New Jersey. 135 passengers lost their lives.  After drifting at sea the Morro Castle ran aground less than 300 feet from the Conventio Center in Asbury, NJ. The ship drew thousands of sight se’ers and received national news coverage.  The Morro Castle was later towed to the Union Shipyard and scrapped. The steel taken from the ships was stacked in hugh piles in an area along Chesapeake Ave. The scrapped steel was then sold to other countries. The country of Japan was the largest buyer of the scrap. There were always Japanese ships being loaded with steel to take back to Japan.

My grandfather, Graham Harman, would often say “Those damn foreigners will be firing that steel back at us.” How true. The second world war started a few years later.

With the end of the depression, and with the war in Europe expanding, many of the companies in the area began to expand to satisfy the demands for war goods and services.. The Maryland Drydock Co began modifying ships for war. The chemical and fertilizer companies started to switch over to war time products. Last but not least the Bethlehem Fairfield shipyard began building cargo ships. The “Liberty” and “Victory” were built to carry military equipment and supplies to our allies in Europe. The shipyard reached its peak in 1943 when it employed 46,700 workers. The shipyard built and launched more ships than any other yard in the United States. It took 45 days to build and launch a ship.(Balto. Sun) A number of the Masonville men worked for those companies.

While the ships were being built in the Fairfield shipyard, most of the ship parts were being fabricated at the “Fabrication Plant” on Curtis Ave. in Curtis Bay. Large steel sections of the ships approximately 30 ft. long and 20 ft. high were fabricated, put on flatbed railroad cars and then taken by rail to Fairfield. On their arrival in Fairfield, large cranes would lift the sections and put them in place. The electric welders would weld the parts to the ship. This type of ship building reduced the construction time considerably.

From laying the ship’s keel to launching a ship took 45 days, incredibly fast. The first ship launched was the ” Patrick Henry” (see Photo)

With the sudden expansion of the industries and the large influx of people to work in the defense factories, inadequate housing and the increasing volume of traffic became a major problem.

To relieve some of the traffic congestion on Hanover Street, Patapsco Ave. and Chesapeake Ave, a new road was built. Frankfurst Ave. ran from Hanover street bypassing Masonville, to the Fairfield shipyards and factories.

I remember as a youngster watching the construction company workmen as they graded the fields, marshes and woods for the new road. The workmen unearthed a large graveyard and there were lots of human bones and skulls laying on the ground. Some of the workmen put bones and skulls on their trucks and tractors. It was a scary sight.

The Baltimore Sun June 29, 1941 reported: A marine hospital (1878 Map) occupied the site that is now being developed into the biggest shipyard on the Atlantic Seaboard.”The Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard. Discussing the old hospital a Fairfield resident, Mrs. Potts said “It was known far and wide for the great number of victims who died from smallpox. The City of Baltimore sent people from the city to the hospital to die. The great cemetery was a sight never to be forgotten”.(Fairfield Journal 1893)

The housing shortage was relieved by the government when they built the Fairfield Homes on Chesapeake Ave. and Shell Road. The government also built a large trailer park on the north side of Chesapeake Ave. at Shell Rd. for the defense workers. The park included a cafeteria/restaurant and eventually the Fairfield Grade School. The government also built separate homes for black people. Those homes were located on the left side of Frankfurst Ave. and Childs Street that led to the Maryland Drydock Co.

The government also built houses and apartments in Brooklyn at the top of tenth street hill and the surrounding areas for workers to live. After coming to Baltimore to work in the defense plants. Families from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and many other states relocated here. Many of the families remained in the Baltimore area after the war.

Masonville also contributed to the war effort as many of it’s sons enlisted in the armed services, such as; Thomas McCormick who served in the U.S. Army, WWI and was wounded in France. The following men served in WWII. John T. McCormick, USN, Emerson Junior Keefe, USN, Frankie Schwab, USN, Benny Olup, USA, Lenny Olup, USN, Wilson Harman, USA, Joseph Chaney, USA, Bernard Greenstreet, USMC, Carroll Arnold, USN. Clarence Warfield, USA, Barney Warfield, USN, Donald Tate, USA, Creston Tate, USN, Lee Drinks, USA,  Herbert Gray Jr., USMC, Calvin Gray, USN, Alfred Gray USA , Horton J. McCormick, USAF (Korean War), Myril Johnson USMC and last but not least, Samuel (Buzz) Jeeter USMC. He was killed on Iwo Jima when he was 20 years old and awarded the Silver Star for Bravery and Curtis Harman, Jr., a Green Beret who was later killed in Vietnam.

Ida Warfield Stewart said that when Barney Warfield joined the Navy, he and Buzz Jeeter, who was in the Marines, were very good friends. The two of them happened to be in Hawaii at the same time. Barney’s ship was going to the Philippines and Buzz was preparing to go to Iwo Jima. As they were leaving, Buzz took a rosary from around his neck and gave it to Barney to wear for good luck. Buzz was later killed on Iwo Jima by a sniper two days after the battle ended. When Barney returned to Masonville he gave the Rosary to Bill Johnson, Buzz’s brother-in- law.

Brooklyn, Curtis Bay and Fairfield became boomtowns. Masonville and Wagners Point remained the same.

Masonville also had some characters and light moments. Every person in Masonville knew Albert Leonard, better know as Ab. Ab was from 9th street in Brooklyn but spent most of his time in Masonville. Ab was in his forties and too old to be drafted into the war. He was a quiet gentleman until Saturday night.

On Saturday night Ab would start out at a bar in Fairfield have a few drinks, then move up the road to the next bar. By the time Ab reached Masonville in the early morning hours he was three sheets to the wind and very loud. You could hear Ab coming. He stood out in the middle of the street and preached. His sermons were loud and punctuated with profanity. His famous statement was “Just as sure as Christ made little green apples this will happen and you can count on it”. After a while the local policeman would come, put Ab in the car and take him home.

Most of the winters were very cold. One winter in the mid 1930’s the Potapsco River completely froze.  Some of the older boys and their fathers walked on the ice from Masonville over to Fort McHenry and then up to the Hanover St. Bridge then back to Masonville.

Masonville also had an athletic club and a baseball team. The team named “Masonville” played teams from other communities such as Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, Fairfield and Wagner’s Point. The games were played on Sunday afternoons. Some of the managers were; My father John McCormick, Clyde Keefe and Bill Johnson. Some of the players were: Delmus Jeeter, LF, Plut Jenkins, SS, Hooty?, SS, Pete Jenkins, 3B  and Buck Foster, Catcher.

Masonsville’s claim to fame was the “Cove” swimming area and the “Five Sisters Tavern”. The tavern, internationally known was made famous by the shipyard workers and the sailors and merchant seamen who visited the tavern when their ships made port calls to the local factories.

After the war the shipyard became the Patapsco Scrap Yard. Ships, tanks and other military equipment were turned back into scrap metal. A large number of German and Italian army tanks and trucks that were partially destroyed in combat were shipped here to be scrapped.

As youngsters, we would spend lots of time searching the war relics for souvenirs. There were hundreds of exploded ammunition shells still in the Army tanks and trucks. We wondered how horrible the last moments these solders lives must have been.

Later the shipyard became known as the Buffalo Tank Co. All types of steel storage tanks were fabricated there for peace time use.

Masonville was a popular place during the summer months. It was close to the Patapsco River and people from many parts of the city would come to swim at the “Cove”. If  the swimmers had blond hair and swam in the cove their hair would turn  bright green. The Brooklyn Chemical Company plant was located on 9th street near Potapsco Ave.  The company would dispose  chemicals in the storm drain and would eventually end up in the Cove.

The Cove was part of the F. A. Furst track of land and later owned by the Arundel Sand and Gravel Company. The Arundel Corporation stored large amounts of sand and gravel in piles on the river bank. Tugboats with scows would bring the sand and gravel to the cove, then dredges would unload the scows and the sand formed large sand piles on the beach. There were a number of large sand piles that made an ideal place to sun and swim.

I remember as a youngster, that in the summer, a group of us would keep our swim suits on the picket fence in Buzz Jeeter’s back yard. Several times a day we would go back and forth to the river, either swimming, fishing, crabbing or just hanging out. If we weren’t at the Cove, we would be in the woods or playing baseball. We were usually outside. We also had a tradition that on Holy Thursday all of guys would go to the “Cove” and take the first swim of the year.

There was a dog named “Rex”who belonged to the Packmayers. When they moved to Brooklyn, Rex would run away to Masonville. So the Packmayrs decided to give Rex to Buzz Jeeter and Rex became the neighborhood dog.

During the winter the sand piles would freeze and we would make ski’s from old barrel stays. You could ski or slide down the frozen sand piles as if you were snow skiing.

When there was snow on the ground we would sleigh ride until 4:30 or 5:00PM then make snowballs to bombard the trucks that carried the shipyard workers from work as the trucks entered the tunnel on Chesapeake Ave under the railroad tracks. There was always something to do and friends to do it with.

Most of the families in Masonsville were related by blood or marriage. Starting with the Graham Harman family. Graham was a descendant of Johannes Hermann ( The Name Herrman was spelled and pronounced as Harman on the family arrival in the USA) of the Black Forrest in Wurttemberg (now Germany) in 1734. The family migrated from Germany to England then to the United State of America. They attempted to live in Western Pennsylvania, however, the Indians were on the war path,and forced the Harmans to move south to Maryland. The town of “Harman’s” located in Northern Anne Arundel County carries the family name.(AACHS, Glen Burnie, Md.)

The house of Minnie Harman is still standing and located on the north east corner of Maude Ave. and Sixth Street in the Brooklyn Area of Baltimore City.

Most of the families in Masonville were related by blood or marriage. The Graham Harman family was related to the following Masonville families: the John McCormick Family, the Keefe Family, the Graham Harman,Jr. Family, the Akehurst Family, the Warfield Family and the Jeeter Family. (Anna Coonan Harman and Susan McGarrity  Jeeter were cousins)

The John McCormick Family was related to the Lee Drinks Family, The Graham Harman,Jr. Family, the Clyde Keefe Family, the Curtis Harman Family, the Graham Harman Family the Akehurst Family, the Warfield Family, and the Jeeter Family.

The George Warfield Family was related to the Orville Stewart Family, the Harry Voshell Family, the McCormick family, the Akehurst Family, the Keefe Family, the Harman Family.

The Sam Jeeter Family was related to the Thurma (Bill) Johnson Family, the Tate Family, the Gleason Family, the Watts Family, the Barry Family, the Harman Family, the McCormick Family, the Keefe Family, the Akehurst Family, the Warfield Family,and the Parker Family.

The Attwood Tate Family was related to the Sam Jeeter Family.

The Gray Family was related to the Herbert Gray Family, the Fred Gray Family, the Arnold Family, the Sebrosky Family, ( Gus Sebrosky drove the St. Rose of Lima school bus) and the Carneal Family.

The Carneal Family was related to the Sebrosky Family and the Drowsky Family.

Mable Carneal Drowsky had 13 children. The family moved to Curtis Bay

The Holy Family was related to the Rice Family and the Gleason Family.

The Schwab Family was related to the JamesYirka Family, the Pep Yirka Family, the Gleason Family and the Warfield Family.

The Willey Gleason Family was related to the Lemon Family, the Madery Family, and the Chaney Family.

The Bernard Greenstreet Family was related to the Okus Family and the Tomalski Family.

The John A.Packmayr Family was related to the Otts Jensen Family.

Masonville never completely recovered from the war. The shipyards have gone, the Cove has gone,. The people and factories have gone, The Five Sisters have since died and their tavern is gone.

I asked Bill Johnston, my cousin, my friend and the oldest living person from Masonville.(Now Deceased) “Bill, If you had one last wish, What would it be”? Bill answered “I would like to live one more week in Masonville.”

The most vivid memories I have of Masonville are:

The death of Graham Harman, my grandfather, who died in 1942 during the Palm Sunday blizzard and how the neighbors had to shovel snow so the hearse could reach the house.

The death of Buzz Jeeter, USMC, my cousin who enlisted in the Marines when he was 17 years old and killed on Iwo Jima, March 12, 1945. Corporal Samuel J. Jeeter, USMC was awarded the county’s 2nd highest award “The Silver Star”. The funeral procession from St. Rose of Lima Church the longest I had ever witnessed.

And most recently, the funeral service of my Aunt Lenora Warfied Harman. The wife of Graham Harman and the mother of Graham and Kenneth. The Masonville Gospel Hall had moved from Masonville to Brooklyn and is known as “The Brooklyn Bible Chapel”.  When I walked into the church for the service I saw old friends and neighbors I had not seen for over 50 years. Alferd Gray was the minister, Alferds brother. Calvin played a beautiful grand piano. Both of their parents, Fred and Josie Gray in their 90’s were in the congregation. Lenora’s son Kenneth and his young son stood up with their guitars and played and sang some of Lenora’s favorite hymns with Fred and Josie harmonizing.

This was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

All that is left of Masonville are our memories and they are growing dim.

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