For at least a century, local legends have been an integral part of the Loch Raven Reservoir community. 

But while tales of the hauntings at Glen Ellen Castle, a gothic mansion that once sat on the shores of the loch, and reported UFO sightings near the Loch Raven Dam have never been borne out, there is one local legend that hews closer to fact than fiction. The lost town of Warren, an entire town said to be submerged beneath the waters of Baltimore’s central reservoir, is a poignant reminder that not all is what it seems.   

Like the old mill towns of Sparks, Phoenix and Woodberry, Warren was one of several bustling factory towns that sprung up along Baltimore’s waterways in the early 19th century. 

The town’s origins can be traced to 1814 when a Marylander by the name of John Merryman leased a large portion of acreage along the Big Gunpowder River in an area commonly known as the Broad Valley. With the help of General Samuel Smith, the famous victor of the Battle of Baltimore, Merryman financed a dam across the Gunpowder and the construction of a cloth mill and waterworks. Shortly after, the company chartered as the Warren Manufacturing Company and began producing large quantities of printed calico for Baltimore City. 

Over the next 50 years, Warren expanded into a thriving factory town, employing a majority of the people who called the Broad Valley home. A church and school were constructed, and gravel was put down along Warren Road to allow easier passage for the mule-drawn wagons that carried the town’s final product down York Road to Baltimore’s commercial center. Claiming nearly 1,000 residents at its height, Warren shared in the thriving industrial culture common to dozens of small factory towns that defined Baltimore’s landscape following the Civil War. 

Warren’s rapid growth mirrored the growth of the area’s surrounding communities, especially Baltimore City. Between 1880 and 1900, Baltimore City’s population more than doubled in the wake of the area’s industrial expansion. The city’s sudden population boom created a ravenous demand for agricultural products, clothing and, above all, water. 

For much of the 19th century, Baltimore City’s water came from reservoirs in Hamden, Mount Royal and Druid Hill, fed by the Jones Falls River. However, the Jones Falls was notoriously slow-moving, vulnerable to drought and increasingly filled with industrial pollutants. In an effort to meet the city’s growing demand for water, city officials turned north and began what would become a 35-year project to harness the clean, reliable water of the Gunpowder River for the people of Baltimore. 

In 1881, the first dam in the Loch Raven area was completed, diverting water to Baltimore City. While this initially sated city demand, the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 prompted an additional surge of funding for public works and population growth.     

City officials, realizing that additional waterworks on the Big Gunpowder would significantly raise the river’s water levels, began negotiations with small factory towns that lay in the project’s potential floodplain. After many months of City Council hearings, Baltimore paid the towns of Warren, Sweet Air and Phoenix more than $1 million for the right to evacuate and flood the towns if the need arose.

In 1921, after an additional increase in the reservoir’s capacity failed to meet demand, Baltimore City put its contract with Warren into force and demanded that the small mill town be dismantled and abandoned. Many of the families who had called Warren home for nearly a century were forced to relocate to other mill towns along Baltimore’s waterways. The town’s graveyard was dug up, and its remains moved to higher ground. The town’s church, school and town hall were destroyed and hauled away. 

In Warren’s final days, the town’s more obstinate residents could be found in ankle-deep water, hauling their possessions to the streets as they bid farewell. Following their reluctant departure, Warren’s gravel streets were quickly overwhelmed by the water building up behind Loch Raven’s new 240-foot dam. 

By July 1922, the only evidence of the bustling mill town left behind was a lone flagpole, half submerged under the currents of an ever-widening Gunpowder River. In the decades following, this flagpole became less a monument to Warren’s memory and more a mystery totem, prompting speculation about its origins. Sometime after 1950, the pole vanished, removing the final trace of a once thriving community.

Today, while no physical evidence remains, the lost town of Warren lives on—as the story of a place whose origins were, quite literally, washed away by modernity.