As the Warden’s House inside the Baltimore City Correctional Complex inches closer to the wrecking ball, local nonprofit Baltimore Heritage has shared some significant history about the iconic castle-like, prison yard edifice.
The turreted stone structure as we see it today is what remains of the jail complex that was expanded by two local architects in the 1850s. (The original complex was built in 1800.) The Warden’s House – which did actually have housing for the warden, as well as shelter for a clerk – gained particular historical significance during the city’s dark chapter with slavery.
Per Baltimore Heritage’s Eli Pousson: “From 1859 to 1864, the Baltimore Jail was used to hold hundreds of ‘runaways’ along with Marylanders, both white and Black, who assisted enslaved people as they fled to freedom. At the time, a number of private slave jails operated around the harbor but, for a fee, slaveholders could also leave the men and women they held at the city jail.”
The Warden’s House was among the buildings that held slaves before and during the war. When the time came to tear those quarters down a century later to make way for the Baltimore City Detention Center (since shut down and now also facing demolition), the city decided to keep the Warden’s House intact. Officials converted it into an administrative facility, and the city’s Commission for Historical and Architecural Preservation officially designated it a local landmark in 1984.
Unfortunately for preservationists, that designation doesn’t protect it from being demolished under state rules, according to Baltimore Heritage. Last week, the state’s Board of Public Works, chaired by Gov. Larry Hogan, approved a $2.43 million, three-year contract for two local architecture firms to design a demolition plan targeting 39 structures within the Baltimore City Correctional Complex. Among those structures: the Warden’s House, the men’s and women’s detention centers and the Metropolitan Transit Center, which dates even further to 1812.
A spokesman for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services previously told Baltimore Fishbowl the teardown itself will take 18 months, and the future “vision for the site is still up in the air.”
Baltimore Heritage has pushed for the state to spare the Warden’s House and Metropolitan Transit Center from the wrecking ball. The nonprofit’s executive director, Johns Hopkins, wrote in an email that the former is “one of the few places left in Baltimore with a direct connection to our history of slavery.”
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