History of Catonsville, Maryland

Catonsville is a western suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, in Baltimore County. Before the arrival of European settlers, the area was part of the territory occupied by the Piscataway tribe. Their villages were connected by trails, one of which passed through the site of present day Catonsville.

Although the indigenous Piscataway tribe developed good relations with the first settlers, various pressures, including diseases to which they had no immunity, and wars with the Iroquois, led to a reduction of their population and a gradual dispersal of the remainder. When colonists began to establish new settlements in western Maryland, few Indians remained.

The first European settlement of what is now Catonsville developed around 1720 and was known as Johnnycake. It is believed that the name derived from a type of cornbread that the local inn baked and fed to travelers.

During the 1780s, a road was built to connect a flour mill on the Patapsco River with Baltimore. The state legislature designated it as the Frederick Turnpike, known today as MD Route 144. Charles Carroll of Carrolton owned land next to the road, and he instructed his son-in-law, Richard Caton, to develop it. A house for the Catons, called "Castle Thunder," was built in 1787. The surrounding area was called "Catonville" until the 1830s, when the spelling was changed to "Catonsville."

Owing to its location on the turnpike, Catonsville became a natural stopping point for travelers. Businesses that catered to travelers sprang up along the road. The pleasant surroundings eventually attracted wealthy Baltimore residents eager to escape the summer heat, who built large estates. One of them, the Summit, is presently an apartment building.

Connections with Baltimore gradually improved. A horse-car line was established in 1862, and replaced in the 1890s by an electric trolley. In 1884, the Catonsville Short Line Railroad connected Catonsville with Baltimore.

Catonsville has resisted efforts by some local citizens to incorporate it, and by Baltimore to annex it.

The Catonsville Historical Society maintains its headquarters in the Pullen Museum, adjacent to the Townsend House. It also maintains Knot Garden, an example of what may have been the first formal garden in America. The Benjamin Banneker Historical Park features the life of the first African-American scientist. Interior murals in the Catonsville Post Office were completed in 1942 by artist Avery Johnson, sponsored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Catonsville is served by one of the campuses of Community College of Baltimore County. Spring Grove Hospital Center was founded in 1797 and is the second-oldest operating psychiatric hospital in the United States.

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