"The world is full of history!" according to idiots savant William S. Preston and Ted "Theodore" Logan (in the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure ... yes, they're dumbbells, but they mean well). Yesterday, after I had started to write this note, I took a break to go out running. Randomly I headed north instead of south from the end of my driveway. A few minutes later I crossed a bridge over the Beltway and found myself with a serious historic decision to make: turn left, or right?

To explain, back up 21 years. That's when Carlos Avery and I first met, an encounter in which he corrected, politely but firmly, a couple of inaccuracies in a draft memo I had written --- and by the way made it significantly better. Since then, bureaucratic reorganizations and internal transfers have crossed our paths time and again. I won't get into much more personal detail about Carlos, since: (1) he knows where I live, and (2) he has an extraordinarily creative sense of humor. Suffice it to say that Dr. Avery began his own distance running regime on his 50th birthday, and his gentle, persistent nagging of me was a major factor in my hitting the trails during my 50th year.

After we had known each other for a while Carlos revealed another of his passions: the work of E. Francis Baldwin (1837-1916). Baldwin was a prominent Maryland architect who designed hundreds of train stations, churches, and other structures during his career. For the past quarter century Avery has been pursuing Baldwin across space and time: interviewing descendants, scouring microfilmed newspapers, searching the countryside for Baldwin buildings and photographing those that still stand, gathering historical records, and analyzing the surviving notebooks and ledger-journals of Baldwin himself.

This month, thanks to the Baltimore Architecture Foundation, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, and members of the Baldwin family, the results of Carlos's research have been published as E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond. It's a lovely book, well-illustrated and highly readable. (To get my sole criticism out of the way: I sure would have appreciated a few maps. Maybe in the next edition?)

Francis Baldwin as an engineer of structures paid meticulous attention to detail --- a character trait that Carlos Avery shares. Baldwin exhibited a quiet competence in his work, as Professor Michael J. Lewis discusses in his introduction to Avery's book. In his foreword railroad expert Herbert H. Harwood, Jr. provides insight as to the historical context of Baldwin's era. It was a time when railroads served as the dot-com-equivalent economic vehicle for rapid growth, large cash flows, bad accounting practices, extravagant spending, and hubris out the wazoo. Baldwin, as the house architect for the B&O, rode both the boom and the bust of that business cycle. He did superb low-key design work on a large number of "commercial, industrial, religious, educational, governmental, and residential buildings" especially in the Baltimore area.

Besides my personal connection to Baldwin via Carlos, as I read the book I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had several other linkages:

And that gets us back to the "historic decision" that faced me on yesterday's evening run. My home is almost adjacent to the B&O's Metropolitan Branch, along which Baldwin crafted numerous stations and other railroad structures. I paused at the corner where usually I go west to cross the train tracks. As Carlos informed me, this is the former location of the unique station on the Metropolitan Branch that was not designed by Baldwin. (A ^zen connection?)

Then I remembered Plate 13, "Church of St. John the Evangelist, Forest Glen, Maryland" --- a photo of a red stone chapel that I've passed by many times with scarcely a glance. It's a fraction of a mile to the east of the grade crossing where I hesitated. The structure was built 1892-94, according to Avery, who observes "Baldwin gave personal attention to this church; his notebooks show that he visited the construction site at least six times in the latter half of 1893. The church was completed and dedicated in April 1894. It is still standing, its appearance virtually unchanged."

So I turned right to see for myself. A few minutes later my watch beeped, reminding me to take a walk break ... and there I was. I walked around the tiny building. I stopped to touch a stone at one corner with a sweaty hand. This world really is full of history.

Carlos, may your book last as long as Baldwin's creations, or --- given the destruction of so many edifices by decay, vandalism, and rebuilding --- may it last a bit longer.

For information on E. Francis Baldwin, Architect by Carlos P. Avery, see http://www.baltimorearchitecture.org or write to the Baltimore Architecture Foundation, 1016 Morton Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.

(see also BuildingBookWeb, 2 Feb 2001, for musings about the tension between architecture and printing, via Victor Hugo (Hunchback of Notre Dame), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicPersonalHistory - TopicRunning - TopicHumor - 2003-08-22

(correlates: GreatWriters, BuildingBookWeb, KipTheDragon, ...)