Celebrating Baltimore City’s Historic Homes and Families
Q&A with Lisa Doyle, Baltimore Heritage’s Centennial Homes Project Manager
Baltimore Heritage's Centennial Homes program recognizes families that have been in the same house for 100 years or more. Thus far, it has honored 10 families, with the eleventh house and family to be recognized next spring.
We recently caught up with Lisa Doyle, a Baltimore Heritage board member since 2010 and the Centennial Homes project manager since its inception, to ask her about the nation’s only Centennial Homes program and what this distinction means to these generations-old Baltimore families and their communities.
What was Baltimore Heritage’s goal when creating the Centennial Homes program?
Our whole purpose is to honor and recognize families for what they’ve done. We respect and honor them for being stewards of a neighborhood, not leaving during rough times, staying around, being able to have stories and history over decades, to be able to share whatever tidbits they have of something that’s memorable in that area that ties into the history of Baltimore city.
What is it like to listen to these families’ oral histories?
I’m getting a close-up view of intimate stories about their families, and I get a little history of what Baltimore was like. I feel honored that people are allowing me to step into their homes, to step into their lives, and to hear the history of where they lived. It makes me feel like the communities of Baltimore have a really incredible strength.
All the people weren’t like that; they didn’t all stay for 100 years. It just goes to show that the longer people had stayed in that area, it seems like it strengthened who they were and their families.
What does it mean to the families to receive this distinction?
I think the families feel really good to know that they’re recognized and that they are kind of a unique, special part of the community. They really love talking about their homes, about what they’ve done. They are a part of what this block or this neighborhood represents. It’s a feeling, a sense of place that these people have that is really important. That’s important for neighborhoods and history and cities. It would be nothing if you just had buildings and they were empty. It’s kind of a different way of looking at what the contribution is to the city’s history.
For you, is this program more about the buildings or the people?
The program is not about the buildings, but it’s about how the people have represented what those buildings stand for. Those people have given that building some life and some integrity. It’s all about a sense of place. Those people and families are what give those buildings a sense of place -- a place in the neighborhood, a place on the street, a place in history. And that is what is significant about our program and finding these people.
The point is to keep those neighborhoods alive to keep the buildings alive in the name of these families that have done it. It honors the ones that came before.
What has been the reception of the communities to these honors?
There are many parts of history in a city that only certain people care about. That it’s really meaningful for a neighborhood and a community is not the most important thing. But that’s no reason to not honor them.
What are families doing to encourage the younger generations to stay in these homes?
Our newest family, they are young, they’ve got three children, and they told us the other day, ‘We’ve already talked to our kids and this house is staying in the family and maybe the first one that has a family, gets it.’ So they are encouraging that kind of conversation, which is good.
I think that’s the most important thing, to have the conversation, that the conversation has been had about the importance of the legacy. I think that’s the conversation that hasn’t been had in a lot of these families. People move to other areas and they don’t want to live in the urban areas that some of these houses are in.
What are your hopes for the future of Centennial Homes?
I would like to have the families understand that they have a place in historic preservation and I’d like to see them more interested in historic preservation.
It would be awesome to see other cities do it. It's not an easy thing. It's time consuming. I think there have to be jewels like that in other cities. That would be really neat to find out if other families have been there a long time and maybe compare them.
If you know of other families that have lived in Baltimore city for 100 or more years, please check out http://baltimoreheritage.org/centennial-homes/ or email Lisa Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.