Lake Roland (Maryland)

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Lake Roland
Lake Roland
LocationTowson, Baltimore County, Maryland
Coordinates39°22′42″N 076°38′35″W / 39.37833°N 76.64306°W / 39.37833; -76.64306Coordinates: 39°22′42″N 076°38′35″W / 39.37833°N 76.64306°W / 39.37833; -76.64306
Primary inflowsJones Falls, Towson Run, Roland Run
Primary outflowsJones Falls
Basin countriesUnited States
Surface area100 acres (40 ha)
Surface elevation246 ft (75 m)

Lake Roland is a 100-acre (0.40 km2) defunct reservoir in Baltimore County, Maryland. It was named for Roland Run, a nearby stream that feeds the lake and eventually flows into Jones Falls. It runs southeast through the city center to the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River and the Baltimore Harbor.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] It is located just north of the Baltimore city limits.

The lake is contained within the bounds of Lake Roland Park, which was established in the 1920s and supervised by the newly organized Baltimore City Department of Parks and Recreation.[8][9] The lake is an artificial impoundment created by a dam on Jones Falls and two smaller streams: Towson Run and Roland Run. The lake supports wildlife including Canada geese, largemouth bass, and common carp. The lake is part of the Lake Roland Historic District.


The lake was once called Lake Swann to honor Mayor Thomas Swann of Baltimore City, who had begun the construction of the dam at the relay house on the Northern Central Railroad.[10] The name Roland comes from Roland Run, which was named sometime before 1694 when Roland or Rowland Thornberry owned a land tract in the area.

In 1854, the City of Baltimore bought the entire holdings of the privately owned Baltimore Water Company, which had supplied water to the city for fifty years, followed between 1854 and 1857 by acquisition of the land held by the Bellona Gunpowder Mill and the Eagle Factory, a textile mill, for $289,000.[10][11][12] This purchase followed a political controversy regarding the failure of the water company to extend new water lines into surrounding outlying areas of the city. The city had added territory in its last annexation in 1818.[13] The Bellona Gunpowder Mill, which had operated from at least 1801 on the west side of the lake, and the Eagle Factory, which had operated there since at least 1814, were displaced by the land purchase, while the Baltimore & Susquehana Railroad stayed in place. The railroad was later destroyed by pro-Confederate forces during the American Civil War and reconstructed by pro-Union forces as they advanced southward.[10]

Engineer James Slade, from Hartford, Connecticut, who improved the existing network based on "old Jones Falls mill ponds", and had a detailed plan in place, and construction supervisor Charles P. Manning, began construction in 1858, with the creation of an "indestructible" dam made out of "heavy rubble work".[10][14] In 1861, Lake Roland became the first municipal water supply for the City of Baltimore; it was seen as an "engineering landmark" at the time.[10] The dam and Greek Revival-style pump building on the eastern shore of the lake were constructed the following year. While plans to tap the Gunpowder River stopped with new reservoirs in the city and stopgap measures at Lake Roland, by 1877, Lake Roland was fed by the river, with the idea for this change likely coming from Slade rather than Henry Tyson, another engineer; a pipe served as a conduit of water between Lake Roland and Hampton Reservoir, among other bodies of water.[10][15][16][17][18][19]

The dam where Lake Roland flows into Jones Falls

Lack of water was not the only problem the lake experienced. At times, the water was "clouded or turbid from rain-borne particles" as dredging was attempted to make the reservoir deeper. Increased mud and silt closed the lake for hundreds of days by 1912, accompanied by costs in the thousands of dollars for upkeep.[10][20][21][22][23][24][25] One Baltimore County newspaper in 1877 even described the lake as a "receptacle of filth" from nearby industry, including the railroad junction of the Northern Central Railroad and Green Spring Railway, and declaring that "Towsontowners never drink any water when they get into the city", even as others admired the lake as a "charming scene."[26][27][28]

Lake Roland in about 1898

Still, by 1893, some were admiring Lake Roland. One publication called it "one of our reservoirs", saying that it was "well-stocked with Black Bass and Carp" while noting that least terns, American black ducks, green herons, great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, semipalmated sandpipers, buffleheads, and many other birds could be seen in the reservoir.[29][30] It was around this time that the Lake Roland Elevated Railway, created in 1891, ferried commuters "from the city to Roland Park," with some going to Left Side Park, a park that was near the lake.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41] The railway lasted until the 1950s.

However, due to the problems the reservoir experienced, the dam was eventually abandoned for its original purpose. On November 19, 1915, due to silting problems and use of Loch Raven reservoir, the lake's use was terminated, apart from its use again on December 2 that year.[1][11] The following year, some parts of the lake were sold to the L'Hirondelle Club and the county's division of the water department was established, with the county's water engineer seeing the lake as an "emergency backup" for the city's water.[10]

While the lake came under the management of the City in 1918, not much changed in its status.[10][8] In 1971, Nancy Marcus and other undergraduate researchers from Goucher College and Towson University conducted a study entitled "An Analysis on the Degradation of Lake Roland." The students received a $13,140 grant from the National Science Foundation to complete the investigation under the guidance of Goucher biology professor John W. Foerster.[42] In the years following, the iron bridge crossing the lake was sold for scrap. With the construction of I-695 and the Jones Falls Expressway, along with expansion of Towson University, silt in Lake Roland increased until it comprised 60% of the lake's volume by 1974.[10] Some ruins of the past railroad, mills, and reservoir use could be found in the area by the late 1970s, with unsubstantiated claims of artifacts from a camp of Chinese laborers who would have been working on the railroad. Since 1986, elevated levels of chlordane in the flesh of the lake's fish have resulted in the issuance of a fish consumption advisory and the classification of the lake as a water-quality impaired segment.[citation needed]

Geographic location[edit]

Some of the wealthiest and most desirable communities in the Baltimore area adjoin the park.[citation needed] The L'Hirondelle Club was founded by wealthy members of the local community for rowing on the lake. It is bounded in Baltimore County by Ruxton to the north, Woodbrook to the east, and north Roland Park–Poplar Hill to the south. Farther to the south are the wealthy city neighborhoods of Roland Park, Homeland, and Guilford.[notes 1]

The park is also bounded on the west by the community of Bare Hills, one of the oldest African-American settlements in the area.[43]

To the west and southwest of the lake are the remains of the Greenspring Branch railroad and the Northern Central Railroad, which was formerly the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. The remains include the station/junction, known as the "Relay House", which burned in 1869.[11][10][notes 2]

The Central Light Rail Line of the Maryland Transit Administration and state Department of Transportation, which has run from Cromwell Station near Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County to the south, through the city, to Hunt Valley and Timonium Industrial Park in Baltimore County in the north, since the early 1990s, runs along a track embankment and plate girder bridge through the middle of the lake's lower portion, above the dam.[11]


  1. ^ These neighborhoods were all laid out by the Roland Park Company under the inspiration of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1890s and 1910s. They were built as country houses for the social elite of Baltimore around the start of the 20th century due to the attractive setting. They were designed in the then popular Georgian, Tudor revival, and Chateau styles.[citation needed]
  2. ^ The Relay House is not to be confused with a more famous "Relay" in the southwest of the city for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between its Washington Branch to the south and the Main Line going west to Harpers Ferry and Ohio.


  1. ^ a b Jones-Bonbrest, Nancy (23 November 2008). "Popular location hidden away". Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  2. ^ "Maryland At A Glance: Lakes". 23 September 2016. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  3. ^ Doug Gelbert, A Bark in the Park: The 50 Best Places to Hike with Your Dog in the Baltimore Region, Montachanin, DE: Cruden Day Books, pp. 14, 24, 29–31.
  4. ^ Earl Arnett, Robert J. Brugger, and Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State, Second Edition, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, pp. 458–459.
  5. ^ Ronald Parks, Building the Gunpowder Falls – Montebello Tunnel 1935 – 1940, Morrisville, NC:, 2007, pp. 5–6.
  6. ^ John Thomas Scharf, History of Baltimore City and County, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881, pp. 15, 18, 20, 22, 25–26, 218, 220–222, 274, 355–356, 817, 839, 886.
  7. ^ Clayton Coleman Hall, Baltimore: Its History And Its People, Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1912, pp. 29, 416–417, 496, 549–550.
  8. ^ a b Bryan MacKay, Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995, pp. 82–89.
  9. ^ Bryan MacKay, Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002, pp. xii, 145–150.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k John W. McGrain (September 1979). "Historic Aspects of Lake Roland". Maryland Historical Society Magazine Vol. 74, No. 3. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  11. ^ a b c d "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Lake Roland Historic District" (PDF). Maryland Historical Trust. August 25, 1992. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  12. ^ Douglas P. Munro, Images of America: Greater Roland Park, Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2015, pp. 57, 111–112, 114, 125.
  13. ^ "Baltimore's Water Supply 1787–1854: Meeting the Needs of a Growing City". Baltimore Civil Engineering History. doi:10.1061/40759(152)6.
  14. ^ Philip J. Pauly, Biologists and the Promise of American Life: From Meriwether Lewis to Alfred Kinsey, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 150.
  15. ^ Encyclopedia of Forms and Precedents for Pleading and Practice, At Common Law in Equity, and Under The Various Codes and Practice Acts, ed. William Mack and Howard P. Nash, Vol. IX, Northport, Long Island, NY: James D. Cockcroft, 1899, pp. 878–880.
  16. ^ Committee of 20 of National Board of Fire Underwriters, Report on the City of Baltimore, MD," 1906, "Fire-fighting facilities," pp. 8–11.
  17. ^ "Locomotives at the Paris Exhibition: Passenger Engine, Western Railway of France," Scientific American Supplement, New York: Munn & Co Publishers, Vol. XI, No. 135, August 3, 1878, p. 2146.
  18. ^ Maryland, Its Resources, Industries and Institutions: Prepared for the Board of World's Fair Managers of Maryland, Baltimore: Sun Job Printing Press, 1893, pp. 48, 135, 142, 362.
  19. ^ Charles H. Jones, Appleton's Hand-book of American Travel: Southern Tour, New York: D. Appleton Company, 1873, pp. 13, 25–26.
  20. ^ William Royal Stokes and F. W. Hatchel, "Some results of the treatment of the Baltimore drinking-water by calcium hypochlorite," JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 59, pp. 1505–1509.
  21. ^ William Royal Stokes, "Some results of the treatment of the Baltimore drinking-water by calcium hypochlorite," The Bulletin of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, November 1912, Vol. V, no. 5 pp. 73–78.
  22. ^ Reports of the City Officers and Departments Made to the City Council of Baltimore For the Year 1905, Baltimore: Wm J.C. Dulaney Company, 1906, pp. 11–13, 36–39, 90, 92, 149, 271.
  23. ^ Annual Report of the Inspector of Buildings to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, Baltimore: Meyer & Thalheimer, 1914, pp. 52–53, 119, 176, 193.
  24. ^ Annual Report of the Water Board to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore for the Fiscal Year Ending December 31, 1904, Baltimore: W.C. Dulany Company, 1905, pp. 11–13, 15, 25–29, 34, 36–38, 40, 87–88, 90, 92, 102.
  25. ^ John Ripley Freeman and Frederic P. Stearns, Report on the Enlargement and Improvement of the Baltimore Water Supply, Baltimore: Kings Bros. Printers, 1910, pp. 2–3, 5–6, 9–12, 14, 26, 36, 39, 62–63, 69, 83–90, 92–93, 124, 182.
  26. ^ Robert J. Brugger, Maryland, A Middle Temperament: 1634–1980, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988, p. 391.
  27. ^ "Baltimore and Environs," illustrated by Granville Perkins, Picturesque America: Or, the Land We Live In. A Delineation by Pen and Pencil, ed. William Cullen Bryant, New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1874, pp. 111–113.
  28. ^ "Third District," map from Griffith Morgan, Jr. Hopkins's "Atlas of fifteen miles around Baltimore, including Anne Arundel County, Maryland" (Philadelphia, 1878).
  29. ^ William H. Fisher of Baltimore,"Shore Birds at Lake Roland and Loch Raven, Baltimore Co., Maryland" The Oölogist, Vol. 10–11, pp. 302–303. Other birds the writer records seeing included spotted sandpipers, killdeer, belted kingfisher, redhead duck, yellowlegs, and pied-billed grebes.
  30. ^ William H. Fisher of Baltimore, "Maryland Birds that Interest the Sportsman," The Oölogist, Vol. 10–11, pp. 94–95, 97.
  31. ^ Douglas P. Munro, Images of America: Greater Roland Park, Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2015, pp. 8–9, 11, 63, 71.
  32. ^ Reports of the City Officers and Departments Made to the City Council of Baltimore For the Year 1905, Baltimore: Wm J. C. Dulaney Company, 1906, p. 81.
  33. ^ The Street Railway Journal, Index to Volume X, New York: Street Railway Publishing Co., 1894, pp. x, 54, 64–65, 90–94, 96–97, 126, 162–163, 297.
  34. ^ Herbert H. Harwood, Baltimore Streetcars: The Postwar Years, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, pp. 6, 9, 12, 32, 93–94.
  35. ^ The Lawyers Reports Annotated Book XXII, Extra Annotated Version of 1913, ed. Burdett A. Rich and P. Farnham, Rochester, NY: The Lawyers Co-Operative Publishing Company, 1915, pp. 165, 396–403, 1250.
  36. ^ Elizabeth Fee, "Evergreen House and the Garrett Family: A Railroad Fortune," Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History, ed. Elizabeth Fee, Linda Shopes, and Linda Zeidman, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991, p. 33.
  37. ^ Gary Helton, Images of America: Baltimore's Streetcars and Buses, Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2008, pp. 9, 22–23, 104.
  38. ^ Robert J. Brugger, Maryland, A Middle Temperament: 1634–1980, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988, p. 358.
  39. ^ Clayton Coleman Hall, Baltimore: Its History And Its People, Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1912, p. 279.
  40. ^ "Street Railway System: Present Companies," American Street Railway Investments, Street Railway Journal, Vol. XIII, No. 6, p. 19.
  41. ^ Journal of Proceedings of the First Branch City Council of Baltimore at the Sessions of 1896–1897, Baltimore: John B. Kurtz, 1896, pp. 19, 111, 140, 186, 317.
  42. ^ "Lake Roland Study Fund Given Goucher". The Baltimore Sun. 1971-03-28. Retrieved 2018-03-09 – via
  43. ^ Paula S. Reed; Edith B. Wallace (June 2011). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Bare Hills Historic District" (PDF). Maryland Historical Trust. Retrieved 2016-03-01.

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