Whether you're an architecture buff or simply a lover of the city, this reference guide to Baltimore rowhouses is full of fun facts that will make your next stroll through the city all-the-more interesting.
You probably see rowhouses everyday, you may even go to sleep in one every night. They can be found in most cities across the U.S., and for good reason. They are compact, efficient, and relatively easy to build; yet, these simple homes have shaped the culture and community of Baltimore for over two centuries. Two authors, a historian of architecture and urbanism and architect set out to explore the unique history of Baltimore rowhouses.
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Ultimately, the history of Baltimore row houses is a history of housing inequity, evidence of which spans entire blocks in the city today.[/caption]
Charles Belfoure, a preservation architect who studied at Columbia University, returned to his hometown of Baltimore in 1995 with a renewed interest in studying the history Baltimore row homes. Mary Ellen Hayward's fascination with Baltimore rowhouses arose in 1978 after her completion of a survey and deed research in Federal Hill, Baltimore's oldest neighborhood. Together, along with the support of some helpful sponsors, Belfoure and Hayward wrote the book The Baltimore Rowhouse.
The book is an extensive, detailed collection that is well researched and documented. It begins in the 1700s–as all U.S. history begins– with the British. The book continues through the centuries, noting the golden age of Baltimore's iconic row home development. Belfoure and Hayward describe Baltimore rowhouses as uniquely tied to the city's identity and psyche. They frame Baltimore's rowhouses as an important piece in the solution to Baltimore city's urban ills, stating that rowhouses are "a humanely scaled housing form that can help solve inner city housing problems by creating a strong sense of neighborhood;" yet, not a solution in and of themselves, as thousands of row homes stand vacant and decaying
Researching housing, not only from an architectural perspective, but also from a social perspective, is essential for understanding Baltimore history and culture; but, for those of us who have an interest in learning more but not the attention span or budget for 300 page books, The Baltimore Chop
did us all a favor and summarized the book's findings.
Row Houses and Housing Equity
The earliest row homes to appear in Baltimore date from the mid-1790s. Wealthy Baltimoreans, like Thomas McElderberry and Cumberland Dugan who owned wharves in the city, constructed large, opulent row homes to produce rental income. However, between 1790 and 1800, Baltimore's population doubled from 13,500 to 26,500; there was an urgent need to house new arrivals, many of whom were working class and could not afford grand row houses.
In 1799, a law was passed banned the construction of wood-frame row homes. Because all row homes constructed after 1799 were made of brick, as law required, the oldest known row homes in Baltimore are wooden frame houses; few of these exist due to fires in the city, but a few can still be found on S. Wolfe St in historic Fells Point.
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A wooden frame row home in Fells Point, photo by The Baltimore Chop[/caption]
After the 1799 regulations were in place, most Baltimore row homes took on the "Federal" style. Many were three bays wide and two rooms deep, but there were also much smaller, two bay wide, one room deep homes that housed Baltimoreans of lower economic classes. The even smallest of the row homes housed Baltimore's large free black population.
Tracing the history of the Baltimore row home is, in many ways, like tracing the history of housing inequity in Baltimore city. Check out The Baltimore Chop's reference guide
to get an architecture history lesson, or delve into The Baltimore Rowhouse
book to get the full story.
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