Fells Point is Maryland’s oldest nationally registered historic district. Settled in the 1760s, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places approximately 200 years later in 1969, Baltimore City’s Fells Point is characterized by hundreds of late-18th and early-19th century brick rowhouses, and by long 19th- and early-20th-century wharves and piers extending out into Baltimore Harbor.
Fells Point has always been oriented to the water. From the beginning, it was a center of trading and shipbuilding. Later, manufacturing and food processing took place on the piers. The jobs produced by these industries made Fells Point a destination for new immigrants. Manufacturing activity stalled after World War II, and Fells Point was very nearly lost to an I-95 highway extension in the 1960s, but today its streets are once again lively and bustling.
Thames Street is the main commercial thoroughfare, running parallel to the harbor. Paved with cobblestones and threaded with Baltimore’s first streetcar tracks, it is lined with Federal-, Greek Revival-, and Italianate-style brick rowhouses, two or three stories in height and two or three bays in width. Many have ground-floor shops and bulkhead stairways opening up onto the sidewalk.
At the midpoint of Thames Street, the line of rowhouses breaks, and the wide, open square of Broadway Market extends back from the harbor for several blocks. Nineteenth-century market buildings still stand here, and stall numbers are still carved in the curbstones where 18th-century traders and merchants once hawked their goods.
Of the many pier and wharf buildings in Fells Point, the red-brick, Georgian Revival-style City Recreation Pier building at 1715 Thames Street, built in 1914, is the grandest. Its features include an elegant second-floor colonnade and a wide-arched passageway connecting Thames Street with the pier behind it. Nearly a century ago, Fells Point residents gathered on the pier for swimming and sunbathing, and in the ballroom behind the colonnade for evening dances.
Behind Thames Street are several narrow streets and alleyways of small rowhouses originally built for middle- and working-class families. Baltimore’s unusual English-derived system of ground rents – in which small houses could be purchased while the land on which they stood was rented – made homeownership more common in Baltimore than in other big cities, and this was particularly the case in Fells Point. (Baltimore was the third-largest city in the United States in 1800.)
South Ann Street, running perpendicularly to Thames Street one block east of the market, has some of the earliest rowhouses in Fells Point. Nos. 717 and 719, c. 1800, predate early-19th century fire prevention ordinances that prohibited the construction of wooden buildings throughout much of Baltimore’s history. They are two of only a handful of historic wooden frame houses that survive in downtown Baltimore today.
Across the street at no. 812 is the oldest house in the city, built for merchant and Pennsylvania transplant Robert Long around 1765. With its gable roof, first-floor roof overhang, and symmetrical façade, it looks a little different from its neighbors, because its architectural characteristics are more common to Eastern Pennsylvania than to Baltimore.
Learn more about Fells Point at http://fellspoint.us. For an in-depth study (and excellent read) about Baltimore rowhouses, check out The Baltimore Rowhouse, by Mary Ellen Hayward and Charles Belfoure (New York City: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001).
The Trust for Architectural Easements protects buildings in Fells Point. To learn more about donating a historic preservation easement to the Trust, visit the Trust’s website at www.architecturaltrust.org, or contact the Trust at 888-831-2107, or by sending an email to email@example.com.