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Date: Oct 9, 2013

historic map of Gunpowder RiverTeri L. Rising
Historic Preservation Planner, Baltimore County Department of Planning

Over a hundred years ago, Baltimore City proposed building a dam that would bring water from the Gunpowder River to Baltimore City. While the reservoir would accomplish this goal, it would also destroy homes, communities, and create controversy between Baltimore City and County. As a historic planner and historian, I am often asked for the story behind Loch Raven reservoir. “History Underwater” is a brief summary of the project that would change the landscape of Baltimore County forever.

Baltimore City had long struggled to supply its citizens with clean water, but the increasing population caused natural sources to disappear and water contamination to increase.  A drought in 1869 convinced city officials to look beyond the Jones Falls for sources of water and the Gunpowder River had been identified in 1853 as a possible choice.

“This matter of water supply cannot be overestimated in its importance, and when the water of the Gunpowder shall have been conducted into the city, as it must of necessity be in the lapse of a few years, no city on this continent or in Europe will be able to boast of so great a bounty.”Mayor of Baltimore - 1872

Construction began December 3, 1875 and the Loch Raven lower dam was completed by 1881.  The works consisted of a dam, which formed the reservoir, a tunnel connecting the reservoir with Lake Montebello, and a conduit connecting Lake Montebello to Lake Clifton. That water tunnel is still used today.  Officially named in 1877, “Loch Raven” was inspired by area landowner, Luke Raven, along with the addition of  “Loch”, as Scottish for Lake.  William Gilmor, owner of the "Glen Ellen" estate, has been credited as the source of the name.  

A polluted Jones Falls convinced officials to expand Loch Raven by adding an upper dam.  Knowing that Baltimore City was scouting for land, the Warren Company secretly sold the town to the city in 1908 for a confidential price. The City Council conducted an investigation and concluded the acquisition was inappropriate and price too high.  Negative press coverage resulted in serious criticism for officials and the deal was nullified by the Court of Appeals in 1913.

After the upper dam was completed, the city implemented the next phase and raised the spillway to the 240 feet maximum.  In response, nearly 50 square miles were annexed in 1918.  The annexation consumed many farms and mills and forced residents to relocate. City inspectors assigned values to the properties and negotiated their acquisition.  Many sites were demolished and flooded; others were partially demolished and left to deteriorate within the watershed’s boundaries. Those affected had names like Morgan’s Mill, "Furnace Farm", "Vauxhall", and "Glen Ellen".

Amidst lawsuits and accusations of impropriety, the last lands purchased for the final phase of the Loch Raven Reservoir included the towns of Warren and Phoenix.  When they were finally condemned in 1922, it cost the City one million dollars. Spectators made the trek and documented the dismantling and demolition of the village making Warren’s demise the best known and documented.

If you are interested in learning more, or would like information about the sources I used for this blog, feel free to contact me at

Further Reading

Baltimore County Department of Planning, Preservation Services

Baltimore City Department of Public Works

Baltimore City Department of Public Works History of the Water Supply

Historical Society of Baltimore County

Baltimore County Public Library Historic Photographs Collection

Maryland Historical Trust - Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties

John McGrain, The Molinography of Maryland: a tabulation of mills, furnaces, and primitive industries, Maryland State Archives, 2007


Revised April 6, 2016