The History of Essex and Middle River


General History


Historic Photographs. Search BCPL's collection for images of this communityThe eastern part of Baltimore County, which includes Essex and Middle River, was the least-urbanized area closest to Baltimore City at the turn of the century. Yet this area eventually displayed the most sustained growth rate in the county. By 1931, the population was nearly 23,000.


Originally, Essex was ten blocks, running from Mace to Marlyn Avenues. It was begun in 1909 by the Taylor Land Company for those residents in Baltimore who wanted a place outside the city limits to perhaps grow a garden or to pursue some other rural activity. Land was cheap and sales were enhanced by a promotional pamphlet.


Henry Guttenberger built the first general store in Essex in 1910 on the corner of Eastern and Mace Avenues. Between 1911 and 1912, the Taylor Land Company donated the lots for Essex Methodist and St. John's Lutheran churches. They also donated the land where the volunteer fire department built their station on Eastern Avenue. The permanent fire station opened in 1921.


With the ever-growing population came the need to build schools. The elementary school opened in 1925 with 400 students. Essex Community College was founded in 1957. Classes were first held at Kenwood High School, with fifty part-time and nine full-time students. In 1961, the college moved to Dorsey Avenue, and in 1968 moved to its present location. This site was owned by the Mace family, and the family burial plot is maintained and protected by the college.


A fire in August, 1957 destroyed an entire block of businesses on Eastern Avenue, and the business district never fully recovered from that catastrophe. The ten-alarm blaze caused a half million dollars in damages, and, in the time it took to repair the buildings, new shopping centers were built, changing the buying habits of consumers.


The Glenn L. Martin Company was the single biggest reason for the rapid growth of the area. Employment at the company peaked at 53,000 workers during World War II. However, this same facility was the cause of high unemployment after the war, when only 800 people worked there by the mid-1970s.


Another important company was Eastern Rolling Mill, which opened in 1919. The plant, at the head of Back River, produced carbon sheet steel. In 1944, Eastern merged with Industrial Stainless Steel, Inc. to form Easco, which is still an important source of employment for Essex.


Today, there is interest in revitalizing the Essex area by including it in government-sponsored empowerment zones. Many neighborhoods have begun a "clean-up" of their areas, hoping to transform Essex into a place that will be ready to move into the next century.



The following is a short list of materials on the Essex and Middle River communities:



Origin of Selected Place Names


The following are the origins of selected place names in Essex and Middle River:

  • Back River: The back branch of the Gunpowder River

  • Balleston Mansion: Located at the Rocky Point Golf Club and is named after William Ball, who owned the property in the 1600s, and was the great-great grandfather of George Washington.

  • Barriston Point:  This name is the result of a typographical error printed in the 1898 edition of Bromley's Atlas.The original name was Balliston Point, again named after William Ball.

  • Hart Island: Originally named Hooper's Island in 1659. Joseph Hart bought it in 1821 and renamed it.

  • Long's Creek:  Owned by Thomas Long, who was the High Sheriff of baltimore County. Originally called Ball's Creek, it is another place named after William Ball.

  • Mars:  The name of Glenn L. Martin's flying boat, giving its name to "Mars Estates."

  • Middle River: The middle branch of the Gunpowder River

  • Millers Island: Owned by John Stansbury and was originally named Bentley's Island. The 1849 survey of the coast was the first time it was listed as Millers Island.

  • Porter's Point: Originally called Chancellor's Point, after Philip Calvert, Chancellor of Maryland. By 1783, the property was owned by John and Robert Porter, who changed the name.



Book cover of Essex and Middle River





Revised: July 13, 2015