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Picture This: Catonsville Casino Was State’s First Country Club

The rambling wooden structure stood on the site now occupied by the Bloomsbury Community Center.

Prior to the Rolling Road Golf Club, which opened with a nine-hole golf course in 1919, the summer residents of Catonsville enjoyed a country club set on 18 acres of property sold for the purpose by John L. Glenn, one of the community’s largest landholders.

While it was known as the Catonsville Casino, there was no gambling. Indeed, there was no golf either. When the club opened on May 12, 1894, The Sun reported: “The grounds cover eight acres and are situated near Catonsville, fronting on Bloomsbury lane, at the terminus of the Catonsville Short Line Railroad. They are laid off for baseball, cricket, tennis and lacrosse, with a winter tennis court made of crushed stone. The cost of grading the grounds and of erecting the Casino was $42,000.”

The three-story clubhouse, designed by Henry Randall of Griffin & Randall, New York, was described in the article: “The first impression it gives on approaching it is this sense of old-fashioned breadth of space, with its capacious piazzas and its broad entrance inviting a visit from passers-by.”

It continues: “The front of the clubhouse, looking out on a wide expanse of lawn, is built in a semi-circle, and is approached by two flights of granite stairs, curving gracefully on each side of the semicircle and ending on the spacious porch, which extends nearly the whole length and breadth of the building.” 

Inside, the space incorporated a bowling alley, billiard room, reception hall, dining room, bar and well-equipped locker rooms. A special room was set aside and known in the day as a “snuggery for the ladies,” which was furnished with a writing desk and dressing table, easy chairs and a comfortable divan. The newspaper account observed: “It is at once a delight to the weary and an inspiration to the conversationally inclined.”

The Catonsville Country Club, as it came to be called, was best known as the setting for many important sporting events. “In October, 1894, a game of football at the club between Princeton and the University of Virginia was witnessed by about 4,000 persons. In 1895, the club’s baseball team won the championship of the Suburban League, composed of the leading clubs of Baltimore,” reported The Sun on Nov. 12, 1906.

Unfortunately, this beautiful clubhouse had a short history. It burned to the ground on Nov. 11, 1906, when a waiter discovered a fire about five a.m., which is believed to have started in the bowling alley. Fire engines from Catonsville as well as Mount Winans and Roland Park responded but proved no match for the quick-spreading fire. It took less than an hour for most of the building to be destroyed.

“The heat was intense, and the Georgia pine, of which the structure was largely built, burned like tinder,” according to an account in the Baltimore American the following day. At the time of the fire, the club had a membership of more than 500.

The members were undeterred by the devastating loss. The next day, discussions began on building a new clubhouse, albeit on a smaller scale. In a remembrance by George C. Heidelbach that appeared in The Sunday Sun on July 21, 1957, “In 1908, a new clubhouse, which [later became the] high school’s cafeteria, was built. In 1912 the club folded, only to be started up again in 1913. It went on until 1924, when it was sold to the county board of education as a school site.”

This site was first home to Catonsville High School in the days before there was a separate junior high school. It later housed Catonsville Junior High School when Catonsville Senior High School opened its doors in 1954 at 421 Bloomsbury Avenue.

Thanks go to Bryce Rumbles, librarian at the Catonsville Branch, and Lisa Vicari, Catonsville Room volunteer and board member, Friends of the Catonsville Library, for their research assistance. Anyone interested in ordering digital reprints of any of the historical images featured in this series, should contact Bryce Rumbles at brumbles@bcpl.net.

Images shown in this column are housed in the Catonsville Room’s extensive collection of documents, photographs, news articles and family histories about the area. Digitized versions for many are available to view and download through the BCPL Legacy Web site. The Catonsville Room is located on the lower level of the Catonsville Library and is open on Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m., and on the first Wednesday of each month from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Appointments accepted for in-depth research.

 

Bryce Rumbles November 14, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Good job detailing a complicated history, Dianne!
Sharon Stanton November 15, 2012 at 04:21 PM
attended the junior high school - early 1960 and remember having to go outside to the cafeteria for lunch and it was housed in that building. Article is fascinating. Thank you.

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