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                                                                                                Christopher T. George



A History of Loch Raven

The Loch Raven Review owes its name to an area of Baltimore County, north of the city of Baltimore, Maryland, best known for the Loch Raven Reservoir, which was begun in the late nineteenth century to provide drinking water for the people of the city.  The reservoir was formed by the damming of  a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the Gunpowder Falls.  The reservoir was begun in the 1880’s. Loch Raven as we know it now was completed in 1914–1923 when a more massive cement dam of height 240 feet above sea level was constructed and enlarged.  Currently the reservoir capacity is approximately 23 billion gallons and the impounded area is about 2,400 acres.  The watershed includes not only northern Baltimore County but small parts of western Harford County, Maryland, and southern York County, Pennsylvania.  Founding editor of the Loch Raven Review, Denis Garrison, lives northeast of the reservoir in the Baltimore County community of My Lady’s Manor.

Besides being one of several reservoirs that provides potable water for Baltimore, Loch Raven today is a wooded area popular with local families, hunters, and fishermen.  I recall being taken out to the reservoir by my father after my parents and I immigrated to the United States from England in 1955.  I remember we walked out to a viewpoint overlooking the high cement dam.  I gazed down into the dark, deep waters, and was impressed with the sight of immense gray catfish surging in heaving shoals in the black depths. Quite an impression on a lad of seven!  The area is also meaningful to me because on December 22, 1995, after my wife Donna and I got married at the Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson, we rode in a Rolls Royce north in style to Josef’s, a restaurant in Fallston, Harford County, and purposely planned the route to go by the beautiful reservoir toasting our future in champagne. 

There exist two versions for the origin of the name “Loch Raven.”  Or at least it might be all part of the same story, given that the elements “Loch” and “Raven” apparently came from two different sources at different times a couple of centuries apart, as I will explain.

Hamill Kenny in his book, The Place Names of Maryland: Their Origin and Meaning, published by the Maryland Historical Society, attributes the “Raven” portion of the name to a local landowner, Luke Raven, who settled in this part of Maryland in the 17th century after coming to the area from Virginia.  That is possible, however, the full name “Loch Raven” itself sounds Scottish, and it appears that the designation “Loch Raven” was given to the reservoir by William Gilmor, a member of a powerful local family of Scottish descent, the word loch being Gaelic for “lake.” 

The first of the Gilmor family to come to Maryland was merchant Robert Gilmor I, born in Paisley, Scotland, who came to the province in 1767 before the American Revolution. Gilmor helped incorporate Baltimore City in 1797.  He also founded the St. Andrew’s Society of Baltimore in 1806 and served as its first president until his death in 1822.  Robert Gilmor III (1808–1874), nephew of the merchant’s son, art collector Robert Gilmor II, purchased in 1832 a tract of land of some 900 acres, southwest of the Gunpowder Falls and south of the present reservoir.  The name “Gunpowder,” incidentally, appears to date back to at least 1600.  Legend tells that the name originated with an attempt by local Indians to plant gunpowder in the hopes that they could raise it as a crop.  As crazy as that sounds.

In any case, above Peterson Run, a tributary of the Gunpowder, Gilmor built a three-story mansion in the Gothic style, which he dubbed “Glen Ellen” after his wife, Ellen, daughter of Judge Ward of Baltimore, and using the Scottish term glen, which, similar to loch, has a Gaelic origin, derived from the word gleann, meaning “narrow valley.”  Possibly the bucolic “glen” at the location that he picked for the mansion inspired the name. 

The residence was built on the western edge of a wooded rise called “Ravensrock,” which presumably derived its name from the early landowner, Luke Raven. The Gilmor estate stretched from the present lower dam over the Gunpowder to the eastern edge of Pine Ridge Golf Course.  The castle-like family home towered over what is now the reservoir’s Hampton Cove until the house’s abandonment and later dismantlement.

Gilmor based the romantic design for the mansion after Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s manse in Scotland, which the landowner had visited during a tour of EuropeThe architect was Alexander J. Davis (1803-1892) and the mansion, built 1832-1833, was rated "the first truly Picturesque American Gothic home" constructed in the United States (see http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/davs/hod_24.66.17.htm).

At Glen Ellen, Robert and Ellen Gilmor raised eleven children: nine boys and two girls. The eldest son, Robert IV, became a Baltimore City judge while William, the man who came up with the name “Loch Raven” for the new reservoir, became president of the Maryland Central Railroad. Undoubtedly the best known of his sons, as well as conceivably the most famous of the Gilmor clan, was the dashing and controversial Colonel Harry Gilmor, CSA (1838–1883).  Maryland, being a border state, was divided in its loyalties and a number of the state’s young aristocrats, such as Harry Gilmor, sided with the south.  It is tempting to think that to a  Maryland Scot, the “Lost Cause” of the southern rebellion could have had an allure because of the romance of the memory of such “lost” Scottish causes as those of Robert the Bruce, William Wallace (“Braveheart”), and Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

In July 1864, Harry Gilmor, as part of the Confederate incursion into Maryland under General Jubal A. Early, led a cavalry raid into northern Baltimore County. Gilmor’s rebel raiders burned down the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad bridge over the Gunpowder at Magnolia, thus hitting at a major Union supply route.  Less for its strategic importance and more for symbolism Gilmor’s men also torched the home of Maryland governor Augustus Bradford on Charles Street above the present Baltimore City line. After the war, Harry served with distinction as police chief of Baltimore in the 1870’s.  He would die a painful and prolonged death from cancer of the left side of his face in 1883. 

After Harry Gilmor’s death, Glen Ellen was sold by the family. When the waters of Loch Raven Reservoir encroached near the mansion, the house was dismantled, although its foundations are visitable today by intrepid hikers. 

Let me add some more footnotes to the story of “Loch Raven.”  Before Robert Gilmor III purchased the property where he would build Glen Ellen, the land had originally been in the possession of the Ridgely family of Hampton mansion, proprietors of the Northampton Furnace, where they manufactured cannons during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  The rising waters of the Loch Raven Reservoir covered the old Northampton works; its ruins can still be seen when the reservoir is at low water, to the east of Dulaney Valley Road.  Two communities, Warren and the original settlement of Phoenix, were also drowned in the enlargement of the dam in 1922. Between the two world wars, Loch Raven Boulevard was laid down, running out of Baltimore City from 25th Street to the present Baltimore Beltway south of the reservoir. After World War II, developer James Dorment, established the community of “Loch Raven Village” on Loch Raven Boulevard north of Taylor Avenue.  A total of just under 1,500 houses were built and the 25 streets of the community were given Scottish names.




“About Loch Raven Village – History” http://www.lochravenvillage.com/index1.html

Baltimore City Government.  “Where Does Water Come From?” http://cityservices.baltimorecity.gov/dpw/waterwastewater02/waterquality4.html

Brooks, Neal A. and Eric G. Rockel. A History of Baltimore County. Towson, MD: Friends of the Towson Library, Inc., 1979

“Colonel Gilmor Dead.  End to His Long Sufferings” Baltimore Sun, March 5, 1883 http://www.toadmail.com/~steves6/

George, Christopher T. The Scots in Maryland and a History of the St. Andrew’s Society of Baltimore, 1806–2006.  Baltimore, MD: The St. Andrew’s Society of Baltimore, 2006.

“Gunpowder Valley Conservancy Home Page” http://www.gunpowdervalley.org/history.htm

Harry Gilmor at http://famousamericans.net/harrygilmor/

Harry W. Gilmor biography at http://www.mdscv.org/1388/bio.htm

 “Historic Sites in Towson” http://www.historictowson.org/sites.htm

Kenny, Hamill. The Place Names of Maryland: Their Origin and Meaning. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1999.

“Krystall: The Origins of Words and Terms” http://www.krysstal.com/wordname.html

National Park Service.  “History of Hampton” http://www.nps.gov/hamp/history.htm

Scheve, Charles J. “Glen Ellen” http://www.bcplonline.org/info/history/glen_ellen.html



                                                                                                © Christopher T. George

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Loch Raven Review Winter 2005 — Vol. I, No. 2
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