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Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Winter 2005-06
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Feature Articles President's View At Rensselaer Class Notes Features Making a Difference Rensselaer Milestones Staying Connected In Memoriam
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The sentiments of his contemporaries were echoed in September when the City of Troy renamed in his honor a section of the street on which Baltimore was born, lived for many years, and died. At a ceremony announcing the naming of Eighth Street between Federal and Ferry Streets “Garnet Douglass Baltimore Street,” Mayor Harry Tutunjian said Baltimore was “one of the first believers that the City of Troy was a jewel that should be cherished by all those who live in upstate New York.”

The section of Eighth Street chosen to bear Baltimore’s name ends at the foot of Prospect Park, which secured Baltimore’s fame as a landscape designer.

Jannie Gibson Daggs, a descendent of Baltimore’s who lives in Cohoes, N.Y., and attended the ceremony, says she is happy that Baltimore, who also was recently inducted into the Rensselaer Alumni Hall of Fame, is finally being recognized in a very public way.

“The street was more than I ever dreamed of,” says Daggs, who has been researching Baltimore through published sources as well as stories handed down through the family. Daggs’s great-grandmother Annie Baltimore was a cousin of Garnet Baltimore.

“He was the first one in the family to go to college,” she says. “This was important. There is a lot of pride.”

Family and Community Roots
Garnet Douglass Baltimore was born April 15, 1859, in a cottage at 162 Eighth Street, the same address he occupied at the time of his death.

He was the son of Peter F. Baltimore and Caroline Newcomb Baltimore. Peter was a larger-than-life figure in Troy in the 19th century. He carried on the family trade, that of barber, at an establishment known as the Veranda, on First Street. It was described in Peter’s obituary as “a high-class tonsorial resort and it was used as a gathering place for the most prominent citizens of Troy.” Peter was a respected and well-liked citizen who “exercised through his personality a wide influence in this vicinity.”

Garnet grew up mingling among this clientele, says Daggs. “He was accustomed to conversation. He learned the gift of gab from his father, his uncles, and went on to school and did what he could do.”

Garnet Baltimore, according to his father’s 1913 obituary, was the grandson of Samuel Baltimore, a slave who fought in the Revolutionary War. When Samuel’s owner refused to honor an agreement promising freedom to slaves who fought in the war, Samuel fled north.

“To think that you come from a slave,” says Daggs. “And that a grandchild went on and finished college.”

Peter Baltimore had christened his son in honor of two towering figures in the anti-slavery movement, Henry Highland Garnet and Frederick Douglass. Peter was a pupil of abolitionist minister Garnet, who from 1840 to 1848 was minister of the first African-American church established in Troy, the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church. Peter also associated with Frederick Douglass, black mathematician Charles Reason, and Underground Railroad activist Robert Purvis.

Troy attracted such notables because it was host to many state and national conventions for African Americans. Troy also was an important stop for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. In a well-known incident in 1860 involving the arrest of escaped slave Charles Nalle, Peter Baltimore and his brother, William, were central figures in the large crowd that helped Nalle get away.

William Baltimore, Garnet’s uncle, also was well-known and respected in Troy. According to his 1877 obituary in the Troy Daily Times, he served “in various representative offices for the colored people of this state, including the presidency of their state conventions and membership of important committees. His counsel was sought by them as a cool-headed and true-hearted man.”

But for all the activity among the African-American community in Troy, in which his father and uncle played prominent roles, Garnet himself seems not to have been involved. He graduated from the Troy Academy in 1877 along with the sons of Troy’s most successful citizens, graduated from Rensselaer in 1881 with a degree in civil engineering, and pursued a lifelong career as an engineer.

“Garnet always stuck to the business of his profession,” says Daggs. “I don’t think he saw a black and white world. I think he saw a world of people.”

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