takings, condemnation, Eminent Domain, urban improvements, Great Fire of 1904, Burnt District Commission
The Great Fire of 1904 destroyed most of Baltimore’s business district. The Fire prompted the City to make numerous urban improvements, one of which involved the widening of Pratt Street. The City set out to widen Pratt Street fifty feet to the south by condemning wharves, owned by the Baltimore and Philadelphia Steamboat Company (“the Company”), at the corner of Light and Pratt Streets. The Burnt District Commission (“BDC”) awarded the Steamboat Company minimal damages for the condemned property, which caused the Company to appeal to the Baltimore City Circuit Court, where Judge Henry Stockbridge gave the Company more compensation. However, Judge Stockbridge denied the Company’s claim for “consequential damages” from the condemnation because “in the exercise of the right of eminent domain, the only damages which can be properly claimed or awarded are the actual damages suffered for the property taken.” The City and the Company appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which affirmed Judge Stockbridge’s awards.
The Company used the condemnation provisions in the Maryland Constitution to delay the taking of its land. Property owners were allowed to retain ownership of condemned property until they had exhausted their right to appeal the condemnation. In response to the delay tactics used by property owners, the 1913 “quick take” provision of the Maryland Constitution was changed to allow municipalities to take possession of condemned land early for public use by posting bond before cash exchanged hands.