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Breathing life back into a piece of history in Fell's Point

Fells Point History
Preserving Homes
Posted at 10:10 PM, May 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-13 18:00:15-04

BALTIMORE — Preserving Baltimore’s history, The Maryland Historical Trust recognized Baltimore’s Ship Caulkers' Houses Project with an award for 'Excellence in Preservation.'

Breathing life back into a piece of history in Fell's Point.

The Ship Caulkers' Houses Project restored the exterior of two houses that sit at 612 and 614 Wolfe Street. The men who lived in these houses made the holes on ships watertight.

"They were built in 1797,” said David Gleason, the President of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill & Fell's Point, "These two houses were meticulously taken apart, examined, and have been put back together as accurately as you could possibly hope. The trim and detail replicated what was here originally.”

These homes tell the story of freedom and the advancement of Black people from the pre-Civil War era that belonged to Ship Caulkers.

"It's difficult to find out about the Ship Caulkers, but here are some of the things we know. Their certificate of freedoms, which is a document that they could show to third parties to prove that they were not enslaved,” said Courtney Capute, the Chair of Friends of the Ship Caulkers' Houses.

The certificate would also show they were specialized tradesmen.

"[They] would often have physical characteristics," Capute continued, "Often, at times, those showed reflected burn marks, scarring, which suggested a hard life and working with hot tar is obviously something that could lead to burns."

Such a critical trade, it gave them economic strength that fed into the community.

"They actually formed a union, and for about 20 years had a monopoly on the ship caulking trade in Fell's Point," said Capute, "The average value of the personal property of a free Black ship caulker was $182, whereas a free Black who was not a ship caulker was $17."

Each layer of the home gives details into the deep history that lives here, even if it was a tight squeeze. "Richard Jones, who lived in this house, in 614, was there with his six children and if that wasn't enough, in one room with a one-room roof loft, they also had a boarder living with them,” said Capute.

The original pieces of wood, taken apart within the homes, show how the construction was the IKEA assembly of the time.

"The Roman numerals are so that when they had them separately on the ground and then brought them in the house to assemble them, they would know, ok these two match," said Capute.

A stroll around the back will display the authenticity of the surviving elements, with original weatherboards that have the original red paint on them.

"And to my mind, I like to think that the resilience reflected by the survival of those boards is actually a tribute to the resilience of the Ship Caulkers who lived here,” Capute said.

The next part of the project will be the restoration of the interior.