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Picture This: The Hub of the Village

A home improvement place, a gathering space and a getaway depot served Catonsville residents.

John S. Wilson and Leonard A. Poehlmann set up shop together at 741 Frederick Road, Catonsville, in 1885. To the west stood Library Hall, built circa 1887, and a little west of that, the Catonsville Shortline Railroad Depot.

These buildings stood on the south side of Frederick Road, just east of the present intersection of Frederick Road and Mellor Avenue, site now of Bill’s Music House.

The sepia tone photograph, taken by Mercantile Photograph Co. on Canal Street in New York City, dates from the era when the front office of Library Hall served as Catonsville’s second Post Office.

Wilson and Poehlmann’s sold “hardware, paints and oils, lumber and coal, sash doors, blinds and millwork in general, coal by the car load or single ton, lime, cement, bricks,” as touted on the storewide sign atop the wooden structure that served as an advertising billboard. Wilson’s partner, Poehlmann, began his own lumber business sometime after 1890, located closer to Ellicott City.

The proximity of the Shortline Railroad was advantageous to Wilson as his lumber yard had its own spur to the railroad, which ran from a terminus at the depot, crossed Bloomsbury Avenue, bordered the north side of the Spring Grove Hospital property, and ended at an interchange with the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad mainline (later Pennsylvania Railroad, and after 1970, Amtrak) on the east side of Loudon Park Cemetery. Wilson’s was a Frederick road mainstay until the 1990s when its doors closed for good in Catonsville.

Library Hall was built as a community center-for-hire, and housed the International Order of Odd Fellows for some years on its second floor. True to its name, it did contain a small rental library, where popular books could be rented for a few cents a day. Separate reading rooms for men and women were part of the design.

A newspaper account in 1961, recounting the hall’s purpose, stated: “In the hope of improving ‘the culture of the community,’ the newly built hall provided meeting space for churches, Sunday school services, school graduation exercises and even Prof. Pfeiffer’s Soiree Dance instruction.”

The rear of the hall had a large stage and could accommodate 500 spectators. Many drama groups performed there, bringing live theater to residents of Catonsville. But it wasn’t only high-brow entertainment. Library Hall presented then-popular boxing matches and offered a pool hall, too. 

Rental space occupied the front of the hall, first used by the U.S. Post Office from 1887-1896, its sign visible in this photo. In 1897, with the addition of steel bars on the windows, it became a branch of the First National Bank. The wooden structure, with its Germanic architectural details, burned in the 1930s.

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. 

Jacqui Lampell October 16, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Thank you for this piece of Catonsville history. I enoyed it very much. Jacqui Lampell
Maureen Sweeney Smith October 16, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Great article! Thanks for Short Line history. Catonsville Rails To Trails is converting the old Short Line Railroad route into a bike hike trail. The trail is great this time of year with fall colors. The portion near Maiden Choice Lane and Garden Ridge Rd. is cleared and available to bike or hike.

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