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Take an Urban Hike Above Ghost Rivers in Baltimore

Take an Urban Hike Above Ghost Rivers in Baltimore

Unseen history has a special allure for me. When the Ghost Rivers art installation and walking tour in Baltimore was announced last year, it went straight to the top of my adventure list. This innovative urban hike promised a glimpse at the streams and stories hidden under a bustling city landscape.

My husband Joe and I seized a moody April day to explore the trail. Dodging raindrops, we delved into the forgotten Sumwalt Run, a waterway weaving unseen beneath the streets and sidewalks of Remington.

The working-class neighborhood lies in northern Baltimore City, just south of Johns Hopkins’ undergraduate campus. We started at Wyman Park Dell, across the street from the Baltimore Museum of Art. Although the Ghost Rivers signage hasn’t been installed at this location yet, the tour website helped us envision a past come to life. Sumwalt Run meandered through the sunken glen in front of us while men in top hats and women in petticoats promenaded along Frederick Law Olmstead-designed footbridges and park paths.

Of course, this was all in my imagination. By the early 1900s, when renowned landscape architect Olmsted conceptualized Wyman Park Dell as a sweeping green space surrounding Sumwalt Run, new housing blocks and factories were swiftly overtaking all available land. Olmsted had to modify his plans, instead burying the Run beneath the Dell’s lawn.

Photo Credit: Heidi Schlag

Fascinated, Joe and I traced the underground path of Sumwalt Run—represented by a light-blue painted path—across West 29th Street south to stops on N. Howard and W. 28th streets. At this point, light blue signage marking each location made our adventure part history lesson, part scavenger hunt. 

As we walked, we discussed the history of each sign. We considered how the Susquehannock and Piscataway tribes may have used the Sumwalt, learned of a nearby encampment where Union troops trained, and imagined Sumwalt pond—where locals ice skated in winter and swam in summer—now covered with quintessential Baltimore rowhouses. At the storm drain on Fox Street, we could hear the Run flowing beneath our feet.

As we arrived at Stop 9 at the corner of W. 26th Street and Huntington Avenue, we met Marlene. A lifelong resident of Remington, she saw us reading a Ghost Rivers sign and wanted to tell us about her neighborhood. 

Marlene showed us her home, where her windows visibly tilted several degrees off horizontally. Entire blocks of two-story rowhouses had been built on debris from the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, she told us. Developers had wanted to flatten out the Sumwalt Run valley to build homes that were now sinking into the ground. We had read about this on a Ghost Rivers sign, but it took on new meaning as we gazed at Marlene’s crooked house.

Then she pointed off to the southwest. During the depression, she said, the men in her family would go down to the railroad tracks, gather up the coal that fell off passing train cars, and burn it for heat. Her stories reminded us that generations of people walked these streets before us. They lived their lives on top of a buried stream, for better or for worse.  

As with any urban hike, part of the fun is exploring a neighborhood on foot, where you will discover gems you’d never notice when traveling by car. Near stop 6 were two public art pieces, Remington ‘R’ by Dominic Terlizzi and Remingtopo, a pavement mural by Graham Projects outside of B. Willow plant shop. We also found several murals, including Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a crown perched atop her head, as well as some miniature brick art.

Photo Credit: Heidi Schlag

Remington was a working-class hive of activity in the 1940s and 50s before falling on hard times at the close of the twentieth century when industry dried up. Today, revitalization is breathing life back into the area. A community festival, Remfest, brings bands, craft vendors, and food trucks to Remington Avenue, against a backdrop of industrial-style buildings reminiscent of the neighborhood’s past, while new food hall R. House launches local chefs.

As book lovers who never pass up a bookstore if we can help it, Joe and I next visited Greedy Reads. The light, airy space made browsing a dream, and we both discovered some new reads.

Photo Credit: Greedy Reads

Between the interesting titles on display and the compelling line-up of author talks being promoted, Baltimore’s best indie bookstore would be a favorite haunt for both of us if we lived in Remington.

Before walking back to our car, we needed sustenance, and the kitschy Paper Moon Diner didn’t disappoint. Joe and I had both been there many times in our Baltimore days, but, we realized with some surprise, never together. Their menu is extensive, with breakfast, salads, sandwiches, milkshakes, and some throwback TV dinners all available. 

We shared a piece of apple pie while enjoying the eclectic décor, a feast for the eyes.

Photo Credit: Heidi Schlag

Furniture and antique toys hang from the ceiling, and a wall of action figures joins an enormous Pez dispenser collection and vintage memorabilia in a spectacle best described as “chaotic nostalgia.” Within several feet of our table hung a disembodied doll head, a model airplane, and a tuba. 

Aside from a few late-night jaunts to Paper Moon with friends, Remington was largely an unknown entity for Joe and me, much as Sumwalt Run is for most Baltimoreans. We owe Ghost Rivers artist Bruce Willen a debt of gratitude for developing this compelling art installation and walking tour; without it, so many important stories of Baltimore’s past would have remained buried, flowing underground, undiscovered.


Feature Photo Credit: Heidi Schlag

About the Author

Heidi Schlag

Heidi Glatfelter Schlag is a marketer, history lover, and traveler who can often be found exploring museums, parks, small towns, and farms. She founded Culture-Link Communications, where she helps local nonprofits and small businesses build their brands. Heidi lives in Frederick, MD, with her husband and two dogs.

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