Lifelong Catonsville resident James Stoddard seemed destined to the field of transportation and its offshoots. His grandfather drove a stagecoach from Cumberland to Baltimore. His father drove the horses when horse cars began making the trip from Baltimore, the first of which arrived on Oct. 6, 1862. According to a newspaper account in 1951, “His father… moved to Catonsville to be near the big horse barn which then stood beside the hotel.”
By age 15, Stoddard himself was driving the double-team horse car between Baltimore and the terminal barn on Frederick Road opposite Montrose Avenue. Some years later, Stoddard personally operated the Terminal Hotel—located where Matthews 1600 now stands—from 1895 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
According to an article in a local paper upon Stoddard’s death in 1961, at the age of 95: “The Terminal Hotel was a favorite overnight stop for the country people bound to and from Baltimore.”
Other accounts indicate that it was a favorite gathering spot for prominent political and civic figures of Baltimore and its colorful past included raids by “local dry agents” during Prohibition and at least two occasions of thefts.
Stoddard changed the name to The Palm Garden as can be seen in advertisements of the day; however, most folks still called it the Terminal Hotel. In the early days of the 20th century, it was common for hotels to spring up at the ends of horse-car and later streetcar lines.
And while Catonsville residents today take just pride in our 66-year tradition of July 4 festivities, Stoddard was a man ahead of his time. He placed a classified ad in The Sun, July 4, 1900: “Fireworks—Fireworks. Take Catonsville car to STODDARD’S PALM GARDEN. Great display of them and music.”
By 1904, Stoddard was using the surrounding property of the hotel to host jousting tournaments. We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that jousting is the state sport of Maryland and state championship tournaments are still held annually.
An account in The Sun on Sept. 22, 1904, stated: “The last of a series of tournaments was given yesterday afternoon at the Terminal Hotel, Catonsville, Mr. James W. Stoddard, proprietor. The riding was spirited, and the prizes were gallantly contested, but were witnessed by a small audience. Prizes to the amount of $50 were divided as follows: First, $20; second, $15; third, $10; fourth, $5.”
By the following year, the event had been expanded to include not only 15 competitors for the $50 in prizes, but also the crowning of four maids and six maids of honor post-event at, where else, the Palm Garden.
The summertime event grew more elaborate with each passing year. By 1912, a story in The Sun noted: “There were a number of knights tilting in the course during the afternoon and at night the coronation and dance was held.”
Stoddard also offered events for those inclined to more intellectual pursuits. Newspaper accounts told of outings by the Baltimore Chess Association. The Sun reported on June 15, 1906: “A social game of chess was played and was followed by supper. Later dancing was enjoyed. … The garden was ornamented with tall palms and red, white and blue electric bulbs.”
When Stoddard died in 1961, a reflection on his life noted: “Another event he never missed was the Catonsville Fourth of July parade and this year as usual he was an enthusiastic spectator.”