Congressman Parren Mitchell House
A "beautiful and decent residence" for a Civil Rights activist
1805 Madison Avenue was built around 1886, when the property was first advertised in the Baltimore Sun as available to rent for $35 per month. In July 1888, Benjamin and Rosetta Rosenheim purchased the home and moved in with their two young children. Benjamin was a lawyer with an office at 19 East Fayette Street. When Rosetta needed help at home in January 1889, the Rosenheim household placed an advertisement in the Sun seeking a “White Girl, from 15 to 17 years to nurse two children, aged 2 ½ and 4.” Similar advertisements appeared again in June 1889 and March 1890 seeking a caretaker for the two children. The family didn’t stay long, however, and on May 29, 1893, Benjamin and Rosetta Rosenheim sold the home to Julia Gusdorff.
The home sold again in 1902 and 1914. In the late 1910s and early 1920s, many of the German Jewish immigrants who had occupied the Madison Avenue homes for the past couple decades began moving northwest into new neighborhoods like Park Circle northwest of Druid Hill Park. Replacing these residents were African Americans home-owners and tenants. In 1923, Keiffer Jackson, husband of the well known civil rights activist Lille Mae Carol Jackson, purchased 1805 Madison Avenue for $3200.
Lillie Mae Carroll and her husband Kieffer Jackson never lived at 1805 Madison Avenue but rented the property to African American tenants from a wide range of backgrounds. In February 1928, Frank H. Berryman, the manager of William “K.O.” Smith and K.O. Martin, publicly sought to “arrange either local or out-of-town bouts for one or both of his fighters” noting managers could reach him at 1805 Madison Avenue. Mrs. Lizzie Futz lived at the house in 1931 when she was quoted in the Afro American criticizing a move by the Baltimore school superintendent to segregate white and black children on a recent field trip to Fort McHenry:
“I honestly think that the principal was unquestionably wrong in asking that the two groups be separated. There was no reason for the separation. School children of today get along better than their elders. It’s such segregation acts that breeds prejudice in the future.”
Born in Baltimore on April 29, 1922, Parren James Mitchell moved around as a child. Early on, his family lived on Stockton Street near Presstman Street just south of Saint Peter Claver Church which had stood on North Fremont Avenue since September 9, 1888.
He was seven years old when his family moved into a new home at 712 Carrollton Avenue. The new neighborhood had started life as an elite suburb built between the 1870s and 1880s within a short walk of Lafayette Square or Harlem Park. Prior to the 1910s and 1920s, the population of the neighborhood was largely segregated white (although many African American households lived in smaller alley dwellings on the interior of the district’s large blocks). Segregation in the Harlem Park neighborhood was enforced through deed restrictions, local legislation and even physical attacks on black families that attempted to move into the neighborhood.
Parren Mitchell’s move to the house on Madison Avenue came at an important moment in the nation’s relationship to struggling cities in the wake of the riots in Baltimore and cities around the country in 1968. The home was a source of pride and provided Mitchell with a perspective on city life that few other representatives in Congress could match. In June 1974, during a discussion of “urban homesteading,” Parren Mitchell shared the success of the city’s new homesteading program (established in 1973) seen from his own front stoop, remarking:
“Come to my house at 1805 Madison Avenue in the heart of a ghetto in Baltimore City and look at the home across the street which was sold for $1 under the Homestead Act. If you do you will see a beautiful and decent residence for a family.”
During hearings on the Community Reinvestment Act, Mitchell repeated the offer:
“I will take part of my 5-minute time to extend an invitation to visit my home in Baltimore, Md. I live at 1805 Madison Avenue, which is deep in the bowels of the city. It is the ghetto. Four years ago, I purchased a home in the 1800 block of Madison Avenue at 1805, using conventional financing. I have rehabilitated the home, and I think it’s attractive enough for you to come to visit me on a Saturday morning in the 1800 block of Madison Avenue.”
The renovation to the house cost $32,000 and combined the first and second floor of the building with a new staircase returning the stories into a single unit. He rebuilt the third floor as a rental apartment, a configuration that remains in use at the building today.
The home may have been a source of pride and a sign of his strong commitment to Baltimore but it was also a site of conflict between Congressman Mitchell, the Baltimore City Police Department, and even the Ku Klux Klan. Between 1968 and 1974, before Mitchell’s move to 1805 Madison, the Baltimore Police Department Inspectional Services Division (ISD) kept his home under twenty-four-hour surveillance, illegally bugged his home and office telephones for eight months, and placed paid informers in his congressional campaigns. Beginning in 1971, Mitchell began calling for the resignation of Baltimore Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau. When the ISD surveillance program (and its close ties to the FBI) were revealed, Congressman Mitchell extended his criticism to the ISD.
In 1977, Parren Mitchell and his neighbors secured Madison Park designation by the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation as a local historic district – the first in an African American neighborhood. The lead champion of the historic district was Michael B. Lipscomb, an aide to Parren Mitchell and office manager at the Congressman’s Bloomingdale Road office.
Lipscomb was a resident in Madison Park and the vice-president of the Madison Park Improvement Association. In his testimony before CHAP, Lipscomb observed that the district was the “city’s first all black historic district,” continuing:
“I came here because I love the house. I love the size of the house, the rooms, the old architecture, the high ceilings, the 10-foot high solid wood doors, the marble fireplaces, the stained glass windows. To get a house built like this would be astronomically expensive.”
Other residents in Madison Park were also active in the city’s civic organizations, including John R. Burleigh, II, a resident of 1829 Madison Avenue and director of Baltimore’s Equal Opportunity program and Delegate Lena K. Lee who lived at 1818 Madison Avenue. Delegate Lee also supported the historic district designation, testifying:
“We have been working in this area since 1940 to clean it up and keep the intruders out, to keep it from being overrun by bars, sweatshops and storefront churches that stay a little while and then pack up and go. We want to make it purely residential by getting out all business.”
Parren Mitchell sold the property to Sarah Holley in 1986 and moved just a few blocks away to 1239 Druid Avenue. He remained at that location until 1993 when he returned to Harlem Park and lived at 828 North Carrollton Avenue where he remained until 2001. This property has been featured on tours of Lafayette Square and is now used as offices for the Upton Planning Council. Sarah Holley lived at the 1805 Madison Avenue from 1986 through 1989 and, since 1989, the property has been maintained as a rental property.