What’s exciting about most of these photos is the possibility, maybe even the likelihood, that no one alive now has ever seen them before. I discovered them when I opened two tiny manila envelopes – smaller than seed packets – that had been sealed long ago and upon which someone had written “Fenwick Ave.” They were in a large box of photos, letters and ephemera relating to various aunts and uncles and cousins, that had come from my Aunt Miriam, though the envelopes appeared to have been sealed for so long that I can imagine she never opened them. The box contained similar envelopes marked “Arizona” and “Genoa”. I knew what the latter would be: photos taken by or of my grandfather during his long tour of the American West as a school teacher. But I had never heard of Fenwick Avenue. I guessed it was in Baltimore somewhere, but I didn’t know what its significance was. Perusal of the tiny, curled, mostly undated photographic prints inside immediately told that this was a place that my grandparents James and Jennie Fleagle lived in before they lived at the Walstan Avenue house in Reisterstown.
I searched out James Fleagle in a Baltimore City census from 1920. Sure as shootin’, when I found James’ household – himself, his wife, his first son, James Lincoln, and his mother-in-law Margaret (Foster) Coffin – the name Fenwick was written along the edge, where the census workers wrote down the street name. The then-little family was listed as residing at number 2750 (later inspection of several of these photos with a magnifying glass revealed this number appended to both the front wall and the back porch). I then looked that location up on maps and aerial photographs. The house was still there in 1971 but disappeared sometime between then and 2002. The weedy lot is empty now.
I realized pretty quickly that the photo I’d posted earlier of my grandfather with his first four children and his mother-in-law must have been shot in the back yard of this home on Fenwick. When I’d posted it I had assumed it was taken at Walstan, but I completely missed the fact that the wall behind them is constructed of brick, whereas Walstan was (and is still) a wood-frame house.
The envelope turned out to be full of gilded moments in the lives of the Fleagle children captured on film, mostly in the side and back yards of 2750 and mostly out of focus. But since the subject of this post is the Fenwick house itself, I’ve chosen out a few images that show rather more of it than less, or some detail, or the yard or neighboring houses. Many of the backyard shots were composed around the same shrub as the one I posted before, at various stages of its growth over the years. (It seems many families have a shrub they run out to on auspicious occasions – we had a rhododendron.)
The neighborhood has remained structurally unchanged for the most part, although surrounding houses have periodically been razed, and in July of this year (2016), six of the next seven houses to the north – just around the street bend – caught fire and burned. The neighborhood’s trajectory has been a steady dilapidation, it seems. But the house nextdoor to the south remains, whose wall and windows appear as the backdrop in so many of the photographs.
I’m pretty sure that’s Carlton Jones on the left in the photo below, and I think his wife Ruth (Fleagle) Jones, my grandfather’s sister, is on the right (compare their faces with those labelled here) looking down at two children who are unfamiliar to me. My guess is that Carlton is holding his son Jimmy Jones. Maggie (Foster) Coffin is probably holding my Uncle Ben in the middle. Jennie (Coffin) Fleagle, my grandmother, is between her mother and sister-in-law, in the dark dress. Miriam, with hands together, has her head turned toward her older brother Jim. The house behind them is the one to the south, still standing today. This photo is dated Apr 24, but that can’t be right — in that case Ben would be only a few days old, or none, since he was born that month. Another photo dated “apr 24” and taken surely on the same occasion – the three Fleagle children are dressed just as they are here, including young Jim’s hat and Miriam’s dress – has ’24’ crossed out and ’25’ penciled in. It makes more sense that this is April 1925, but Vivian, not visible here, was born in May of that year, just a month later, so why doesn’t Jennie look more pregnant?
My father never mentioned this place, and that was because he never knew it. With my Uncle Dick, my dad Willard was one of the two youngest children in his family, born after the move to Reisterstown (albeit in Dick’s case just two weeks after) so the Walstan house was the only home he knew as a child. So I asked my Aunt Miriam if she remembered Fenwick Avenue. Jim and Ben are gone, and Vivian would have been too young to have formed any memory of it.
“Yes, I remember my old neighborhood very well. It was a happy time for me…” Miriam wrote back. “It was the first house that my parents owned, and it was the only house, I think, that had property accessible to the street – as we had a side yard…
“The little store across from our house was Sheetinhelm’s Store which probably sold groceries – but to us children, it was the candy store. The candy was displayed near the front door, and if I remember correctly, didn’t have too many customers. We would go over with our pennies held in our “hot, little hands” and choose what we wanted. Often it would take a long time to choose, but Mr. Sheetinhelm was very patient. Sometimes we would drop our penny down the drain in front of his store. Would you believe he would go out, lift up the grate and retrieve our penny for us? Gone are the days!!!
“We went to church and Sunday School near by – I think it was Homewood Methodist Church. I think Robin Taylor was baptized there years later. We went to school (I was in kindergarten) at Montebello School, also near. I don’t know how we got there. Probably walked. Fenwick Ave. ran between Clifton Park at one end (Harford Road) and 28th St. at the other end. City College (a high school) was on 33rd Street, and my father who taught French & German there, walked to his school…
“One day I noticed Mother had picked the lilacs and put them in a vase on the dining room table. So I took the flowers and went down to the other end of our block, and sold them to a nice lady there. When Mother found out, she was mortified! She went out and picked some fresh lilacs and took them down to the lady. The lady laughed and said, ‘I knew they weren’t fresh, but the little girl was so cute, I just went along with it.’ I think her name was Mrs. Bowman.” – mdf
Image archive IDs:
First image: 20161115-001_fenwick_front
Second image (not counting modern street view): 20161115-004_fenwick_backyard_jim
Third image: 20161115-008_fenwick_front_baby
Fourth image: 20161115-012_fenwick_james_two_children
Fifth image: 20161115-013_fenwick_jones_visit
Sixth image: 20161115-003_fenwick_jimmimbenviv
About the physical photographs:
All of the photographs are approx. 2″ x 3″
Written on back of 20161115-013_fenwick_jones_visit