“Castle Thunder, The Catons, and Catonsville’s Historical Myths”

"Castle Thunder, The Catons, and Catonsville's Historical Myths"
(History Trails 42, no. 4 excerpt)

By: John McGrain

Numerous sources, including Dr. George C. Keidel, Emily Emerson Lantz, Kate Mason Roland, several unidentified writers for the Sun, the American, the Argus, and an historic roadside marker describe an extinct structure titled 'Castle Thunder' as the early home of Richard and Mary Caton – for whom the town of Catonsville, Maryland is named. The sources repeat a legend that Castle Thunder was the Catons' home before completion of their residence Brooklandwood in 1793 in the Lutherville-Timonium area. A July 19, 1896 story in the Baltimore American also suggests prior to Castle Thunder the Catons lived at 825 Frederick Road, a two-story log house – a structure that operated as Catonsville's Friendly Framer shop in 2001, subsequently served as a cigar shop, and presently houses the A. W. O. L. skate board business. These stories about the Catons' residences at both Castle Thunder and 825 Frederick Road are suspect for various reasons. Contrary to the roadside marker and other sources, facts and primary source evidence suggests something entirely different – that Castle Thunder was neither the Catons' early home, nor did it even exist in the eighteenth century. Hence, the myths regarding Castle Thunder and the Catons are long overdue for some careful factual scrutiny and reconsideration.

The Catons needed a home from the date of their marriage in 1787 to the completion of Brooklandwood in 1793. Dawn F. Thomas, in The Green Spring Valley, cited invoices for the construction of Brooklandwood from 1790 to 1793; she also found the estate name mentioned in records of 1793.[i]

The first hint suggesting the Catons' residence on Frederick Road before Brooklandwood is little more than a myth is that Mary Carroll Caton’s father, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was only a one-fifth owner of the land around present-day Catonsville. He was in partnership with more than 29 heirs of the original investors in the Baltimore Ironworks Company. In the late 1700s, the Catonsville area was the timber reserve of the ironworks, where employees cut trees and burned charcoal to feed the fires of the furnace at the mouth of Gwynns Falls. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that the businessman, Charles Carroll, would have unilaterally invested in a structure as large as Castle Thunder on land he did not own free and clear, let alone have the rights to offer the structure as a gift to his daughter and son-in-law.

It was not until 1810 when Catonsville's properties were divided into individual lots. West of present day Winters Lane was lot 105, allotted to Charles Carroll of Carrollton. East of that street was lot 106, which passed to Daniel Carroll of Duddington. Richard Caton, acting for his father-in-law, cut lots 104 and 105 into many small house subdivisions under the name of Caton Ville….

[i] Dawn F. Thomas, The Green Spring Valley: Its History and Heritage, vol. 1 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1978), p. 222-3.

Read more…
History Trails 42, no. 4
Historical Society of Baltimore County

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