Posted on December 19, 2018

Hampden Maryland
36th Street, Image by Acroterion.

We talk about History a lot on the realty blog. We do this for several reasons, the first, is that Maryland has been around for 300 years, and in that time we’ve packed in a looooot of interesting stories. Not only is it important to understand how places we take for granted have changed drastically over the years, it’s important to see how quickly those changes have come about.

Take Hampden, Baltimore’s famed eclectic Honiverse. Most people have a fixed idea of Hampden, based around John Waters movies, Nights out at Golden West, Christmas lights and parades. However the neighborhood has changed significantly over the last two centuries. Today we look at some fun facts about this ever evolving 6 mile stretch in the center of Baltimore.

B+W Hampden

A Fine Wine: The village that would be known as Hampden was first settled around 1802, which makes Hampden older than 35 US states. Lewis and Clark hadn’t even started their famous expedition yet, because the areas bought under the Louisiana Purchase were still in French hands. Eventually, the village was absorbed into greater Baltimore in 1889.


The Name Game: Village outsiders once called this area Slabtown after its unique architecture. As you could imagine, the residents didn’t take too kindly to this name, especially the Irish immigrants who made up a good portion of the population. They wanted to name it Kellyville, after Martin Kelly, an Irish Innkeeper who built many houses in the area. It took General Henry Mankin, a shipping magnate who bought the local mill firm Clark and Kellogg, to suggest Hampden, after famous 17th century English statesman John Hampden, a key figure from the English Civil War. According to MDHS, he did this because Hampden sounded “distinguished.” The name has stuck ever since.

John Hamden, English Statesman, and Hampden's Namesake
English Statesman, and Hampden's namesake, John Hampden.

A taste of Appalachia: Hampden’s famous mills drew many of the community's first residents, who mostly stemmed from the Appalachian areas in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. They came for jobs and settled along the Jones Falls. These Appalachian folk brought with them their accent, which maybe the origin of Hontalk amongst the residents.

Woodberry Light Rail Station by Historic Mill
Woodberry Light Rail Station next to Historic Mill. Photo by Payton Chung

M. R. Ducks: Most of the residents were employed at the Mt.Vernon/Woodberry,  Mills the Hooper Mills, and the Poole & Hunt Foundry. These Mills  once produced 80% of the world’s Cotton Duck, a textile used in sailing ships. This monopoly meant Hampden hosted one of the largest workforces in the country and were important contributors to the war efforts during the World Wars. As the Mills started fueling Baltimore’s economic power, 36th street became a center of commerce hosting marketplaces and shops for Hampden residents.


Union Machine Shops: One of the hearts of the Hampden area’s industrial strength was the Union Machine Shops, founded by Robert Poole and German Hunt in the 1850’s. This plant was home to Poole and Hunt’s general offices, an iron foundry, erecting and pattern shops, a melting house and stables. The first Cotton Duck looms lay here, and that Iron Foundry famously produced the 36 inch Columns and Brackets that hold up The US Capitol Dome in Washington D.C.

Stieff Silver Mill
Stieff Silver Mill, Photo by Frederic C. Chalfant

The Case of the Missing Reservoir: It’s hard to look out at Roosevelt Park and imagine a body of water underneath it, but for 100 years Hampden had itself a reservoir. Built in 1861 as a way of exporting freshwater from the Jones Falls into the city, the Reservoir was a major landmark in the community. In 1930 the polluted reservoir was drained, cleaned up, and cut off from the city’s water supply. The city attempted to completely drain it several times but were blocked by local residents. In 1960, the city Water Department drained it without announcement, with plans to place a heliport there. Locals, led by Rev Werner of the Hampden (Now United) Methodist Church, protested the noise pollution . They eventually won out, at the loss of the reservoir, which was filled in by the mud from the recently constructed Jones Falls Expressway.

Rebirth of Slick: Like many other areas in the city, the Hampden Community faced an economic crisis in the 70’s and 80’s as textile work dried up, the Mills Closed, and the area saw an increase in crime and poverty. Many of the old mills were bought out and restructured into artist spaces and commercial businesses. New Restaurants and businesses started flourishing along 36th street, replacing old and shuttered properties, and giving the neighborhood a new,eclectic vibe that embraced Hampden’s past, while also branching out into new and weird ways. With assistance from John Waters frequent love letters to the community, Hampden’s identity changed almost overnight. 40 years after Hampden’s lowest point, the neighborhood is Baltimore’s hottest property.

Hampden Lights
Hampden is uniquely Baltimore, uniquely itself, and it’s transformation from a Mill Town to the most in-demand housing market in the city hasn’t always been seamless, hasn’t always been easy, but has been uniquely… Hampden. We hope you enjoyed this little trip down Memory Lane. While you’re here, you should check out our new Hampden Apartment on Falls Road, Just around the corner from 36th Street!


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