In Cockeysville, two buildings stand testament to what happened to the poor, the sick, and the insane in the late 19th century. They were housed away from the rest of society and, in the case of those with communicable diseases like smallpox and tuberculosis, left to die untreated.
While the almshouse (poorhouse) in Baltimore County has been converted into the Historical Society of Baltimore County, the tiny two-story building located just behind it—"the Pest House”—is in need of saving, says Louis Diggs of the Louis S. Diggs Research Center for African American History, who nominated the site for this year’s list.
Built in 1872 with native stone from the Texas Quarry in Cockeysville using a local workforce, including African-American labor, “The Pest House was used to segregate those with serious and contagious diseases from the rest of society. Separated from the almshouse by a fence, the infected had to come to the fence to get their food. Those patients recovering, or not too ill, took care of the very ill,” explains Diggs.
The Pest House, which appears well maintained on the outside—despite standing vacant since 1900—is a wreck indoors. The walls are rotting, and vandals have done what vandals do. Still, Diggs believes the building is an historic landmark and an “important expression of resources, people, and political policies of the past.”
He wants to convert the building into a research center bearing his name. He has an agreement with the Historical Society of Baltimore County for this purpose, but he needs funds to complete renovations of four floors.
“Marylanders need to know about the pest houses and almshouses of our state,” says Diggs. “Being able to convert the Pest House into a research center will forever provide a place where citizens can learn about the history of African-American life and communities and participate in research programs that highlight African-American life.”
For more information, visit www.louisdiggs.com.