Why are there two organizations - Waverly Improvement Association (WIA) and Better Waverly Community Organization (BWCO) and two neighborhoods - Waverly and Better Waverly - north and south of East 33rd Street? This question was posed to me recently.
I am not an authority on Waverly Village history and in fact have only lived here since 1979 when I moved up from Washington, DC; but I am a local history enthusiast and set out to research the subject and perhaps help answer the question.
Where to begin? 33rd Street was not paved through the area until 1919 a few years before Venable Park became the site of Municipal Stadium. Waverly public schools were around since the late 1800s. There was a segregated school for blacks near Brentwood, Barclay and Merryman and for whites at Greenmount and Gorsuch and then up on 34th. Post offices moved about; today’s branch sits in Coldstream Homestead Montebello (CHUM). The Waverly library branch was in CHUM before it moved to Oakenshaw where there is an Oakenshaw Improvement Association (OIA). The “colored” school is now the parking lot on which folks come to the 32nd Street Farmers’ Market a/k/a Waverly Farmers Market in the Abell community with its own Abell Improvement Association (AIA).
The borders of Waverly can be elusive! Here’s how Anna Cole describes them in the 1870s in her “Methodism in Old Waverly and Its Environment” published in 1933:
“All was progress and expectancy, and the adjoining towns and villages were feeling the impulse of awakening life. To the north of Baltimore, about one mile above the Boundary, now North Avenue, lay the quiet little village of Waverly...the most popular suburb of Baltimore, had been well content, nestling as it did in the center of its surroundings - the Garrett and Gibson woods to the east; wavering fields of wheat, or perhaps corn, over the estate of A.S. Abell lay to the north; the west was bounded by the large extent of wooded and meadow land known as Peabody Heights, and to the south, just above Boundary Avenue, were the little villages of Oxford and Friendship.”
The village grew out of a hamlet into a town before becoming an urban community and was called Huntingdon before becoming Waverly. In 1888 it was annexed out of Baltimore County into Baltimore City.
Already, though, there were protestant churches organized and built along the York Turnpike. Before the Methodists came Baptists and Episcopalians. Michael Franch discusses an exodus of the middle class protestants out of the old city core as it became more commercial and industrial space. Transportation advances, of course, enabled persons of means and wealth to move out into greener suburban country residences. As they did, downtown churches lost their contributions to church upkeep. Ministers sold off church property and followed parishioners north and west. In his 1976 Maryland Historical Society article, “The Congregational Community in the Changing City, 1840 - 1870” Michael Franch describes their mission of necessity:
“Most congregations developed a full program of formal and informal worship services, Bible-study classes, social meetings, sewing circles, and other auxiliary societies...this sense of community was the congregation’s most valuable asset, for only through the commitment of its members could the institution survive...the Protestant congregation was an independent voluntary association, little different legally from other associations incorporated by the state, and in many respects similar to secular social organizations...Each congregation was responsible for its economic survival...It depended on the freewill contributions of its members.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that Huntington Baptist, Waverly Methodist and St. Johns in the Village were the central core organizations creating community in Waverly for many years. Read Lizette Woodworth Reese’s early 20th century “A Victorian Village” and “The York Road” or the late 20th century “Waverly: A Narrative of Bygone Years, 1731 - 1960” by John Allen Sipes and Patricial Ann Riggles, and one will not find references or stories about secular neighborhood associations; but those social histories do in detail document the role of the early protestant churches in village life and the latter work includes the arrival of Catholics at St. Bernard’s Parish and School.
Anna Cole’s study of her own church which moved out of the space now occupied by Goodwill on Greenmount and up to the north side of 33rd and Frisby demonstrates the breadth of its community service. Waverly Methodists organized and sponsored youth groups, bazaars, entertainments, suppers, temperance work, spelling b’s, girl scouts, boy scouts, gym, libraries, newsletters, picnics, missionary work and building upkeep committees, plus playing an active role in the local public school’s leadership.
Which is not to suggest that secular associations did not exist. Church and business leaders - almost always white males of property and class - did form and advocate for things like improved roads and transportation services. Joseph Arnold writes of their significance in a 1979 Journal of Urban History piece, “The Neighborhood and City Hall: The Origins of Neighborhood Associations in Baltimore, 1880 - 1911” writing about residents and businessmen in the urban fringe, “above North Avenue, the former city line, suburban county residents had already formed a protective association in 1884 to obtain police protection.” After the 1888 annexation it became the North Baltimore Improvement Association with wider interests. “On York Road,” he notes, “the Huntington Local Improvement Association was organized to obtain better horsecar service.” His Sun newspaper archive research found a reference to a Waverly Improvement Association existing already in 1891. It would be interesting to discover whether that groups’ boundaries could be found!
Sun archives also refer to an Improvement Association No. 1 of the twenty-second ward meeting at Waverly Hall in 1892 to discuss opening up Barclay Street parallel to the York Road through “the Brady property and the land of Dr. Wilson to Waverly avenue or thirty-fifth street.” The Sun reported that this same association met in 1894 to discuss sending a letter to Mayor Latrobe regarding the draining and grading of the York Road. “Difficulties Made Easy: History of the Turnpikes of Baltimore City and County”, 1978 by William Hollifield mentions a Sun article dated Feb 7, 1900 in which a Waverly Protective and Improvement Association asks for removal of the Waverly toll house. The Sun finds the Waverly-Guilford Improvement Associations meeting together in 1922 to unanimously favor “running Guilford avenue - Gilmore street car line from its present terminus at Greenmount avenue and Thirty-fifth street over Twenty-fifth street to Montebello avenue, thence northerly to the new stadium being erected in that portion of Venable Park north of the Thirty-third street boulevard.”
I have not been successful unearthing many 20th century records to show any clear and linear development or relationship of or between neighborhood associations over time. Of course, much of that century was preoccupied by World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. How were citizens of Waverly organized during that time?
Certainly the economic crisis impacted residents and records show that in the 1930s and 1940s concern grew about the deteriorating condition of housing in the area. “Waverly: A Study in Neighborhood Conservation” was published in 1940 by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB). It may have played an unintentional role in leading to 33rd Street becoming a border if not a dividing line. The FHLBB had already classified an area around present day, but not yet in existence, 29th Street between Greenmount Avenue and Loch Raven as a “slum”. In the 1940 study, the government “selected” an area of Waverly north of 33rd Street for the conservation plan, noting, “to its south, and definitely threatening the Area - by its contiguity and by actual infiltration - is a fully developed, through not congested, slum district.” The report cites a number of neighborhood organizations as existing at the time the report came out; they were Waverly Improvement Association, Chestnut Hill Improvement Association and Greenmount Improvement Association, each affiliated with a Northeast Improvement Association, and others, which were York Road Improvement Association, Parent-Teacher Association - School District No. 51 and Women’s Civic League - Group No. 9. SDAT records show The Greenmount Improvement Association, Inc. as incorporated in 1936 with its area of concern being bounded “on the North by Thirty-ninth Street, on the East by Old York Road, on the West by Juniper Road and on the South by Bretton Place and Thirty-sixth Street.”
On December 4, 1940 in “Master Plan For Waverly: Will It Actually Prove To Be A Cure For The Blight?” by “Our Social Trends Correspondent” the Sun wrote, “there is an impulse on the part of many property owners to throw in the sponge...The Master Plan concocted by the F.H.L.B.B. demands of communities where the level of family income is continually declining a standard of maintenance that may frequently be beyond their reach.”
The News American on March 8, 1979 in a piece about a reunion to take place of old Waverly residents addressed the “slum clearance” issue as well as what were and are boundaries or borders in the neighborhood. Many of the reunion attendees had made their home in the area of which the Sun wrote this,
“A cruel blow came to Waverly in the 1950s when the city made the neighborhood an urban renewal guinea pig and condemned businesses and homes for what is now the Waverly Towers Shopping Center, and a housing tract behind it. Old-timers never really recovered from the ordeal of having their homes condemned.”
The piece earlier addressed the boundary issue this way:
Waverly is one of those neighborhoods that doesn’t really have boundaries. Waverly is more of less defined by the people who say they live (or have lived) there. Many of the reunion’s participants grew up north of 25th Street, on the small side streets that intersect Greenmount Avenue as far north as 39th Street.”
In “Waverly, 1830 - 1983” Mary White noted in a University of Baltimore history course paper, “boundary lines are flexible and improvement associations or different agencies adjust the boundary to serve their purposes.”
In “Middle-Class Blacks Fight to Maintain Street’s Stability” Jacques Kelly writes for The News American on July 26, 1974:
“Change comes grudgingly to Waverly’s Barclay Street, where black residents count the time they’ve lived there by the scores of years. Since the 1890s the street has been a low-profile model of middle class living, with Victorian cottages and brick row homes, their porches circled with neatly clipped hedges and flowering hydrangeas. It was Waverly’s black community, a neat as a pin neighborhood that knew few of the overcrowded inner city problems...Thirty-First Street marks the community’s southern boundary, below which are similar cottages and row houses inhabited originally by whites. More recently several of these houses have gone on the market to be bought up by real estate companies who rent them to black families. These sometimes noisy new neighbors are a source of unhappiness to the longer established neighbors, who say the renters don’t keep up the property and deliberately “trash up” the rest of the street.”
Those blocks are considered oart of the Abell community today though many of the residents, past and president, identify themselves as being in Wavelry.
“ Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped A Great American City” by Antero Pietila published in 2000 while not set in Waverly does tell a story sadly shared throughout the metropolitan area about racial discrimination in housing, restrictive covenants, redlining, blockbusting, predatory lending as well as white flight; of the confinement of most blacks into a few small sections of the city; and of players in a drama that included the Catholic Church, communists, radical community organizers, real estate speculators, civicl rights activists and larger-than-life figures like “Little Willie” Adams and Morris Goldseker. In Waverly there were changes in class and racial makeup, there were absentee landlords and real estate speculators; but there was also movement out of the neighborhoods by families seeking better schools for their children, lower taxes and insurance rates and a desire to escape increased crime. There was movement into Waverly of new renters and owners who saw the neighborhood as offering opportunities and having its own charm.
By the 1970s efforts were underway in the community to attract new homeowners, to create racial harmony and to meet the needs of an increasing younger population that lacked organized recreational activities and space. SDAT records show the current WIA as being incorporated in 1950 by residents all living north of 33rd Street; but by the 1970s many changes had come to the neighborhood and the city. BWCO was not incorporated until 1978; but it was preceded by organizations that included The Greater Waverly Community Council, Inc. and Waverly Block Builders Organization whose borders and members came from both north and south of 33rd Street. WIA was active down to Gorsuch Avenue for some time and North East Community Organization (NECO) began with a southern border at 25th Street though it later became 33rd Street.
The charter for The Greater Waverly Community Council stated as its purpose, “To achieve community organization, and to coordinate activities within the community of various civic improvement and other interest groups whose primary concern is the social welfare and betterment of the north central section of Baltimore City, Maryland, particularly within the area bounded by 43rd Street/Argonne Drive on the north, 28th Street on the south, Loch Raven Road on the east and Greenmount Avenue on the west.”
Mary Pat Clarke recalls a house meeting on Matthews Street sometime in the 1970s where discussion was taking place about forming what would become BWCO. She remembers that the question arose about what to call such a new association and someone said something like “Well, we are all trying to better Waverly...” at which point that became part of the name. I found two other references to “better” being used.
The Sun on March 18, 1946 had a headline reading “Better-Waverly Rally Slated Tuesday Night” and reported, “the Better Waverly Association will hold a community improvement mass meeting...in the parish house of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Greenmount avenue and Thirtieth street...An announcement of the meeting said Waverly was the first of the areas designated by the Commission on City Plan as blighted sections to take steps toward improvements...Chairmen of the association’s committees on juvenile delinquency, health and sanitation, city service, and property investment will make their first reports.” I found no future articles about this association and no SDAT record of its incorporation.
Then on Sunday, January 18, 1976 in the Women’s World section of The News American, Jacques Kelly writes “Waverly Problems Tackled” with interviews of residents above and below 33rd Street.
Mrs. Joan Biegeleisen, president of the Waverly Improvement Association, is quoted as saying she hopes to launch a “Building a Better Waverly Campaign” with the help of a $30,000 community development grant, with a goal of “stabilization” of the neighborhood through increasing home ownership, a crackdown on absentee owners and a small but effective beautification program.
That article concludes with a quote from Stephen Buckingham, a Gorsuch Avenue resident and a secretary of the Greater Waverly Community Council:
“I want to see it the way it is now, a community of black and white working people - a well kept up and happy place to live. After all, we’re a community of children, a safe place to live. What we need is for all the community groups to come together, lay aside the personalities and neighborhood politics, and work for a better Waverly.”
The constitution and by-laws of BWCO went on to adopt the south side of East 33rd Street as its northern border and WIA accepted the north side of East 33rd Street as its southern border.
Today signs along 33rd Street at Old York Road and at Ellerslie announce entry into “Waverly Village.
Through the 1980s, 1990s and into the 21st century, WIA and BWCO have been known to work together on things, like redevelopment of the Memorial Stadium and the old Eastern High properties, support for Waverly Main Street, Greenmount Avenue parades, and Community Playground at Stadium Place, though the two organizations almost always meet separately and rarely attempt to organize joint programs.
What the future holds for these and other neighborhood associations is ammater of speculation and interestingly addressed perhaps in an indirect way at the end of “Not In My Nieghborhood” where Antero Pietila offers this in “Epilogue: An American Dilemma:
The GI generation is almost gone; the baby boomers are aging. The Millennial Generation will soon yield power. Born in the years from 1982 to 2003, the Millennials are the biggest and most racially diverse generation ever: 40 percent are of African American, mixed race, Latin American, or Asian origin, compared with 25 percent of the preceding two generations. They think and do things differently. Surveys show they are big on volunteerism, but community has a different meaning for them. Living in a global village brought about by an instant-communications revolution, theirs is a generation united by shared concerns and ideas, not necessarily by race or where they live. They are a vanguard of a new America where, by 2040, whites will no longer be the majority population...These epochal demographic changes will spawn unpredictable consequences for all aspects of human interaction. Neighborhood succession will continue, but new patterns will emerge. Over time, the country will morph beyond recognition.”