Free African American Blacksmith
Remus Adams was a free African American blacksmith in mid 19th century Catonsville who was an unconventional figure for his time and a significant contributor to the African American community. As a business owner of his own blacksmith shop located on 615 Frederick Road at the site of what is now the Catonsville Elementary School, he was a part of the minority of African Americans who owned property. According to Orser and Arnold’s Catonsville 1880 to 1940 from Village to Suburb, the 1880 census indicated that of the 76 African American heads of households documented in the 1880 census of Catonsville less than 5 were craftsmen, while the most common occupation among them was unskilled laborer. In contrast, "skilled Craftsmen” was the main occupation of white heads of households in 1880. Adams was pushing the boundaries of his period by being a part of a white dominated field where few African Americans had made headway in.
According to the Enoch Pratt Library and historian Louis Diggs’ It All Started on Winters Lane, Remus Adams and his brothers Samuel and John inherited the blacksmith shop from his father John Adams, a free man. Adams primarily ran the shop because his brother Samuel moved to Canada in the 1850’s, where he started his own successful blacksmith business. In the U.S Census Reports, Adams appeared to be married to a black woman named Eliza and had two sons, William and Charles. There were various others in his household throughout the years ranging from age 5-30, many of whom were young male blacksmiths like 19-year-old William Cassel who was Adams’ apprentice. Adams used his expertise in the trade to train other free African American men in his shop.
According to a segment from WBAL-TV, Remus Adams’ property was worth $15,000. He was uncommonly wealthy for an African American of that era. With other members of the community in 1868, he put money towards the founding of the first school for African Americans in the area, the Catonsville Colored School. The school was built at the intersection of Edmondson Avenue and Winters Lane, not far from Adam’s blacksmith shop. Winters Lane was known in this post-civil war era to be predominantly home to free African Americans. Additionally, he participated in the creation of the Catonsville Cooperative Corporation where African American community members invested together to start new businesses, such as the Greenwood Electric Park, a local entertainment park for African American families.
According to the Catonsville Historical Society, Adams’ property was sold in 1907 and given to the Board of County School Commissioners of Baltimore County in 1909, which built a new Catonville high school there to replace the old one located on Winters Lane from 1873-1899. The old Catonsville high school was proposed to be converted to a school for African American students, but that idea was shot down after white neighbors complained about property values dropping. Instead, the old Catonsville High School was sold to St. Marks and turned into a parochial school keeping the Catonsville Colored School that Adams helped found as the primary African American school in the area. Later in 1925, the student body of the high school built on Adams’ former property outgrew the facility. In 1926, a new Catonsville High School was built on Bloomsbury Avenue, and the facility on Adams’ former property was converted to Catonsville Elementary School as it is at the present day.