In the early 1900’s the community of Sandtown was generally a self-contained and self-supported blue collar community; there were many blue collar jobs available to the residents.
The presence of the Schmidt Baking Company, Capital Cake Company, American Ice Company, Lafayette Market, numerous coal yards and the Aristocrat Dairy just name a few of the career blue collar position that existed for the residents in this community.
Pennsylvania Ave was perhaps one of the most important landmarks within the city of Baltimore and to the black community. Many blue collar jobs and various vocational opportunities were available for the residents of Sandtown.
In fact the name Sandtown came from the large amounts of Sand that would often be left in the streets from the first horse drawn wagons and later trucks going to and from the sand and gravel quarry located on Monroe, Laurens and Preestman Streets. The inadvertent escaped of sand from these wagons and trucks would leave the streets sandy, hence the name Sandtown.
Often these deposits of sand would create great times for play for the children of the community, the youth would use card board boxes and a means of a sliding down the sand covered hills such as Riggs Ave, between Gilmore and Stricker Streets. This was possible because the community did not have much cars therefore this activity did not pose a great danger.
Sandtown is located North of West Lafayette Street, West of North Fremont Ave South of West North Ave and East of Monroe Streets these are the boundaries or boarders which covers 72 square blocks, these are the boarders of Sandtown. The racial makeup is approximately 96% African Americans.
Prior to the Riot of the 60’s is was a welcomed place to live, many professionals lived in the community. It was nothing to knock on Dr. Saunders door at 12:00 midnight because there was a family emergency.
There were many distinguished people who lived with the confines of the Sandtown Boarders such as Mr. George Kelson, a funeral director that earned the name “Mr. Integrity” because his word was his bond. Mr. Kelson’s heart was for the people of this community and his funeral home was quite a distinguished and honorable place. He set an example of what an African American businessman was.
Beside “Mr. Integrity” George Kelson, Sandtown had several renowned American citizens such as:
- Cab Calloway, late jazz great
- Billie Holiday, late jazz great
- Thurgood Marshall, first African-American justice on the Supreme Court of the United States
- Melvin Williams aka “Little Melvin”, former drug lord of Baltimore
- Freddie Gray, police brutality victim
What happened to Sandtown
Like all of Old West Baltimore, the latter half of the 20th Century was not kind to Sandtown. As “second hand Suburbs” such as Edmondson Village , Park Heights, Forest Park and Liberty Heights corridors became available to Black Residents via blockbusting, the overcrowded Sandtown emptied, as Residents who could afford it, relocated and left for brighter pastures. This vacuum of quality people left Sandtown in shambles,as close to half of its housing stock became, vacant, boarded up, left for dilapidated and eventually condemned. Those at City Hall did not have Sandtown on their map for Urban renewal. This left Sandtown and its inhabitant known as the “forgotten”, with no end in sight and decades of neglect by the appointed politician, home ownership declined, renters and drugs became the norm as the remaining homeowners passed away and their children refused to occupy or even maintain the up keep of the once thriving family home.
Those residents left behind in Sandtown lived in extreme poverty with a deteriorating housing stock and a City that was too broke to provide them the essential services they needed.
Now having fallen on complete hard times, the Sandtown neighborhood remains one of West Baltimore’s most blighted and problematic communities, some say it is concentrated and complete infiltrated by BGF (Black Guerilla Family) as well as the Bloods and Crips gang members.
Sandtown is located in a historically African American area of West Baltimore neighboring the once affluent Upton community. In the second half of the 20th century, Sandtown experienced economic depression, housing abandonment, crime, and racial rioting. Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s famous African American performers such as Billie Holiday and Diana Ross performed there, largely due to the then known law of segregation, there were no other places for these acts to perform, Sandtown was often associated or referred to as Baltimore’s, Harlem,
The “Royal Theatre” located on Pennsylvania Ave was Baltimore’s “Apollo Theatre”. The whose, who of African American talent performed at the Royal Theatre and could even be seen walking those very streets and participating in the Baltimore Pennsylvania Ave night life. There was a time that Sandtown was a energetic, pulsating and bustling community filled with lively and bubbly people with high hopes and great expectation for their lives as well as their families.
Sandtown Current and Future plans
By the time of the 2015 protests and rioting over the death of little known Freddie Gray 3% of Sandtown’s populations was incarcerated, a third of its housing abandoned, 20% of working age people were unemployed or under employed, a third of residents were living in poverty, and still Heroin addiction as well as opioid related pills has continued to plague and ravage the community.
However, all hope has not failed; with the continued great work of a former quadriplegic Howard County resident named Alan Tibbels and his family with his recently Seminary graduated Pastor Mark Gornik and community resident Laverne Stokes. Allan, Mark and Laverne began a revitalization of the northern section of the community, by creating “home ownership” and “vacant to value” housing in the community through “Sandtown Habitat for Humanity”.
Sandtown Habitat for Humanity through rehabbing vacant houses in the community was chiefly responsible for providing affordable and quality homes to the forgotten residents of this riot torn and decimated community.
Sandtown Habitat for Humanities through the work of the now deceased Alan Tibbels and Co-Executive Laverne Stokes, to date has restored over 300 homes in the Sandtown Winchester Community. Sandtown has a pulse and is waking up from its doldrums. There is still much work to do, however the prognosis is changing and the outlook appears to be positive, much more work is needed, however all hope has not failed.