1.618 (dynamicsymmetry) wrote,

"Memory, native to this valley": Exploring Daniels, MD

Yesterday Rob and I took advantage of a pleasant afternoon and went out to explore a ghost town that sits--or sat--on the banks of the Patapsco river in Baltimore and Howard counties. I wasn't expecting it to be boring, but it ended up being quite a lot cooler than I even thought. It's one of those places where very little is left, but the sheer lack of stuff almost makes you even more intrigued. What did this place look like when it was standing? Who lived here? What were their lives like?

I'm interspersing this post with some photos that Rob took back in November. I was not there on that trip.

Some history: Daniels, MD was a cotton mill town, founded in the 1820s and then going by the name Elysville. In 1831, tracks were laid along the river by the newly-formed B&O Railroad Company. In 1853 the town was bought by the Alberton Manufacturing Company and renamed Alberton; it was renamed again in the 1940s when it was bought by the C.R. Daniels Company--500 acres for $65,000.

Auctioneer Charles A. Hobbs, presiding over the sale of the town on November 23rd.

More of the town in 1940. The top image is close to the mill, and is one of the places where a lot of structures appear to still be standing. It's off-limits to the public and is in use for storage by what we believe is a mulch company.

It was never a large town, but it appears to have been healthy enough in the heyday of the mill. It boasted at least two churches as far as we can tell, a general store, a bowling alley, a post office, a library, a pool hall, a ball field, and a restaurant, all of which were mill property. However, in 1965 housing for employees was slowly phased out because of financial issues--which almost certainly saved lives, since almost the entire town was washed away by Hurricane Agnes in 1972.

The mill almost underwater in 1972.

Note the height of the water from the debris caught in the tree.

The mill and the surrounding town in 1956.

The town itself is reached on a footpath that, as far as we can tell, used to be a fairly major road, pictured in both images above. It follows the river and passes the mill and the existing dam. The bridge in the last image above is gone. We didn't see any trace of it at all today.


Some walls are still left along the roadways, but not much else.

The first semi-standing structure we came to--and probably the one of most note--is the ruins of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church on a hill overlooking the river. Unlike much of the rest of the town, the church was not ruined in the flood but instead was severely damaged in a fire caused by a lightning strike on September 24th, 1926 and abandoned thereafter.

The ruins of the church post-fire, with the town below.


The church was built in 1879 in the High Gothic style, and apparently had no resident priest of its own; instead, a priest would come to perform Mass from a Jesuit seminary in the nearby town of Woodstock. In the winter the priest would ice skate down the frozen Patapsco river to the town, deliver Mass, and ice skate home.

November. The path up to the church.

The ruins of the church are an affecting place to visit on a winter afternoon--and probably anytime. They feel old beyond their actual age, and very quiet. It feels almost haunted in a very nonthreatening way--by memories and echoes, perhaps, rather than ghosts.

The church long before the fire, probably dating from the late 19th century.

Another image of the church before the fire; note the glass still in the windows.

After the fire.

Ticket for a fund raiser for the new St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, Alberton, December 22, 1929. After the old church had been destroyed by lightning in 1926, a new, wooden church had been built. This benefit performance of "Legacy Hunter" was put on by the young people of the parish in the Community Hall on the green.

The remains of the church today.


There are the remains of a firepit in the middle of what was probably the sanctuary. Not sure how often it's in use anymore.

You can still see some of the old wood here and there, blackened by fire.

Yesterday. The ivy is incredibly striking in person.



Absolutely beautiful stone. Granite.


In what was the back of the church, there are the remnants of a little cemetery. Many tombstones seem to be missing and several have been knocked down but a lot of them are still legible.

Yesterday. I went looking for some information about the Hickey family--there are a bunch of them in the cemetery--and I found that they appear to have been from Ireland and Pennsylvania, and that all of them, including the young children, worked in the mill. Not much else, though.

A notebook found in Woodstock contains notes kept by priests regarding the cemetery. Records were apparently not kept before around 1914, so most of the information about burial there before that date is probably gone forever. The notebook lists "over 57 souls" at rest in the cemetery, many of whom are listed as "Colored" or "Italian" without recorded names. Stone markers may have been lacking for many of these people.

Sometime in 1998 or 1999, a woman known simply as Susan left a journal at the ruins of the church for others to record their thoughts, impressions, and prayers. The result is a fascinating mix of present experiences and individual imaginings of a lost past.


There has clearly been some effort on the part of some people to keep what little remains in some kind of order. It actually surprised me how little vandalism there appears to have been.


Scattered through the ruins of the town are the remains of cars deposited there by the flood. Considering what happened and how long ago, they're in surprisingly good shape. Rob said that it looked as though someone had cleared away weeds and leaves since he was there in November.


Apparently after the fire a new Catholic church was built rather than repairs made to the old one. I'm not sure why--probably funding issues. I think that the church that was built to replace St. Stanislaus Kostka is pretty ugly in comparison to its High Gothic predecessor. We're not sure if any trace of it remains. We didn't see any.

November. Another dead car.

November. As far as we could tell, this is the remains of either one large building or the outer wall of a bunch of contiguous units. There's nothing left but the wall and some scrap metal.


November. Dead car. You can't really see it in any of these shots, but the chrome still gleams.

November. Something high on the hill overlooking the path. I climbed up to it yesterday but couldn't get high enough to look down into it--there were no windows or doors that I could see, but I did establish that the top of it is open. We'll have to go back and try again when we aren't fighting dusk.

November. Dead car near the railroad tracks. The tracks are still in use.

Yesterday. Humorous graffiti.



On the other side of the train tracks, the only other ruined structure of special note--that we found--is the Pentecostal Holiness Church, which may or may not have been contemporary with St. Stanislaus Kostka at one point. Here it is in 1960.

Here it is in November.

It's not in very good shape. And whereas St. Stanislaus Kostka is ancient and graceful, Holiness is just kind of sad. It's also covered in graffiti (6/11/13 update: Holiness has been repainted and much of the graffiti is no longer visible).

November. GnR and Kanye West, together at last.


November. The dam is still there, along with the ruins of an old bridge.

The old bridge sometime after 1890.


November. The dam from below.

November. Gary Memorial Church across the river, which is apparently still in operation. There's a cemetery there as well. Rob didn't go that far in November and we didn't go that far yesterday, but I'd love to get a closer look at it on a future trip.

What stands out especially about Daniels is, again, how little of it is left. The best time to visit is in autumn or winter, when ruins can be better seen through the overgrowth. But the plant life is incredibly aggressive. Growth or another flood or simple neglect will probably erase the last remains of Daniels before too much longer. I find that thought melancholy, but also strangely comforting, in the same way that the ruins of the church are comforting. We don't last. We don't need to. Earth abides.

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it...
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides...
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it...
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields...
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.

--Wendell Berry, Vision

[all images by Rob Wanenchak except historical photos, which are courtesy of the Baltimore County Public Library website]

This entry was originally posted (with comment count unavailable comments) at my Dreamwidth.
Tags: imagery, rob
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