BALTIMORE MANUAL LABOR SCHOOL FOR INDIGENT BOYS
1839 - 1922
At the northeastern edge of the UMBC campus on a grassy plateau overlooking the old communities of Arbutus, Halethorpe, and Cowdensville there once existed the "Manual Labor School for Indigent Boys", or the "Baltimore Farm School" as it was frequently called. To our left is an old photograph of this school's primary residence building which was constructed of brick in 1860 at a cost of $16,000. This building was home to many students over the years until it was destroyed by fire in 1916. Now with the school's above-ground structures gone, and enhanced only by a few majestic oaks and poplar trees, the site stands as a reminder not only of our community's early involvement in the education and welfare of young children, but also as a reminder of the scenic beauty once witnessed by the school's children, staff, and passersby of yesteryear. This early benevolent institution, inspired by a Quaker concept, was chartered in 1839 for the purpose of instructing and supporting indigent boys above the age of five years. All boys, so admitted, were instructed in moral and religious duties and the subjects usually taught in common English schools. Each boy having been taught to read,
"shall be furnished with a copy of the Holy Scripture in the English language; and, each and every such boy shall have the privilege of reading said Scriptures at all suitable times; and when of suitable age they shall be employed in a regular course of labor and be instructed in agriculture, or such other useful occupations, so that they may be prepared to earn their own livelihood."
(MLS Report 22, 1866 / Maryland Historical Society)
Perhaps the best tribute to the school is found in a 1903 news article entitled "Baltimore Farm Where They Raise - Good, Honest Citizens".
"Just outside the pretty little village of Arbutus, about seven miles from Baltimore, there is a farm whose principal product for 60 years has been men. It is a beautiful farm, too, with 200 rolling acres of meadow land, orchards and fertile fields; with sleek cattle grazing over broad pastures and with attractive buildings embowered in handsome trees and the crest of a hill overlooking the country for miles around. It is a farm that disposes of more than $3500 worth of produce annually, and yet with all the productiveness in the agricultural line its biggest and best and chiefest product is and has been honest men and useful citizens."
(MLS Folder, Kuhn Library, UMBC)
The panoramic photograph shown was taken around the turn of the century and shows a distant view of the Farm School as seen from the Maiden Choice Road which is now called Shelbourne Road. Today the Arbutus Middle School would be to the right of the horse and carriage positioned on the road near the center of the picture. To the rear and to the right of the viewer is the community of Cowdensville.
Famous Maryland families like the Garretts', Wymans', and Hopkins' from Baltimore, and the Lurmans' from Catonsville played roles at one time or another during the life of the school. Johns Hopkins, founder of his namesake university and hospital in Baltimore, served as a member of the Farm School's Board of Directors for nearly 25 years until his death in 1873. Gustav W. Lurman, Jr., esteemed 19th-century Catonsville resident and owner of his well-known nearby estates of "Farmlands" and "Bloomsbury"; served on the Farm School Board of Directors beginning in 1881 as a member and later as Board President for a period of more than 20 years.
(MLS Annual Reports/Maryland Historical Society)
Although many years have passed since the last child left the school, there can still be seen nearby a living landmark that no doubt sheltered many a child and passerby over the last two and a half centuries. This stately white oak tree, now partially encircled by a wall, was growing when Fort McHenry was under siege by the British and even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Its towering strength along with a bronze marker planned for dedication in the Fall of 1996, will remind all of us of the significance of the site in regard to our human institutions and natural environment.
"Farm School" Plaque Dedication
On Saturday, October 11, 1996, the Coalition for the Preservation of Southwest Baltimore County (CPSBC) and the UMBC joined together to dedicate a bronze plaque at the site of the old Farm School. Under a clear, early autumn sky, citizens and dignitaries from UMBC and Baltimore County gathered to commemorate the site of the old farm school which in years gone by had served as a stepping stone to enable young children beset with family misfortune to advance successfully into adulthood.
With a bright sun overhead, and everyone's attention drawn to the speakers, Mr. Charles Macgill, president
of the CPSBC, and Mrs. Berchie Manley, vice president of the CPSBC and former 1st District Baltimore County Councilwoman, initiated a ceremony which brought into fruition their organization's goal to have a plaque commissioned and installed on the Farm School site. Mr. Macgill then introduced Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the UMBC, who praised the work of the coalition and thanked its members for "believing in this land and this place and for including us as a part of this." The event proceeded to include comments from other notable speakers including: Mr. John McGrain, from the Baltimore County Landmarks Preservation Commission; Ms. Lucy Merrill of the Baltimore County Historical Trust; Dr. Joe Arnold, UMBC History Professor; Mr. Earl Millet, UMBC President of Students For Environmental Action; and Mr. Conrad McClung, an early student of the farm school.
Mr. McClung, 91 years of age, and student of the farm school from 1914 to 1916 is shown as he cuts the first piece of the ceremonial cake. To his left is Mr. Charles Kucera a member of the CPSBC and Arbutus resident who did much to uncover the rich history of the Farm School through old news articles, annual reports, and other documents. Here Mr. McClung was 80 years later, walking the site with his family and friends. At one special place on the site he was united with an old friend, a two and a half century white oak living landmark he played under as a child.At one point, he spoke of his being carried from the main residence during a fire in 1916 that quickly burned the building to the ground. Continuing on he related his singing experiences while a child at the school and to years later when he sung radio and TV commercials while working as a manager at a major Baltimore department store. Memories continued to surface as he spoke of his childhood walks from the Farm School to attend school in Arbutus, of the scenery and wildlife in the meadows and along Herbert Run, and of his unescorted jaunts to the nearby Wilton Farm. All-in-all he reflected mostly on his life's good experiences one of which was his stay at the Farm School.
The placement of this historic marker materialized through the many hours of preparation and research put forth by community and campus volunteers and through funding made possible by community fund raisers, grants from the Baltimore County Historic Trust, and the Catonsville Historical Society. It is hoped that this unified effort will inspire others to recognize those special areas that make our community stand out from all others.
Other sources recommended for information on the plaque dedication can be found in the Arbutus Time's June 19, 1996 article titled, "Marking Labor School's role in history", and the October 16, 1996 feature article titled, "Labor of Love", both of which were authored by Mrs. Seana Kelly-Coffin.
Commentary By: Coalition for the Preservation of Southwest Baltimore County (CPSBC)
Comments to CPSBC: Charlie Kucera