Irish Railroad Workers Museum

This home, on 920 Lemmon Street once belonged to Irish immigrants who came Baltimore to escape the “Great Hunger,” also known as the “Great Famine,” a period of mass starvation and emigration in Ireland between 1845 to 1853. | U.S. Army photo by Rachel Ponder

 

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum, also known as the Irish Shrine, is dedicated to the tens of thousands of Irish immigrants who came to Baltimore to escape the “Great Hunger.”

This period, also known as the Great Famine,” from 1845 to 1853, was a time of mass starvation and emigration for the Irish. According to Michael Mellett, president of the Railroad Historical District Corporation, most Irish immigrants to Maryland settled in Southwest Baltimore, and worked in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad “yards.” After the decline of the railroad industry in the 1950s, several homes in this neighborhood fell to disrepair. Mellett said that in 1997 the Railroad Historical District Corporation formed in an attempt to save a group of alley homes on Lemmon Street slated for demolition.

“They [the homes] still had some original features from the 1840s,” Mellett said.

Funding from the Maryland Historical Trust, Preservation Maryland, Irish organizations, private donors and donations and labor from local volunteers made the buildings’ restoration possible. Three of the homes are now privately owned and in 2002, two homes, 918 and 920 Lemmon Street, became the Irish Railroad Workers Museum.

918 Lemmon Street

The house at 918 Lemmon Street once belonged to Irish immigrants James and Sarah Feeley, who lived in the home from 1863 to 1883. James Feeley was a laborer with the B&O Railroad and Sarah Feeley washed laundry in the home, for a fee for B&O Railroad employees. The front parlor, kitchen and bedrooms have been carefully restored to reflect how the Feeleys lived. The first floor of the home includes an interpretive exhibit dedicated to Sarah Feeley’s business. The second floor contains the master bedroom with toys the children might have played with in the 1800s. On the same floor is the “Room of Dreams” which is devoted to the music, stories and spiritual life of Irish immigrants.

This interpretive exhibit is dedicated to Irish immigrant Sarah Feeley, an “Irish Washerwoman” who ran a successful clothes washing business out of her home on 918 Lemmon Street. This alley home is now part of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in Southwest Baltimore.

The attic on the third floor was rented out to boarders to supplement the family’s income.

“That would have been for fellow Irish single men who were working at the [B&O Railroad] yard,” Mellett said. Eventually, the Feeley family purchased a second home nearby, and rented out the home on 918 Lemmon Street, he added.

“It’s a pretty fascinating story,” he said.

920 Lemmon Street

The 920 Lemmon Street home has interpretive exhibits that depict life in Southwest Baltimore in the 19th century, including a map, which shows where the Feeley family worked, shopped, worshipped and socialized. The backyard garden includes a memorial to Irish immigrants by artist Wayne Nield.

This third floor bedroom was rented out to Irish immigrant boarders to supplement the Feeley family income.

Programs and tours

The museum hosts a variety of free Irish-inspired programs every second Saturday of the month, featuring local historians and authors. The next event, “Hero at Front Royal: The Life of General John R. Kenly” scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., April 8, features a presentation by Dan Toomey, author and Civil War historian. Throughout the year, the museum provides free walking tours. Upcoming tours are set for 10:30 a.m. to noon, March 25 and May 27.

About the museum

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum is located at 918 and 920 Lemmon Street in Baltimore, near the B&O Railroad Museum. The museum hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday and Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday. Guided tours can be arranged on request. For more information call 410-347-4747; visit http://www.irishshrine.org/; or email tours@irishshrine.org.

 

By Rachel Ponder, APG News

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