Robert T. Banks (1822-1901)
MSA SC 3520-12477
Source: Wilbur F. Coyle, The Mayors of Baltimore (Reprinted
from The Baltimore
Municipal Journal, 1919), 117-122.
|Robert T. Banks was Mayor of Baltimore, from November 4th, 1867 to
November 6th, 1871, one four-year term. During this administration
the construction of the Union Railroad tunnel (now used by the Pennsylvania
system) under Hoffman Street, from Greenmount Avenue to Bond Street, and
the Baltimore and Potomac tunnels (Pennsylvania System) from North Avenue
to Gilmor Street were begun, the latter railroad then entering the city,
thus establishing the second railroad connection with Washington.
The Eastern Female High School on Aisquith Street was finished. Druid
Lake, in Druid Hill Park, was completed. A reorganization of the
Board of Fire Commissioners and of the Fire Department took place in 1868.
A disastrous Jones Falls' flood occurred in 1868, resulting in the loss
of life and the destruction of much property. Many bridges bad to
be replaced; one at Centre Street was rebuilt, those at Decker Street (now
Maryland Avenue) and at North Avenue over this stream, which were under
way were completed. Authority to place a stone bridge across the
Falls at John (now Preston) Street was granted. Shortly after this
flood, schemes for improving Jones Falls were suggested by experts, several
plans were submitted, and a two and one-half million dollar loan for the
construction of this work, including retaining walls, was approved.1
Seven schools were erected. A market house at Cross Street Market
was built; also one at Lafayette market and a Lexington market extension
was begun. A Central Police Station, on North Street (Guilford Avenue),
now used as a City Hall Annex, was erected. The site of Harlem Square
was accepted. An ice-boat was completed and the office of Inspector
of Buildings was created. Considerable street paving, mostly cobblestone,
was laid during this administration. South Street, from Baltimore
to Lombard Streets, however, was paved with sheet asphalt, this being the
first recorded asphalt paving in Baltimore.
The construction of the City Hall was continued and two one-million-dollar loans for its completion were approved. Ordinances to create a board for the construction of (storm-water) sewers were passed. Provision was made to condemn and open Baltimore Street from Gist (now Patterson Park Avenue) to the eastern City Limits; Hoffman Street from Belair Avenue to Mine Bank Lane and McCulloh Street from McMechin to North Avenue. Authority to open Druid Hill Avenue, from Wilson Street to North Avenue, and to widen Eutaw Street (now Eutaw Place), from Laurens to North Avenue, was granted. A loan of one million dollars was made, to the Valley Railroad of Virginia (up to this time 1919 the investment has been non-productive); also a one-million-dollar loan to the Western Maryland Railroad.
The population of Baltimore in 1870 was 267,354.
* * * * * *
During the Civil War, as explained in the preceding sketches, the right of franchise was denied a large portion of the population which was, or which was supposed to be, in sympathy with the Southern cause or which was opposed to the local measures that the Federal Government deemed necessary for the successful prosecution of the war.
Moreover, the State Constitution adopted in 1864, under Federal pressure2 further operated to curtail the voting privilege. Following the war, however, there was a restoration of civil rights. Governor Swann, a Union man, elected in 1864, is credited with actively and successfully inaugurating a movement for the restoration of the elective franchise throughout Maryland,3 but the readjustment was brought about largely by the State Constitution adopted in 1867. It was under this that Mayor Banks came into office, concerning which even Scharf, in the "History of Maryland," says: "The first election under the new Constitution was held in Baltimore, October 23rd, 1867, for Judges of the Court of Appeals, Judges of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, Mayor and City Council, etc. At this election Mr. Banks, democratic conservative, received 18,420 votes; A. W. Denison, radical, 4,896."
Robert Tunstall Banks was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, April 2nd, 1822. He received a common school education. At the age of fifteen was a clerk in the Baltimore Post-office. In 1867 he was elected Mayor for four years, this being the only term of such length previous to the adoption of the City Charter of 1898. The period of the Mayor's term was again changed to two years by Laws of Maryland of 1870. During Mayor Banks' administration Negroes in Maryland were first allowed to vote. Mr. Banks was Register of Wills from 1880 to 1892. He was the founder of a wholesale crockery business and in 1845 married Miss Mary B. Loane, of Baltimore. She died about a year and a half before Mr. Banks. The latter's demise occurred August 8th, 1901.
1. The danger of floods was years later eliminated by the construction of a system of conduits and a tunnel to accommodate the flow of the Falls. These improvements were made between August 7, 1911, and December, 1914. The course of the Falls is now a fine street--the Fallsway.
2. Scharf, History of Maryland, p. 577.
3. "The beginning of the change came after the election of Gov. Thomas Swann in 1864. Governor Swann was a Union man and was elected on the Union ticket, but he had been in office but a short time before he gave unmistakable indications of a desire to cut loose from the Republican oligarchy which was determined to permanently keep in fetters the Democratic majority. It was through him the registration books were opened and the franchise restored. It was his appointment of registrars who would not enforce the obnoxious test oaths and who placed back upon the books the names of the thousands of white men entitled to the privileges of the ballot, but from whom it had been taken that finally resulted in the withdrawal of the military and the clearing of the whole political atmosphere." Kent, History of Maryland Politics.
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