Over 480 community members call a St. Ambrose rental property home. One of those community members is Ms. M, who has been a St. Ambrose resident for more than 20 years.
“This morning I was standing on the porch, enjoying the view, and I thought about how it feels good to be living in in this neighborhood – knowing where it came from and now where it is. St. Ambrose has made it possible for families like me to be here,” said Ms. M.
Things have not always been this peaceful. Many years ago, Ms. M had to quickly leave her home with her three children to escape violence. When she was living in a shelter, she met one of St. Ambrose staff doing outreach. She took the opportunity to rent a home from St. Ambrose and has continued renting from us ever since.
“St. Ambrose offers opportunities. St. Ambrose has been there for me. They work with you. Even with the pandemic – they were working hard to support families such as myself. St. Ambrose helps; not just with housing, but with food, clothing, all kinds of stuff – I used St. Ambrose services to help with my resume when I was searching for work.”
Along with raising three children, Ms. M worked as a Headstart teacher and would also make time to support other domestic violence survivors. “I used to reserve a spot to talk to women in shelters. I would share my story and talk about how I was once where they are now. I always gave them a journal book with a pen, because that is what helped me. I tell them, ‘I want you to see yourself in the word success.’”
“I raised three kids, my daughter became a soldier, she is a veteran, she fought in Afghanistan. My son is a nurse, and my youngest daughter is in the hospital, so I am raising her daughter. I’m not trying to own a home right now,” Ms. M states, and she let us know that renting is the best option for her right now.
“I’m caring for my granddaughter. This is a full-time job – being a stay at home grandma.”
Ms. M says her St. Ambrose rental in the Winter’s Lane community is an ideal place to raise her granddaughter. She loves decorating her porch and gardening. And she enjoys seeing the community in action, whether it be seeing families come together at local sports fields or neighbors helping each other with yard work. “It really does take a village to raise a family,” she says.
We are inspired by everything Ms. M does for her family and community. And we are so grateful for the time she took to share her story with us. Thank you Ms. M!
In Catonsville, just two miles from the Baltimore City line, is a community called Winter’s Lane. Here churches, businesses, and historic homes stand witness to an important piece of Black history, and a legacy of Black leadership, community-building and resilience.
Because of the work of historian Louis S. Diggs, much of the history of the community is readily accessible to us. Through years of documentation and genealogical research, Diggs outlined the history of this community in his 1995 book, It all Started on Winters Lane.
The Winters Lane Historic District is the largest and most intact mid-19th century African American neighborhood in Baltimore County. The community was founded in 1867, just over a year after the end of the Civil War, and many of the original founders were formerly enslaved people.
Despite widespread violence, exploitation, and systemic racism, Black community members rallied together to build a thriving community. A school was created within a year of the community’s founding. Black businesses, such as a community grocery store, sprang up and flourished.
The business community was bolstered by support from The Catonsville Cooperative Corporation, formed by Black Winter’s Lane residents in 1890. Cut off from access to intergenerational wealth because of slavery, the Co-op allowed community members to pool their resources to support new businesses in the community and to purchase homes.
Throughout the 20th century Winter’s Lane prospered, and was well known as a civically engaged community full of beautiful neighborhoods, sports, and social clubs. The Concerned Citizens of Catonsville, founded in 1980, continue to advocate for investment and preservation of the community and uphold the community’s strong legacy of leadership.
In the late 1980s, a group of 15 homes in Winter’s Lane on Roberts and Shipley Avenues were rental properties in disrepair, with outdated features, like dangerous staircases and no central heating. The homes had been built in the early 1900’s and were in need of extensive rehabilitation. In a partnership with Baltimore County, St. Ambrose purchased the houses and renovated them with the goal of keeping as many original tenants in the homes as possible.
St. Ambrose brought the houses up to code and did substantial work to modernize the interiors. Great care was taken to maintain the original exterior appearance of the homes to preserve their historical legacy. These homes are representative of the architecture of the time, and they are some of the few remaining examples of this type of structure in Winter’s Lane.
In 2016, in partnership with Baltimore County and the State of Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, St. Ambrose began a second renovation of ten of the historic homes, essentially doubling the size of the homes and updating with more modern amenities.
“When I look at those houses, I see the history there. It can take you back and you can imagine the people in the past, while also looking at the new generation moving forward” says Leah Mason-Grant, Lead Property Manager at St. Ambrose.
Today, the 15 homes stand as living pieces of history in our region. They also are beloved homes rented at affordable rates, with many housing families that have been in the community for generations. St. Ambrose is honored to offer safe, affordable housing in this community and to have been able to rehabilitate and preserve buildings as they originally looked. We encourage you to visit Winter’s Lane, look into the work of local historian Louis S. Diggs, and enjoy this song about the community by the R.J. Phillips Band.
This article drew heavily from the work of many more comprehensive articles which are listed below.
Diggs, Louis S. “It All Started in Winters Lane.”1995.
With support from Baltimore County and the State’s Community Legacy program, St. Ambrose is beginning the preservation and renovation of 10 duplex rental homes in the historic black community of Winters Lane in Catonsville, MD. Though St. Ambrose has a long history of doing quality renovation and rehabs to Baltimore area homes, the historical significance and value of these particular houses has had a great impact on our approach to completing the renovations. In the Winters Lane Community, it’s not just about improving the quality of the home, doing energy efficient upgrades, installing new appliances, and making an investment in the community at large. Preserving these homes for their historical value is critical to the project’s success. The extensive renovations will maintain the historical character of the 100+ year old homes as a celebration of the heritage and historical significance of Winters Lane .
Winters Lane is a historically African American community founded by freed slaves following The Civil War. Officially added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2007, the history of Winters Lane is well documented thanks to the research of Louis S. Diggs, author of the 1995 book entitled, “It all Started on Winters Lane.” In his book, Diggs primarily takes a genealogist’s perspective to the history of the black community in Catonsville. Diggs’ book draws on oral histories, historic newspapers, census and civic documents to describe in the fullest detail the life and times of the community as it grew and flourished in the years and decades following The Civil War. As we move ahead by making a necessary investment in the future of the community, it is critical to look backward to honor the amazing accomplishments and resilience of Winters Lane.
In the August 19th, 1961 edition of the Baltimore Afro American newspaper, journalist Elizabeth Oliver introduces the community in this way:
In the Catonsville Development, just two miles from Baltimore’s Western City limits, sprawls the near perfect example of suburban living, homeownership, and community spirit. There is no undertaker here and but one physician, since citizens are interested in living. The welcome mat is always out to summer visitors who find the community a nice place to visit.
The article goes on to describe the community’s picturesque residential gardens and winding lanes, high rate of registered voters (4,000 in total), its ample opportunities for civic and social engagement, and the resolute commitment of the community’s leaders and business owners. This glowing depiction of a harmonious and thriving community is reinforced throughout the pages of Diggs’ book, most conclusively in the oral histories provided by residents who grew up in the community in the first half of the 20th century. In the face of rampant institutionalized racism during the Jim Crow era, the tight knit community of Winters Lane burgeoned and prospered.
The settlement was founded in 1867, one year after the civil war ended. Some of the original founders came into deeded property upon being released from slavery, while others migrated to the settlement from other parts of Maryland and purchased property along Winters Lane in the late 1800’s. Due to segregation and the distance from Baltimore, Winters Lane became a largely self-sufficient community.
In 1868, J.W. Gould donated a tract of land and old school house on the corner of Winters Lane and Edmondson Avenue. The building became the community’s first church, known today as Grace A.M.E ., as well as the first school for black children, School #23. Grace A.M.E. is still an active community church today, though it moved to its present location in 1890. At least 5 churches were founded within the next few decades and the school expanded and moved to accommodate a growing community.
William Washington and Charles Woodland were two of the prominent business owners and home owners in the community’s early days. The Washington family owned one of the first community grocery stores, also on the corner of Winters Lane and Edmondson, which served as an additional community meeting space. According to the oral history of Eva Adele Page Brooks in Diggs’ book, the top floor of the grocery store also housed the classrooms of the 5th and 6th grades in the 1920’s.
Source: Catonsville Patch
Source: Maryland Historical Trust
Left: The Washington Grocery Store built in the 1800’s has been demolished. Right: The Charles C. Woodland House, built in 1874, was purchased in 1914. The house is registered with the Maryland Historical Trust.
Washington and Woodland were two of the founding members of The Catonsville Cooperative Corporation. The Co-op was founded in 1890 as a way for local residents to pool their resources to support new businesses. One venture of the Co-op was the Greenwood Electric Park which was a wildly successful amusement park that attracted African Americans from all over the Baltimore metro region. At the time of the Co-ops disengagement in the 1960’s, there were 523 shareholders.
The Weekly Clarion was a local newspaper that first circulated in 1919 as a newsletter for the Grace A.M.E. church. It soon became a community wide voice with a small editorial staff and control board.
Civic and social organizations thrived throughout the 1900’s including a football club and baseball club, homeowner’s organization, and various men’s and women’s social clubs that organized community service activities and hosted dances and social gatherings.
Source: Baltimore Sun
Source: “It all Started on Winter’s Lane”
Left: A present day picture of Landmark Lodge #40. The Masonic Temple was established in 1904 as a lodge for the Freemasons. The chapter is still active today. Right: 1930’s photograph of members of the Emma Williams Temple. The temple was founded in 1925 and is still active today.
The tradition of strong community organization in the early years of the community paved the way for one of the most active organizations still involved in community affairs today. The Concerned Citizens of Catonsville was founded in the 1980’s to encourage an open dialogue about the increasing crime rates in the Winters Lane District. Today, the group advocates for community revitalization projects, coordinates crime watch patrols, and gives voice to current neighborhood concerns. A legacy of strong leadership continues with the Concerned Citizens of Catonsville who have forged robust community partnerships to fight for for redevelopment and new investment in Winters Lane.
The rehab and preservation of the historic homes on Shipley and Roberts avenues is just a first step to preserving the resilient community for the future. The homes will be updated to meet current building codes, the living spaces will be expanded and modernized and the exteriors restored. The goal is to maintain the historic character and architecture of the homes, meeting the requirements of the Maryland Historic Trust, while making an investment in the quality of the homes and ultimately the community as whole. Renovations will begin this spring, but the preservation and investment in the Winters Lane community is an enduring project that will ultimately include the preservation of additional homes and new development of affordable homes.
Sources/ For more information
Diggs, Louis S. “It All Started in Winters Lane.”1995. website