A bit of Waverly’s History

In 1840 the town of Waverly (still called Huntingdon) included six buildings all clustered near the 3100 block of York Road: a shoemaker’s shop, a corn husk depot, a blacksmith, and three small stone houses. The shoemaker, Jacob Aull, was an immigrant from Bavaria whose sons built the houses in Waverly’s first housing boom, and whose daughter Louisa became a neighborhood historian. Surrounding this little village, away from York Road, there were still the estates, summer houses, arboretums and horse farms of the affluent.

In 1866, a large parcel of land, much of it previously used for pasture and farming, was bought and divided into lots. New avenues were laid out. More houses were built, as were the first firehouse, the town hall, and finally the Post Office. Obtaining the Post Office led to the change of name to Waverly, after Sir Walter Scott’s first novel, Waverly, to avoid confusion with the myriad Huntingdonians.

Throughout the second half of the century, a number of tracts along Chestnut Hill Avenue and Tinges Lane were purchased by members of the Hoen family, well-known for their photographic and lithographic work. As early as 1866, the Hoens and others were accumulating such open properties, usually portions of other large estates, with the eventual purpose of erecting row houses.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Waverly and the other nearby communities of Homestead, Oxford, and Friendship had become popular summer retreats for other well-to-do Baltimoreans in addition to the original wealthy large estate owners. After spending the summer months away from the City in their cottages, many of these people decided later to make their permanent residences there. The transportation improvements along York Road made such commuting increasingly possible. In the 1870s horses pulled double-deck buses along iron tracks. By the 1890s this early streetcar system had been electrified. So much strip development occurred because of this improved transportation that it became difficult, even then, to tell where Waverly ended and Govanstown and other small communities began.

Between 1880 and 1890, construction accelerated sharply in Waverly. Four times as many houses were constructed in this one decade as in the previous fifty years. These buildings, the majority of which were of frame construction, were modest detached and semidetached versions of the various Victorian styles popular at the time. This construction of a substantial number of small frame cottages filled in much of the vacant land on and around the old estates in a second wave of development. Waverly had become a popular suburb.

In 1895 most of the land to Waverly’s north, east, and west was still farm and estate country. Building operations slackened here between 1895 and 1905, but masonry construction for the first time exceeded frame and eventually virtually replaced it. The volume of construction increased in 1910 and thereafter, but the third significant wave of growth occurred in Waverly during and after World War I. Brick row houses became the predominant development pattern. In the northern portion of the community. on 38th Street east of York Road, the Welsh Construction Company built rows of bay window-front houses in 1917, advertising that they adjoined Guilford. The Rochester Home Building Company built daylight house son 36th Street in 1920 and the 700 block of Melville Avenue in1925. Houses at Ellerslie Avenue and 38th Street were built in1929 by Phillip C. Mueller who had previously developed “Oakenshawe.”

Houses immediately to the west of the stadium and along 33rd Street were built by Edward J. Gallagher from 1917 to about 1925. Both Gallagher and Frank Novak bought land in this section before plans for the stadium were disclosed and they later used the Venable Stadium, constructed in 1922. as a selling feature for their houses. Also, the building of the stadium in Venable Park assured that streetcar lines would be opened on 33rd Street.

Just before the Depression, the third round of development in Waverly reached its peak, as numerous row houses were built upon land formerly occupied by frame cottages. Building declined. Beginning in 1926, along with the general slump in national construction.

In 1939 Waverly became the target area chosen for a conservation study which came to have national implications for confronting the problem of urban deterioration. The novel philosophy then developed, tested. and later promoted elsewhere was that of rehabilitation, not demolition. in the treatment of neighborhood decay. The program’s goal was to stabilize property values and living conditions in the Waverly district.

Waverly has always been predominantly residential, but it has experienced changing uses and populations. its shopping district along York Road near 33rd Street flourished in the early and mid-1900s. In 1940 it earned plaudits from the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce for being one of the most efficiently operated and productive residential shopping districts in the United States. This still viable and unique shopping district hides an interesting conglomeration of homes tucked away behind the corners of two of Baltimore’s major traffic arteries.

Memorial Stadium, where the Colts and Orioles played, closed in 1997 and was demolished in 2001. The lot at 900 East 33rd Street is now home to a YMCA, a playground and a senior living facility. Additional office and retail uses are planned.

With rural origins and a history as a suburban village, by 1974 Waverly was considered representative of an urban community, and was used as such by the Gallop Poll. Residents of the 900 block of Homestead Street were asked whether Nixon should resign. According to the story, the first residents alerted all the others to be home and answer the door, and soon the President was gone.