Many long time residents of Lauraville and elsewhere in northeast Baltimore know about Hall Spring in Herring Run Park, and perhaps you’ve heard about the hotel that once stood across the road from the historic springhead.
When we started the Herring Run Archaeology Project, many of our neighbors and resident volunteers told us fond stories of gathering water at Hall Spring, or recalled things their parents and grandparents told them about the Hall Springs Hotel.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, present-day Lauraville was a very different landscape, dotted with truck farms bordering the Baltimore and Harford Turnpike Road. From the 1860s on, day trippers from the city took horse-drawn omnibuses and later, electric trolleys to visit the Hall Springs Hotel, which served as a rural retreat for many residents of Baltimore. The Hall Springs Hotel was known for its comfortable accommodations, good food, great fishing, and as a delightful picnicking spot on the banks of the Herring Run. Once the Baltimore City street car system was established, Hall Springs became one of the earliest established stops on the Harford Road line.
The history of the Hall Springs Hotel goes back to at least the early 19th century. The hotel, at that time called the Herring Run Tavern, was established on the lands of Benedict William Hall, the grandson of William Smith. Although the Hall family constructed and owned the establishment, they leased its operation to tenants.
In time, a small community developed at Hall Springs, due in part to the popularity of the Hall Springs Hotel, as well as from the success and promise of employment from the nearby Columbia Cotton Mill (also known as Green’s Cotton Mill). In time, the Hall family sold a portion of their estate to the small congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church, who constructed the Eutaw Methodist Church.
The Hall Springs Hotel eventually fell into disrepair and by the early 20th century, the hotel, spring, and the surrounding land were purchased by the City of Baltimore for the creation of the Herring Run Park. Due to the safety concerns and the prohibitive cost of rehabilitation, the hotel was eventually torn down.
Today the area where the Hall Springs Hotel once stood serves much the same purpose as it did when the hotel was present, an idyllic picnicking spot for families. The area also offers a playground, basketball court and a large hill that remains a popular sledding spot for nearby residents during the winter months. But there’s not a trace of the hotel to be seen on the modern landscape; it appears to have vanished completely.
It’s hard to eradicate all traces of a building, especially after it’s been around for over a hundred years. While there’s no sign of the hotel on the ground surface, several feet below ground, the foundation of the hotel still exists. We only spent a couple hours looking for the site one sunny afternoon in 2014, but the evidence we found was astonishing.
Almost immediately after testing began, we started to find artifacts associated with the hotel and its patrons. There were broken ceramic dinner plates, tea cups, and glass bottles. We also found handfuls of nails, bricks and mortar, the components of the hotel building itself.
While the discovery of artifacts associated with the Hall Springs Hotel was promising, we were amazed at what we found next. Later that same afternoon, we excavated a test pit into the center of the hotel’s collapsed basement. It appears that this area was filled in to “smooth out” the modern park landscape, and the remains of the hotel have been protected beneath several feet of soil for over a hundred years.
The cellar hole contained hundreds of pieces of pulverized brick, mortar, and plaster. Nails and ceramic plate fragments were also found inside the cellar. As a result of our initial excavation, it appears that when the hotel was demolished, much of the debris was simply dumped inside the building’s former cellar. If this is the case, there could be valuable information contained in the archaeological remains of the hotel. The hotel’s operation spanned both the War of 1812 and the Civil War, two major events that surely would have impacted the lives of the innkeepers and all of their guests. What changed over time? How did the operators of the hotel make ends meet during wartime? Who worked there, and how did their accommodations compare to those of the guests? Who stayed at the hotel, and what kinds of things did they do there?
The discovery and study of the artifacts and structural remains of the Hall Springs Hotel could provide some insight into the lives of the first Baltimoreans who lived, worked, and played there, long before you and I ever enjoyed the scenic beauty of Herring Run Park. So next time you’re at the park, stand in front of Hall Spring and look directly across the park access road, which is a remnant of Harford Road’s original alignment. Imagine the hotel standing there, bustling with activity as a horse-drawn omnibus drops off a group of tourists from downtown, and imagine what they might have seen and done on their vacation away from the toil of city life. They were lucky to have access to such a beautiful place, and so are we.