- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

ESSEX, Md. (AP) — A new book traces the history of Essex — a once-popular summer escape that became a working-class Baltimore suburb of lost grandeur.

“Essex,” written by journalist and historian Jackie Nickel, traces the history of Essex from farmland and sprawling estates, to a popular summer destination for city dwellers, to economic hard times.

The book was released April 16 by Arcadia Publishing. It is part of the publisher’s “Images of America” series, which produces photographic histories of communities throughout the country, including the equally middle-class Baltimore neighborhoods of Dundalk and Highlandtown.

Mrs. Nickel, 64, grew up in Essex and has worked for local newspapers since 1979. She wanted to write the Essex story for 25 years, largely because of her fascination with the stories of older generations.

Arcadia Publishing requires 180 to 220 pictures for a book. Mrs. Nickel said many of the photographs came from her collection, but some are from the Baltimore County Public Library, the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River, and the albums of Essex residents.

According to a 1909 real estate advertisement, Essex developed from farms to “the Rising Suburb of the East.” Pictures show early businesses, such as Guttenberger’s general store, that dotted the streets as the area became a getaway for Baltimoreans seeking relief in the waters of the Middle and Back rivers.

Pictures also show the devastation from a fire in the 1950s that wiped out the business district. Mrs. Nickel said many businesses never returned to the heart of Essex after the fire because they faced too much competition from nearby shopping centers.

A loss of industrial jobs led to a decline in Essex. But the area, which has been targeted for revitalization, shows signs of recovery.

When Anna Faust, 78, of Essex, discovered the recently released book, memories came rushing back. Her father, Walter Johnson, and uncle, Lloyd Johnson, were members of the Vigilant Volunteer Fire Company, pictured on the cover.

“It means the world,” she said. “It’s remarkable how she’s captured all our old memories.”

Mrs. Nickel said at least four persons have identified relatives in the cover photo.

About 100 people attended the book signing in April at the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River, Mrs. Nickel said.

“People standing in line meet each other, and, if they have any connection to Essex, they find a common thread of conversation,” she said. “It’s brought a tremendous sense of family.”

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