History buff, urban relic hunter, sometimes bane of archaeologists, custodian of the Inner Harbor, content creator, and social media darling — Evan Woodard could be described as all these things. And soon, perhaps, as museum curator.

Woodard, the young leader of an organization called Salvage Arc, secured a lease for a space in Fells Point, where, if all goes according to plan, he will open the the Salvage Arc Foundation Museum and Community Center. It would be the first permanent physical manifestation of a lifelong avocation in finding — and preserving — what has come before us.

“There’s so much that people pass by every day,” he said, “so much they walk over, drive over, that’s right under their feet.”

Evan Woodard of Salvage Arc at a privy dig on Orchard Street talks about the finds to onlookers.
Evan Woodard of Salvage Arc at a privy dig on Orchard Street talks about the finds to onlookers. (J.M. Giordano/for the Baltimore Banner)

Helping more people experience the past in the present is what motivates Woodard, who made a name for himself by digging up 150-year-old privies in Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods during the pandemic. He donated some of the more remarkable finds to the Baltimore Museum of Industry. That led to plumbing the bottom of the Inner Harbor with powerful magnets. Those expeditions tended to yield more trash than treasure, but the spirit of exploration was the same. With so many artifacts and experiences to share, a permanent home increasingly made more sense.

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Woodard has started a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $90,000 that would go entirely to paying the first year of his lease on the new space at 2030 Aliceanna St., and for the construction required to open its doors to the public by the end of the year. He has to refinish the floors, build walls, install a heating and cooling system, upgrade the electrical system, and add cabinets and display cases. He will have at least 2,700 square feet to start with on the building’s second floor, with the potential of adding another 1,000 by renovating the third floor.

Prior to signing a lease on the space, he held a half-dozen pop-up exhibits at bars, libraries, and even a Patagonia store. All were a hit, convincing him that he needed to open a permanent space. He signed a lease in January and received nonprofit 501c3 status in March, allowing him to apply for grants. Those will take time, however, so for now, asking the crowd for money seemed the fastest way to open his doors.

“This is something that Baltimore needs,” Woodard said. “Not everything has to be about academics and universities. If people are finding things, and putting in the work to tell those stories, I believe that should be shown. This can be a place for us to connect with the community.”

Woodard is careful about the word archaeology when it comes to his work, and resists any characterization that he is an amateur archaeologist, respecting the role of those in the field. Some institutions have recognized the value of his work. He has the backing of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, which provided this statement:

“Evan’s work has engaged and educated a growing number of people by connecting found artifacts to the folks who once owned them, helping reconstruct the narratives that connect the past with the present. Whether he’s donating artifacts to the BMI or starting his own enterprise, Evan’s role in preserving history for future generations is an important one.”

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The conceit of Salvage Arc is to provide an informal, open-source channel for the average person to connect with the place they live in and its history — and the stories they reveal.

“My brand specializes in uncovering the lesser-known stories and histories behind locations,” he wrote on his website, “creating an engaging and educational narrative for your audience that encourages them to explore the world with you.”

He recently quit his day job to focus on Salvage Arc. He has upcoming trips to London and Galveston, Texas, to lend his talents to projects in those cities that he said he was not at liberty to discuss yet.

Since he was a kid, Woodard has been fascinated with old, abandoned buildings, something Baltimore had plenty of. He grew up and went to work in cybersecurity, but made a hobby of exploring abandoned structures. Where others saw blight, he saw beauty.

“I really found joy in that,” he said. “I think there is a beauty in decay.”

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The site of the new museum is a former factory, Woodward said. Its owner went to great lengths to preserve the exterior of the building.

“It looks like it belongs in the neighborhood,” Woodard said. “I want people to walk in and feel like they’ve walked back in time.”

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

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