Member News

Obituary: James D. Dilts (1937-2018)

by Frederick N. Rasmussen | May 15, 2018

James D. Dilts, a former Baltimore Sun reporter and author who wrote widely on railroads, architecture, historic preservation and jazz and led the effort for the restoration of the historic Peale Museum in Baltimore, died at Union Memorial Hospital on Tuesday from heart failure and multiple myeloma.

The Evergreen resident was 81.

“Jim was an iconic figure to anyone even remotely interested in the B&O and its embryonic fits and starts. His masterwork,‘The Great Road,’ is a must read. His early history of the railroad is unparallelled,” said Courtney B. Wilson, executive director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum and a longtime friend.

“His written works, love for Baltimore and its buildings, his kind words and contagious laugh will keep him alive and in the hearts of many,” Mr. Wilson said.

Herbert H. Harwood Jr., a noted railroad author and historian and a retired CSX executive, called Mr. Dilts a “first-class historian.”

“Jim’s book on the B&O is a virtuoso job,” said Mr. Harwood, a Cross Keys resident. “You can’t pick at it one way or the other.”

James Dothard Dilts was born in New York City, the son of Mervic Stryker Dilts and Helen C. Aitken. His father was a wholesale paper salesman, and he was raised in Three Rivers, N.J., and several other New Jersey towns, Buffalo and Providence, R.I.

His father was a huge influence on his life, introducing his young son to the colorful neighborhoods, characters, taverns and architecture in the cities where they lived. His father also revered several authors, and introduced his son to celebrated 1920s, ’30s and ’40s writers such as H.L. Mencken, Jim Tully, James M. Cain, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner and Dashiell Hammett.

Mr. Dilts grew up in a televison-free home. His father preferred the radio, encouraging imagination when listening. It was also a home filled with newspapers, books and magazines.

Growing up in urban environments, Mr. Dilts developed a passion for cities, architecture, public transit and trains.

Read entire obituary here.

Mr. Ditlz was an SAH member from 1999 until 2007.


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