Baltimore City, like many cities of its era, was built long before environmental regulations required the preservation of wetlands and streams. Baltimore is built along the banks of a navigable waterway, in a valley that drains a large watershed that extends into the surrounding environs. However, when examining a map of the city, there is a notable lack of streams in the built up areas that usually give some definition to the topography shown on a map. That’s because the streams that used to dot the banks of the Patapsco River and Jones Falls have been placed underground by man in an attempt to tame nature and move surface water out of sight. Public Works engineers of the early 1900s tried to put streams into pipes wherever possible because they were seen as open sewers, rife with disease and industrial filth. These decisions have had dire consequences on the health of the water bodies downstream and have turned the built up city into an area devoid of natural water where there should be plenty.
Recently I’ve started finding and adding these buried streams to OpenStreetMap in an attempt to surface their existence to the world. Referencing public storm drain plans and old news articles I’ve found at the library, I’ve started adding some streams that are now completely underground. The process is interesting in part due to the massive scale of the underground pipes and tunnels that we rely on any time it rains, yet have little knowledge of their existence. There are several tunnels in excess of 4 meters in diameter.
While you can see the culverts on the regular map, they are usually below the streets and thus not visible. I set up an overpass query to select all these culverts for viewing. I find it interesting to see how far these systems extend underground and how large some of the individual pipes and culverts are. I also enjoyed figuring out the names of these streams looking at the old plans and articles and then assigning those names on the map. Some of the streams that have been completely buried, like Sumwalt Run in Charles Village or Ogier’s Run in Highlandtown, have been completely erased from modern maps. By adding them to OSM, I hope to reintroduce them to the world.