Preservationists Say Warden’s House, Facing Demolition, Serves as Important Reminder of Baltimore’s Slavery Days

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The Warden’s House and gateway. Photo by Eli Pousson, via Flickr.

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.”

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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2 COMMENTS

  1. Tear down a heritage structure with no immediate plans for use of the site?
    Baltimore history and the Wardens House deserves better than that!!

  2. Well they tore done the Memorial Wall at 33rd street to make way for what? Ethan that was the Orioles old Stadium.

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