East Baltimore’s Historic American Indian “Reservation”

Members of the Lumbee community stand around the East Baltimore Church of God in the 1960s.

The place now known as Baltimore, like the rest of what is now known as the United States of America, has always been home to Native peoples.

Baltimore is part of the ancestral homelands of the Piscataway and the Susquehannock, and a diverse host of American Indian folks from other nations have passed through or lived here at different times — and still do!

In the mid-twentieth century, thousands of Lumbee Indians and members of other tribal nations migrated to Baltimore City, seeking jobs and a better quality of life. They settled on the east side of town, in an area that bridges the neighborhoods of Upper Fells Point and Washington Hill. Here, they created a vibrant, intertribal American Indian community, which they affectionately referred to as “the reservation,” in its heyday.

In the decades since, due to a complex set of factors ranging from upward mobility, to Urban Renewal, to gentrification, the community has gradually moved away from the area, and the area is continually transformed. Recent generations never experienced “the reservation” as such. Today, most Baltimoreans are surprised to learn that it ever existed.

Learn about places and spaces important to American Indian history and heritage in the city, with a focus on East Baltimore’s Historic American Indian “Reservation” in the 20th century.

South Broadway Baptist Church

211 s. broadway | 1978 – present

This church is the oldest in the Upper Fells Point Historic District, completed in 1848.[1] Originally dedicated as a “mariner’s church,” it has been home to several community institutions over the past 170+ years.

South Broadway Baptist Church is the present-day name belonging to the oldest congregation established by Lumbee Indians in Baltimore City.[3] The congregation’s first meetings are recorded as having taken place in 1952, but services were held in different Lumbee homes and rented storefronts until 1967, when the congregation purchased its first building at 1117 W. Cross Street, and adopted the name West Cross Street Baptist Church. As the church grew, so did the Indian community’s interest in it. West Cross Street Baptist got permission from the Fells Point Methodist Board of Missions to use the church at 211 S. Broadway for their annual homecomings, due to its capacious size and location on “the reservation.” In 1977, Mayor William Donald Schaefer attended a homecoming celebration and the congregation shared with him their desire to purchase the building at 211 S. Broadway. The City of Baltimore helped to arrange a loan for the down payment and funds to rehabilitate the historic structure. Members of the church organized fundraising efforts to pay back the loan. On June 11, 1978, they lined up at a vacant lot at the corner of N. Ann and E. Baltimore streets for a “victory march” to their new space. A majority Lumbee congregation attends South Broadway Baptist Church to this day.

South Broadway Baptist wasn’t the first Indian institution to occupy 211 S. Broadway. In 1970, the Southeast Community Action Agency (caa) leased 211 S. Broadway on behalf of the American Indian Study Center.[5] The Center used the back entrance of what was still “the Methodist church” at that time. [6] It occupied an office adjoining the sanctuary, an office on the second floor, and held culture class in the fellowship hall, until it acquired its current facility at 113 S. Broadway, in 1972. In partnership with the Baltimore City Board of Education, the Center made a successful application for federal Indian Education funding and Baltimore’s Indian Education Program began in 1973. Its first office was the room on the second floor of 211 S. Broadway that the American Indian Study Center had previously occupied. The office later relocated to a Baltimore City Public School.

Hokahey Indian Trading Post

207 s. broadway | 1975 – 1977

In 1975, Earl Brooks (Lumbee) purchased a storefront building at 207 S. Broadway[9] and opened Hokahey Indian Trading Post with his friend, Solomon Maynor (Coharie). The store primarily sold silver and turquoise Indian jewelry purchased in New Mexico. Brooks sold the property in 1977[10] and it is part of El Salvador Restaurant today.

Baltimore American Indian Center

113 S. Broadway | 1972 – present

The original portion of this building was constructed in Greek revival style,[11] in 1843, for a sea captain[12] and his family. The captain and his wife placed it into trust for their daughter, who willed it to the Baltimore Humane Impartial Society to be used as an old folks’ home, but the Society sold the property to an individual instead.[13] It remained a private residence until it was donated to The Little Flower Corporation, in 1920.[14] The neighborhood was predominantly Polish during this time and the house was remodeled and accommodations were furnished for the care of Polish children. The first floor had lounging rooms and a dining room, the second floor was a day nursery and library, and the top floor was converted into dormitories for girls.[15]

The American Indian Study Center acquired the property from The Little Flower in 1972.[16] In its original location, at 211 S. Broadway, the Center offered a library on Indian cultures and social counseling services. It hosted monthly meetings open to anyone interested in “Indian culture.”[17] “Culture class” included workshops on traditional arts, crafts, histories, ways of knowing, and being. With the move to 113 S. Broadway, the Center also opened a restaurant and offered housing for a time.[18] The American Indian Study Center, which changed its name to the Baltimore American Indian Center in 1980,[19] has offered an array of social and cultural programs in the decades since.

In 1999, Maryland State Bond Bill was passed to assist the Center in a capital project to construct the “multipurpose room,” a gymnasium-like addition to the original structure, completed in 2008. In 2004, longtime friend to the Center, Stanley Markowitz, was awarded an Open Society Institute Baltimore fellowship to work with community members to begin envisioning what would become the Baltimore American Indian Center Heritage Museum.[20] Additional federal funding was acquired to rehabilitate the first floor of the original part of the building, to house the new museum. Frieda Minner (Lumbee) was instrumental in the development of the museum and a gift shop, facilitating much of what was truly a community effort. Men of the Center’s Native American Senior Citizens program did the finishing work on the first floor. The Museum officially opened in 2011. In 2018, the Baltimore American Indian Center celebrated 50 years of existence and it is still open today.

Baltimore American Indian Center Inter-Tribal Trading Post

118 s. broadway | 1983 – 2002

The Baltimore American Indian Center purchased the building at 118 S. Broadway in 1983, with assistance from the Religious Society of Friends.[21] The front part of the first floor was a museum and gift shop, and the back room was used for dance class. Rooms on the upper floors served as workshop space and lodging for cultural consultants.[22] The Center sold the property in 2002.[23]

Vera Shank Daycare / Native American Senior Citizens

1633 e. lombard street | 1990 – 2017

The commercial property at this location actually spans 1623 – 1633 E. Lombard where there were once 6 individual houses.[26] The current structure was built in the late 1960s[27] and served as a blood bank, ca. 1979 – 1988.[28] The Baltimore American Indian Center acquired the property in 1990.[29] The Center’s Vera Shank Daycare occupied one half of the building and had a playground in the backyard. Once a major source of income for the Indian Center, the daycare was intended to provide employment for Indian mothers and a safe environment for Indian children to learn and grow together. It was named for Vera Shank, a Quaker woman and former colleague of Indian Center co-founder, Elizabeth Locklear (Lumbee).[30] The Native American Senior Citizens program occupied the other half of the building. “The Seniors” were a big support to the Indian Center. They held their own fundraisers, usually involving the sale of traditional foods, which they would also prepare weekly, on the premises, to eat and fellowship for hours on end. They hosted annual holiday parties and sponsored holiday meals for families of the community in need. They took trips to various destinations across the U.S. and worked together on traditional arts and crafts. The Center sold the property in 2017.[31]

Inter-Tribal Restaurant

17 s. broadway | 1989 – 1991

The Baltimore American Indian Center opened the Inter-Tribal Restaurant at 17 S. Broadway, during the tenure of Director Barry Richardson (Haliwa Saponi), ca. 1989. Board members of the Indian Center wanted to try another restaurant venture as part of their economic development activities. They felt that the Center had a fair amount of experience selling food due to its work with the concession stands at Orioles baseball games. One could “eat in” or “carry out” at the restaurant, which sold foods like sandwiches, shrimp, chicken, and french fries, and also cigarettes and beer. The Center closed the restaurant after only a couple of years because it was not profitable.[32]

Moonlight Restaurant

1741 e. baltimore street | 1957 – 1973

The Moonlight Restaurant was Greek-owned. It was one of the first restaurants in which many Lumbee Indians arriving from the Jim Crow South could sit down and eat. Much of the planning for what would become South Broadway Baptist Church and the Baltimore American Indian Center took place in The Moonlight. However, the establishment was also known for fights and general discord, sometimes also attributed to the presence of Indians.[33] The building was sold to Baltimore City in 1972.[34] It is a house today.

East Baltimore Church of God

1714 – 1716 e. baltimore street | 1961 – 1972

East Baltimore Church of God began in 1955, under the leadership of a Lumbee woman, Rev. Lounita Hammonds. It was originally known as the “Upper Room” Church because services were held above Gordon Cleaners, located at the corner of Baltimore and Wolfe streets. Sometime after establishing the church, Rev. Hammonds felt called “home,” to North Carolina, to begin another work. In her absence, the church closed, and its members relocated to other area churches. Soon after, “a group of Native Americans had a desire to have a church with which they could identify; thus the current East Baltimore Church of God came into existence.”

It was Rev. Haywood Johnson (Lumbee) who assembled what would grow into the current congregation. In 1961, Rev. Johnson and a small group of parishioners purchased a storefront building that had originally been a restaurant, spanning 1714 – 1716 E. Baltimore Street. The church history cites growth in the congregation as the reason for a move to its next location, 2043 E. Baltimore Street, in 1972.[35] Rev. Johnson and the trustees of the church sold 1714 – 16 to the City and it was razed during Urban Renewal.

In 2003, East Baltimore Church of God moved to its current location, 800 S. Oldham Street. The church is active unto this day and many American Indian people continue to attend. It is pastored by Rev. Robert E. Dodson Jr., who trained under Rev. Redell Hammonds (Lumbee), the son of Rev. Lounita and Hartman Hammonds (Lumbee).

Hartman’s BBQ Shop

1727 e. baltimore street | 1959 – 1961

1727 E. Baltimore Street housed a series of ethnic food establishments from the turn of the century through the early 1960s, reflecting greater migration patterns in the neighborhood. In 1917, it was the Shub Bros. Bakery;[36] in 1947, it was the Warsaw Bakery,[37] and around 1959, Hartman Hammonds (Lumbee) rented the storefront and opened Hartman’s BBQ Shop.[38] Mr. Hammonds sold Lumbee-style BBQ with traditional sides like coleslaw, as well as hotdogs and hamburgers. The shop was frequented by construction workers who lived in East Baltimore. Mr. Hammonds made lunches at night and the workers would come pick them up in the morning, then they would come back on Fridays to pay for their lunches for the week.[39] 1725 and 1727 E. Baltimore were eventually merged and converted into a church.

Sid’s Ranch House Tavern

1741 e. baltimore street | 1957 – 1973

Sid’s Ranch House Tavern occupied a building that had been converted into a movie theater during the first part of the twentieth century. It had been the Teddy Bear Parlor ca. 1908 – 1919, and the Mickey until 1920 or ‘21.[40] Sidney Silverman, a retired boxer turned bartender,[41] opened his tavern in the late 1950s.[42] It became a popular neighborhood hangout for people of different races, and it had a reputation for racial trouble.[43] According to one Lumbee patron, Mr. Silverman “had a habit of every time the Indians would get in fights there, he would bar ‘em from the bar for a while. Wouldn’t let no Indians come in his bar… He’d do it for a while and then he’d open up. I guess he missed our business, and he’d open up and let ‘em back.”[44] Mr. Silverman likely sold the property at 1741 E. Baltimore Street to the City during Urban Renewal and it was razed.

Belman’s Delicatessen & Package Goods

1801 e. baltimore street | 1920s – 1973

It is likely that the property at 1801 E. Baltimore Street was a corner store / Jewish deli at least since the 1920s, and it was certainly known as “Belman’s” since the 1940s.[45] Located in the very heart of what came to be known as “the reservation,” Belman’s was frequented by members of the Indian community and it employed at least one — Sarah (Bowen) Arnold (Lumbee). The property at 1801 E. Baltimore Street was sold to the City in 1973,[46] as part of Urban Renewal, and has since been converted into a residence.

Revels’ Grocery Store

1819 e. baltimore street | 1962 – 1973

Jesse B. Revels Jr. (Lumbee) and his wife, Lucy May Revels, bought the property at 1819 E. Baltimore Street in 1962 and opened a grocery store. They and their children ran the store until 1968, when they moved to Baltimore County.[47] They sold the property to Baltimore City in 1973 during Urban Renewal.

Volcano Bar & Restaurant

31 n. ann street | 1944 – 1972

The Volcano Bar is easily the most infamous Indian bar of Baltimore’s “reservation” era, but it was in existence long before the clientele was mostly Indian.[50] It first appears in a Sun ad as the “Volcano Restaurant” in 1944. In the 1960s through 1972, the Volcano was owned by Greek wwii veteran, Costas “Gus” Themelis, and his wife, Stella Themelis. It became almost exclusively an Indian bar during this time and had a reputation for erupting every weekend. A July 1978 Baltimore Magazine article deemed The Volcano “the meanest bar of all time,” and claims it was “the only local bar that has ever had a patron shot off his bar stool with a bow and arrow.”[52] Mr. Themelis and his wife sold the bar to the City in 1972. It was since razed and housing occupies its former site.

Fairmount Avenue Missionary Baptist Church

1918 e. fairmount avenue | 1956 – 1967

In 1956, the oldest congregation in Baltimore City founded by Lumbee Indians (presently known as South Broadway Baptist Church) rented the storefront at 1918 E. Fairmount Avenue and adopted the name “Fairmount Avenue Missionary Baptist Church” under the ministry of Rev. Geneva Locklear (Lumbee), and her husband, Smitty (also Lumbee). The church remained at 1918 E. Fairmount until 1967.[54] The entire area bounded by E. Fayette, N. Wolfe, E. Baltimore, and N. Washington streets has since been razed and redeveloped.

New Jazz City

1829 e. pratt street | 1958 – 1969

The bar that once stood at 1829 E. Pratt Street had a very musical past. It was known as “Moe’s Musical Bar” in the early 1950s,[58] and “Lee’s Musical Bar” in 1955.[59] Ads for “New Jazz City” began to appear in 1958.[60] This became another popular Indian hangout, although slightly removed from “the reservation” proper.[61] A Trustee’s Sale was held on the premises in 1960,[63] and the bar was listed as being closed and for sale in 1969.[64] It has since been razed and a community garden occupies its former site.