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Icon Information on BRG58 - Street Improvement Records

Series Information
Street Improvement Records
1828-1924, 1953-1974

Series Description

Baltimore's original 1730 survey consisted of several streets in a traditional grid pattern. As the town slowly expanded streets were extended from the original grid and the acquisition of property for new streets was relatively easy because land was either publicly owned or worth very little. By the 1780s, however, Baltimore was growing very quickly and the process of street improvement became more complex. Dozens of streets had to be extended and many others required widening and straightening. Each of these actions was expensive and also required acquisitions of privately owned property considered more valuable.

In 1783, the state legislature authorized the Baltimore Town Commissioners to widen Hanover Lane when two-thirds of the property owners fronting it agreed to divide the cost for the work. Money was to be collected through payments of benefits (the assessed increase in value of private property adjacent to the improved street) and a special tax levy. Damage costs (the value of private property condemned for public use) were credited to property owners against benefit charges. The process of carrying out benefit and damage assessments required the preparation of a plat detailing proposed improvements and a public notice of intent.

Basically the same procedure preceded every street improvement project in Baltimore for the next fifty years, except that a specifically appointed team of assessors handled the job of benefit and damage assessment. The 1797 charter did not give the municipality condemnation power or the authority to levy benefit charges. Every type of street improvement requiring these actions still depended upon approval by the state legislature.

In 1817, the state legislature authorized a plat of all existing Baltimore streets along with representation of any necessary street improvements. The municipality was empowered to execute any of the improvements noted on the plat, provided two-thirds of those who were to have property condemned for a project approved. In 1836, and again in 1839, the legislature transferred general condemnation power to the municipal government.

To make the most of this authority, the municipality in 1841 created a board of commissioners for opening streets. This body was to perform all the duties associated with obtaining property for street improvements, including preparation of plats, public notification, and assessment of benefits and damages. An attempt to streamline the city's government led to the abolition of this board in 1861 and transfer of its responsibilities to the Appeal Tax Court. After five years, however, the board was re-established.

The work of the board greatly increased beginning in the 1880s, primarily because bond issues such as the "Five Million Loan" of 1882 and the "Six Million Loan" of 1892 provided large sums for street improvement. The 1888 annexation also expanded the number of streets requiring attention. From 1904 to 1907 the board devoted most of its efforts to acquiring property for widening streets in the area burned during the 1904 fire. During the 1920s, the agency's activities reached a zenith after the municipality acquired hundreds of new streets through the 1918 annexation.

No significant changes have been made regarding the process of improving streets during this century, but administrative responsibility for the process has changed somewhat. The 1946 city charter did away with the board of commissioners of opening streets and placed its duties in a department of assessments. In 1975, an authority over street properties was placed in the department of public works, where it remains today.

For further information see Jacob H. Hollander, The Financial History of Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1899); Leonard 0. Rea, The Financial History of Baltimore, 1900-1926 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1929); Laws of Maryland, 1817, ch. 148, 1835, ch. 390, and 1838, ch. 226; ord. 46 (1836); ord. 10 (1841); ord. 945 (1975); and the Baltimore City Charter of 1946.

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DateSeries NameDescriptionMSA Citation
  Details1828-1924, 1953-1974Opening and Closing Streets Books

Series of volumes relating to municipal improvements of streets, lanes, and alleys within the city boundaries. For each improvement project (usually a section of one street between two cross streets) there is a separate volume containing a description of the property to be worked on, copies of public notices, and listings of financial benefits and damages to individuals whose property is affected by the procedure. Some of the earlier volumes contain plats, correspondence and other items associated with specific street improvements. In addition to the main series there is also a group of loose volumes with similar content, ca. 1860-80.

See street name index in card file. Books dating from 1953-74 (nos. 1 to 154) are on microfilm (BCA 1063-69). A group of unbound material, including detailed plats, dating from 1972 to 1974 are also on microfilm (BCA 1070).

  Details1905-1913MinutesOfficial minutes of the commissioners of opening streets including inquiries by individuals regarding street improvements and listings of actions taken in the opening and closing of streets. There are also references to properties sold and transactions with other city agencies.BRG58-2
  Details1911-1915Permits for Opening Improved PavingRecord of permissions granted to Consolidated Gas, Electrical Light and Power Company, United Railways, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, and various municipal agencies to excavate paved streets and sidewalks. Each permit contains information relating to name of party, description of work, location of work site, charges and date paid, and occasionally extenuating circumstances associated with the request.BRG58-3
  Details1884-1893LedgerFinancial accounts relating to expenses incurred from opening and closing streets and related activities of the commissioners.BRG58-4
  Details1882-1887Ordinances Relating to Street Openings and ClosingsTranscribed copies with name and subject index.BRG58-5
  Details1900-1924HRS Index Records

Assorted records relating to opening and closing streets. Principal types of materials are certificates of damages, surrender of properties, receipts for damages, and title certificates. These items usually include name of property owner and the location of property by street, block, and lot. There is a large body of material pertaining to municipal acquisition of property in the area affected by the 1904 fire. Researchers should note that all HRS material dating prior to 1900 and relating to street openings and closings is located in RG 3, series 1.

A separate item index is available at the Baltimore City Archives.

  Details1812-1813Minutes, Board of AssessorsThe Maryland General Assembly created this Board of Assessors in November 1811, to determine the benefits and damages of the opening and extension of Pratt Street, in the City of Baltimore. This volume contains the minutes of the Board of Assessors for Pratt Street, which consist of a list of board members in attendance and a short account of the board's actions such as: appointments, elections of assessors, votes on expenditures and accountings of these expenditures.BRG58-7
  Details1868-1904Street Books

Information concerning street work.  Includes the name of the street, the approval date of the ordinance, and expenses related to the work, including damages, benefits, and other costs.

There is an index in each volume.

See Series 4 for similar material.


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