HISTORICAL SOCIETY & MUSEUM, Inc.
St. Helena is an island in the South Atlantic Ocean where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled after his defeat at Waterloo. Our St. Helena, part of Dundalk and Baltimore City, was so named by Col. Arthur Bryan, a Britisher, who had served as an army officer in wars with the French. It is
thought that he secured the land as a grant from Lord Baltimore. Ryan farmed in what was later to become the Dundalk area and called his spread ‘Bonaparte’ after England’s foe, whom he held in high regard. But his daughters objected to the name and begged their father to change it, so Col. Bryan changed the name to St. Helena.
The first railroad was built through St. Helena in 1882, after Sparrows Point had been purchased by the Maryland Steel Company. This provided the means to ship coal and iron to the works there, and to bring away the rails that were manufactured.
St. Helena was established several years before Dundalk, and on Sept. 8, 1898, Miss Annie Grace, as the first Principal, opened the doors of the St. Helena School. The school was temporarily housed in the basement of the St. Helena Presbyterian Church, and by 1900, a 1-room school opened to serve the 30 students in the area. Within 2 years, two additional rooms were added, and by 1919, three portables were erected on the small playground. The building still exists today and is currently owned by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a
There was no fire department in the area in 1895, and the closest one was in Canton. Because it took over ½ hour for a messenger to get there to summon help, the St. Helena residents requested a fire alarm box. That request was denied, and after many debates, the St. Helena residents took action. They procured their own ‘engine’ – an enormous water tank on wheels with attached hoses – that men pulled to fires. Eventually they were able to secure horses for this task.
In 1916, the Bethlehem Steel Co. acquired the Sparrows Point plant, owned at that point by the Pennsylvania Steel Co., and needed homes for its workers. Through its subsidiary, The Dundalk Co., it bought up all available land between Holabird Ave. and Bear Creek, a tract of
1,000 acres. But before any construction was started, the Government restricted private building. However, to accommodate shipyard workers at the Point, the U.S. Shipping Board built 531 stucco houses on the ‘ship’ streets in north Dundalk and 284 units in St. Helena. Those homes were barely finished when the war ended, and Uncle Sam pulled out and sold the homes to private individuals. The units in St. Helena had been constructed strictly for bachelor boarders, however, who ate in commissaries, and a kitchen had to be built at the rear of each before it could be sold. Since World War I brought growth, Dundalk had mushroomed. A 1919 ad noted that 135 homes were sold in St. Helena in six days. St. Helena learned about the woes of industrial society when Harbor Field was built on nearby fill land, and the drone of planes filled the air. Serious pollution problems were apparent in 1941, and residents took a paint manufacturer to court, claiming that the firm was fouling the air. The company was ordered to change its ways. Fourteen years and one war later, the same residents were back in court, and the company spent almost $1 million to end fumes and noise. Such is the determination of the St. Helena residents to protect their community!
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