Jones Falls, Baltimore

For this week’s out of town stream, Baltimore offers a good example. When urban planners try to push a highway through a city, neighborhood opposition is inevitable. In search of a path of least resistance, highways are routed along or above urban streams, consigning them to obscurity while traffic flows above them.

jones card

Jones Falls is out of sight for travelers on the Jones Falls Expressway (JFX), but here it is at Union Avenue, flowing beneath the concrete. Continuing further downtown or downstream, it gets worse.

The city of Baltimore is built around its Inner Harbor, where the Patapsco River widens into Chesapeake Bay. Jones Falls takes its name from early settler David Jones, who established a farm  at the stream’s mouth in 1661.

jones 1822

Jones Falls has many tributaries but under its own name, the headwaters appear on private property between the appropriately named Sprinkle Road and Spring Forest Court in the suburb of Owings Mills. The stream flows through Green Spring Valley Golf Course, collecting tributaries along the way before being dammed at Lake Roland.

roland 1

The lake was formed in 1861 and used to supply Baltimore’s drinking water until 1915. It is protected within the borders of Lake Roland Park. Although Maryland did not secede during the American Civil War, it had plenty of Confederate sympathizers. Between 1917 and 2015, it carried the name Robert E. Lee Park, at the request of a wealthy park donor.

Fallsway and JFX

Soon after leaving this reservoir, Jones Falls meets the expressway, which follows the stream, runs above it, and then forces it completely underground into a culvert. Along the way, it passes by Druid Hill Park, Baltimore’s counterpart to New York’s Central Park. Same architects, similar design, and a long history.

Even before the expressway was constructed, Jones Falls was hemmed in by transportation as this old postcard of Baltimore’s Union (now Penn) Station shows.

jones 1

In 1915, the Fallsway, an urban boulevard was constructed along 1.25 miles atop the waterway between Penn Station and East Fayette Street.

Jones Fallsway

City officials celebrated the burial of Jones Falls in March 1915 in a most unique fashion: a working dinner in the completed tunnel with Mayor James H. Preston, and members of the Sewerage Commission and American Society of Civil Engineers.

fallsway food

With talk of building a Low Line Park in Manhattan, the scene in the above photo could offer guidance on underground leisure activities. In addition to a fancy dinner for its engineers, a monument was constructed on the Fallsway to commemorate the burial of Jones Falls designed by Hans Schuler and Theodore Wells Pietsch.

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Originally located at the corner of Fallsway and Monument Street, it was displaced in the 1960s by the expressway and relocated to the triangle formed by Fallsway, East Biddle Street and Guilford Avenue. The Expressway passes beneath Fallsway, a few feet from the monument. Although given the top-level designation I-83, the highway ends abruptly at East Fayette Street. Its connection to I-95 was never completed. But if it did…

innter harbor 1960

The city’s Inner Harbor would have been enveloped in concrete ramps, as this 1960 rendering shows, instead of being the lively tourist-friendly marketplace that it is today. The construction of JFX made the Fallsway less important as a thoroughfare, which parallels it. So while the city has a Beltway circling it, its downtown remains intact. On the 1981 planning map below, I highlighted only the highways that were eventually completed.


Beneath the JFX

Although Jones Falls flows beneath Fallsway, if it were to be daylighted, it would either run below the JFX or as a median along the redesigned JFX. There is plenty of room for the water to flow. For now however..

Parking lots and columns painted with murals decorate what could be the course of a revived Jones Falls. The murals beautify a farmers market that uses this space.

Above the surface

Jones Falls emerges to the surface on South President Street, a few feet south of East Baltimore Street, facing the back entrance to the Port Discovery Children’s Museum.

jones opens

Continuing south, the stream is at sea level, an inlet of the harbor lined with brick-paved paths and sitting areas. It enters the harbor at Aliceanna Street, where the Baltimore Water Taxi has a dock.

While the daylighting of Jones Falls has a long way to go, there is public awareness of the stream as a result of the Jones Fall Trail, a designated path that follows the creek’s course within the city. At the University of Baltimore, students majoring in environmental sustainability and human ecology can take a class on the history of Jones Falls. Finally, what Forgotten-NY does for New York, Ghosts of Baltimore does for the Ravens’ hometown- a site dedicated to the city’s hidden history.



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