Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James H. Preston (1860-1938)
MSA SC 3520-1703


The following essay is taken from Wilbur F. Coyle, The Mayors of Baltimore (Reprint (Reprinted from The Baltimore Municipal Journal, 1919), 221.

James H. Preston was Mayor of Baltimore two terms, from May 16th, 1911, to May 18th, 1915; May 18th, 1915, to May 20th, 1919.

Many important public improvements were undertaken or completed during this administration and there were various innovations.  Particular attention was paid to the exploitation of the city’s advantages and extensive advertising campaigns were instituted.

It was during Mr. Preston’s régime, as noted below, that the boundaries of the city were extended, which increased the size of Baltimore nearly three fold in area, and added to the population from eighty-five to one hundred thousand persons, making a total of about seven hundred thousand.

Weekly conferences between the Mayor and heads of departments were inaugurated.  The bed of Jones Falls was covered for over a mile and thus a fine street—the Fallsway—was created.  During a former administration legislation was passed authorizing the construction of a waterfront street from Light and Lee to Montgomery streets.  This section was begun and completed during Mayor Preston’s administration, and other sections were begun, carrying this thoroughfare, now known as the Key Highway, as far as McComas street. A Municipal Harbor Belt Railway, which skirts the water front, connecting the Baltimore and Ohio, Pennsylvania and Western Maryland terminals was laid and is now in operation.  The opening of McComas street, another important waterfront highway, was begun, and an agreement with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad relating to riparian rights, property transfer, etc., due to the opening of part of this street, was consummated and a plan for the elimination of existing grade crossing on Hanover street was agreed upon by the city, the Baltimore and Ohio and Western Maryland railroads.  Bridges at Lee, Hamburg, Cross and Stockholm streets to avoid grade crossings in southwest Baltimore were erected.  The present Hanover street bridge was built by the State Roads Commission, largely through the efforts of Mayor Preston, and the old Light street bridge crossing the Patapsco River was removed.  Bridges at Pratt street across Jones Falls; at Monroe street over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks and at Bentalou street spanning the Western Maryland Railroad tracks, were opened to traffic. The Ellicott Driveway, a boulevard along Gwynns Falls, from Frederick road to beyond Edmondson avenue, was planned, begun and finished; the further development of Gwynn’s Falls Park was accomplished; Liberty Heights avenue, also Thirty-third street were opened, paved and parked; Pimlico Circle on the Reisterstown Road, at the northwest gate of Druid Hill Park, was constructed; part of the Gwynn’s Falls Parkway (a link in the chain of parks through Walbrook) was built; Baltimore street was extended from Garrison (Butcher) Lane to the Ellicott Driveway.  Many other streets in the then Annex section, added in 1888, were opened and numerous streets were accepted by the city and made public.  A civic center—long discussed—was authorized by ordinance, land and the structures on the square bounded by Holliday, Lexington, Gay and Fayette streets, were acquired. Among the buildings on this block was historic Holliday Street Theater, which was demolished; but the Hotel Lexington, adjoining, was not removed at that time, it being used in war work.  The entire square, excepting the Hotel Lexington site, was parked.  The civic center complete will extend east of the City Hall to the Fallsway and besides parking, plans have been suggested for a convention, music and exhibition hall on the eastern extremity of the development.  This, however, is tentative.  A great change in the physical aspect of Baltimore was brought about by the removal of the buildings along St. Paul and Courtland streets south of Franklin as far as Lexington, and the conversion of the entire site thus cleared into a series of sunken gardens and parked spaces with elaborate stairways, erected at intersecting streets.  Extensive alterations were also made in the scheme of landscape development and ornamentation of Mount Vernon place and Washington place, under a plan prepared by Messrs. Carrere and Hastings, architects, which include a monument to Gen. Lafayette*.  The Gunpowder storage reservoir and filtration plant (Lake Montebello) were begun and completed.

*Marshal Joffre of France broke ground in Mount Vernon Square, to the east of washington Monument, but the site of the Lafayette Memorial was changed to Washington Place (Charles Street, between Monument and Centre).

The Mayor, by virtue of legislative authority given under a previous administration, appointed a Paving Commission, which began the work of modernizing the streets of Baltimore. Much progress was made throughout the entire city. The equivalent of one hundred and sixty-three miles of streets were improved by this commission prior to May 20th, 1919, while other departments constructed sixty-five miles during this administration, making a total of two hundred and twenty-eight miles of improved street paving (30 feet wide between curbs). The repaving of all alleys was undertaken. Ninety-five miles were thus covered.

A law providing for a special paving tax was passed; a Great White Way illumination throughout the business and more important thoroughfares of the city was installed; the high pressure pipe-line, as a part of the fire-fighting apparatus, previously begun, was finished; the motorization of the Fire Department was practically accomplished; the sanitary sewerage system was completed and arrangements made for loaning property owners funds to make house connections; 8,404,000 feet of duct space were laid by the Electrical Commission, which was about half of the system constructed at the end of this administration; a thirty-five foot channel to the larger piers was dredged, making Baltimore one of the few ports of the world having a channel of such depth at its wharves; a commercial and recreation pier, at the foot of Broadway, authorized while Mayor Mahool was in office, was now built; an ordinance changing the rates for market licenses was passed during Mayor Preston’s administration; a commission elected November 7th, 1917, revised the city charter, which was approved at the polls November 5th, 1918.  This measure endorsed a constitutional provision giving Baltimore limited “home rule” in matters of local legislation and a form of Civil Service for city employees, effective January 1st, 1920.  The Gwynn’s Falls and Easterwood Parks were enlarged; Carroll Mansion, Lombard and Front streets (where Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, died) was acquired, repaired and used for vocational training.  The State Normal School, Lafayette and Carrollton Avenues, was purchased by the city for a Teachers’ Training School.  Twelve other schoolhouses, some of which were already begun when Mayor Preston came into office, were completed and appropriations were made for five additional structures.  The naming of schools, chiefly in honor of War of 1812, Revolutionary, and other American patriots, was introduced and bronze tablets were placed on buildings.  Loans were authorized to finance Annex improvements, for the further construction of underground wire conduits, for school buildings, harbor and highways.  A Factory Site Commission (provided for in an ordinance passed during a previous administration) to encourage manufacturers to locate in Baltimore, was appointed and the MUNICIPAL JOURNAL, issued twice a month, was established; a Baltimore Flag Commission was created to select and approve a design of flag for the city, which emblem was later officially adopted.  There was a revision of the Minor Privilege law.  The office of City Forester was created and a Bureau of Liens was opened.  The old Marine Hospital property at Fairfield was sold.  The Quarantine Station was transferred to the United States Government.  The use of metallic pails for receiving garbage, etc., was prescribed by law.  Authority was granted the Fire Department to inspect premises—a fire prevention measure.  An automobile parking ordinance was passed.  The playing of baseball and other games, under certain conditions, on the Sabbath was sanctioned by ordinance.  Race Segregation ordinances were approved.  These aimed to keep apart the white and colored races in residential sections, and were enforced for a time, but a ruling of the United States Supreme Court in a Louisville, Ky., ease was later held to make void these regulations.  Provision was made for extending the filtration plant.  The system of garbage disposal was changed, the incinerating method was abandoned, a “piggery” was established.

A municipal band was organized and dancing under city supervision was permitted in the streets, the city band furnishing the music and municipal band concerts were likewise given in various parts of the city; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under municipal patronage, was established.  The holding of annual parades of Municipal Departments was inaugurated during this administration.  The Star-Spangled Banner Celebration, which commemorated the one hundredth anniversary of the defense of Baltimore in 1814, was held.  During this celebration tablets were unveiled at many points of historic interest in Baltimore.  A monument to Lieutenant-Colonel Armistead was unveiled in Fort McHenry, September 12th, 1914, and at the same time the fort and environs were dedicated to public use as a park.  ±Congress appropriated a sum of money for a monument to Francis Scott Key, a committee was appointed which selected a design, and a location near the entrance to the Fort was decided upon for the memorial.  The erection of the pedestal was delayed, owing to the war, but the bronze figure that will surmount the base is finished.  The Ferdinand C. Latrobe statue erected at Baltimore street and Broadway, was unveiled June 1st, 1914, and the Gen. Samuel Smith monument, near Charles and Twenty-ninth streets, July 4th, 1918.  Among the other memorials were the monument to Confederate Women, near Charles street and University Parkway; the William Pinkney Whyte and the Thomas Gordon Hayes statues in the City Hall, also the tablet of the American Creed in the same building; the Fallsway monument, commemorating the completion of the Fallsway.  Provision was made for a statue of Gen. Lafayette in Washington Place as stated heretofore. January 11th, 1914, a tablet on Mount Vernon Place M. E. Church (which site was formerly occupied by the building in which Francis Scott Key, the author of the Star-Spangled Banner, died), was unveiled.  The Legislature of 1918 passed an act which enlarged the area of Baltimore from 31 648/1000 square miles to a (land and water) area of 91 93/100 square miles, or 78 59/100 square miles of land.

±Fort McHenry reverted to the United States Government, during the war, and is now a great military hospital post.

James H. Preston, lawyer and hanker, was born in Harford County, Maryland, March 23rd, 1860.  He was educated in the public schools; Belair Academy; St. John’s College, Annapolis, and the Law School of the University of Maryland, from which he was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1881.

Mr. Preston, a Democrat, was elected to the House of Delegates November 5th, 1889; was re-elected November 3rd, 1893, and was chosen Speaker of the house for the session of 1894.  In 1892 he was appointed Colonel on Gov. Brown’s staff and Gov. Warfield made him a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of Baltimore City, 1904-08.  In 1910 Mr. Preston was a candidate in the Democratic primaries for Congress from the Fourth District, but was defeated by J. Charles Linthicum, and in 1911 he (Mr. Preston) ran in the primaries for Mayor against the then Mayor Mahool.  Mr. Preston was successful and later defeated former Mayor Timanus, Republican, at the general election.  Mayor Preston was renominated in 1915, without contest and defeated Charles H. Heintzeman, Republican.  At the primaries held April 1st, 1919, Mayor Preston and Mr. George Weems Williams were candidates for the mayoralty nomination. Mayor Preston was defeated, retiring from office May 20th, 1919, and resumed the practice of law.

The subject of this sketch is Vice-President of the Calvert Bank and was the first President of that institution; First Vice-President of the Sons of the American Revolution, and was President of the Jones Falls Improvement Association, which agitated the covering of that stream.  This improvement was consummated and is now the Fallsway.

Mr. Preston married Miss Helen Fiske Jackson, daughter of Wilbur F. Jackson, and niece of Gov. E. E. Jackson.  They have two sons and three daughters.

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