1819 - 1894



Portrait of William T. Walters

Enoch Pratt's neighbor, William Thompson Walters, who lived in splendid quarters on West Mount Vernon Place, came to Baltimore long after George Peabody left to take up residence in London. The son of a Philadelphia banker, Walters was educated to be a civil engineer. He was sent to manage a smelting operation in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, and produced the first iron manufactured from mineral coal in the United States. Walters arrived in Baltimore in 1841. He opened a general commission business and later, in 1847, became a wine merchant. Walters presided over the first line of steamers between Baltimore and Savannah and became heavily involved in railroads in the South. His sympathy and strong connections with the Confederate States prompted him to take up residence in Paris during the Civil War.

After the war, he returned to Baltimore and capitalized on his ties to the South. He was involved in the consolidation of the Atlantic Coast Line, comprising over 10,000 miles of track. He served as art commissioner for the United States to the Paris expositions of 1867 and 1878 and for the Vienna exposition in 1873. Walters served as a trustee of the Peabody Institute and chaired its Gallery of Art committee. A patron of Antoine Louis Barye, he purchased a fine collection of the French sculptor's works for his own gallery and acquired a collection for the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington as well. He served as chairman of the acquisitions committee and as a permanent trustee of the Corcoran, founded by George Peabody's close friend and business associate, William Wilson Corcoran.

Walters Public Baths

Baltimore’s late nineteenth-century Progressive reformers worked diligently to overcome the problems of quotidian life in their crowded and dirty industrial city. A Federal government report in 1893 noted that in some sections of Baltimore, ninety per cent of the residents lacked sanitary facilities in their homes. The city had outgrown its ability to serve its residents. There was no sewer system and garbage piled in the alleyways. There were few paved roads. Waves of immigrants, perceived by many local residents as threats to the health of the populace by their sheer numbers, added to the demand on city services.

A public bath movement arose in 1893 when the Reverend Thomas Beadenkopf of the Congregational Church in Canton approached Canton Company president Walter Brooks for permission to convert one of the company’s abandoned wharves into a public beach. Brooks granted permission and Beadenkopf secured funding for renovations to the wharf. Within a year the minister raised funds for two additional bathing shores. City leaders supported these projects and the idea of year-round facilities quickly caught on with the public. Henry Walters worked aggressively for enabling legislation. In 1899 he pledged to build three bathhouses and open them to the public regardless of ability to pay. The Walters Public Baths served as a nationwide model, reaching as far as San Francisco and its Sutro Baths. By the 1920s, Baltimore's free public bathing system included five freestanding buildings, portable bathhouses, swimming pools, and facilities in public schools, which served citizens until 1954, when the last bathhouse closed.