The Mount Royal Reservoir was once an essential element within an extensive system of waterworks built to deliver clean drinking water to a growing, thirsty city. In 1857, the Baltimore City Council passed an ordinance to provide additional water to Baltimore City and soon started construction on a $1.3 million system of dams, conduits and reservoirs along the Jones Falls—the more affordable option when compared to a $2.1 million plan for diverting water from the Gunpower Falls.
In 1858, what was formerly called Swann Lake was dammed up to become what we now know as Lake Roland. A massive conduit was built connecting it to the Hampden Reservoir. Finally, a conduit was excavated going south to the Mount Royal Reservoir just north of the city boundary and the waterworks were fully operational by 1862. By 1863, just over half of the city’s 38,881 buildings received water that was delivered from the Mount Royal Reservoir.
The site of the Mount Royal Reservoir lay just west of the Northern Central Railroad tracks on the former site of the Mount Royal Mill property. The reservoir featured a large central fountain, similar to the one in present day Druid Lake, that shot a stream of water bubbling high into the air. Even before construction was complete, however, Baltimore residents discovered that this new source was once again insufficient for the growing population of the city and the large number of Federal troops stationed in Baltimore or passing through during the Civil War.
During hot and dry periods of the summer the system would run short of supply and the Water Department’s response was to try to cut down demand by raising the price of water. The city’s poor living in low-lying neighborhoods and forced to use backyard pumps, were hit the hardest by the water-borne diseases that spread as a result. Sewage from cesspools leached into neighborhood wells and polluted the springs of the city, increasing the demand for clean water from the mains. Severe droughts from 1869 through 1872 finally forced the city to seriously consider the Gunpowder as a permanent water source.
In 1910, the Mount Royal Reservoir was abandoned by the City Water Department and transferred to the Parks Department. In 1924 the City Park Board demolished the reservoir and removed 50,000 cubic feet of earth, turning the site into parkland. In 1959, the property was cut in two by the entrance to the new Jones Falls Expressway off of North Avenue. Today, you can still see the monumental entrance posts to Druid Park that stand at the base of the reservoir’s original location as you drive past on North Avenue.