Situated just below the Mason-Dixon line, Baltimore is, strictly speaking, a Southern town. Yet its industrial base and urban energy cast it more in the mold of America's Northern cities.
Culturally, Baltimore's tradition of diversity dates back to 1649 and the passage of the Toleration Act, which permitted the practice of all religions in the colony of Maryland. In subsequent years the region's air of acceptance inspired waves of Polish, German, Irish, Italian, Greek and other immigrants. The various enclaves these newcomers established made Baltimore a collection of diverse neighborhoods, which is not to say that the melting pot always simmered peacefully. In the early 19th century, for example, Baltimore acquired the nick-name "Mob Town" because of its inhabitants' tendency to take to the streets en masse to demonstrate various ardently held beliefs.
Today, by and large, things are much quieter, but the neighborhoods retain their distinctive character--so much so that, no matter where you stand in Baltimore today, you can walk six or eight blocks in any direction and be in what, for all intents and purposes, is a different city.
A grid of roughly 25 blocks, with its long axis running east and west, it's an easy area to find your way around in. It's within walking distance of most of the downtown hotels, and, as with the rest of the city, it's filled with great places to eat--everything from breakfast and lunch counters like David & Dads to four-star
restaurants like Sotto Sopra.
To the North
Just above Mount Vernon is Bolton Hill. Known as the "Gin Belt" during the 1920s, this area was home to the city's Jazz Age bohemian community. F. Scott Fitzgerald made his home here for a while, and Tender is the Night was published during his stay. Today, the area is home to the Maryland Institute College of Art, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the University of Baltimore, as well as a present-day bohemian hangout: Spike and Charlie's.
Still farther up Charles Street lies well-groomed Charles Village, home of Johns Hopkins University. Just next door is Hampden, a funky blue-collar/alternative district made famous by independent film director John Waters.
Continue north, and you'll find Guilford, which features the wonderful Sherwood Gardens, and Mount Washington, a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood with lots of great restaurants, like The Desert Café.
Finally, your northward trek will land you in Towson, one of the city's busiest suburbs.
To the South
To the East
Just past Little Italy is Fells Point. This was once the chief Colonial shipbuilding center, and frigates known as Baltimore Clippers were launched from the end of Broadway, the neighborhood's main drag. Today Fells Point is known for its craft and antique shops, restaurants, bars and coffeehouses.
During the weekend the neighborhood is jammed with college-age revelers who flock to the many party-oriented dance clubs like Bohager's. But during the rest of the week, a mix of young urban professionals and bohemians come on the scene to eat at restaurants like Bertha's and Ding How, and relax and listen to live music at places like Funk's Democratic Coffee Spot and The Full Moon Saloon.
Just above Fells Point is Butcher's Hill, an area once home to dozens of butchers who sold their wares at Fells Point's Broadway Market, and farther north is Old Town, a neighborhood settled by German and Irish immigrants in the early 1800s.
Just to the east lies Canton, one of the most recently re-vitalized of the city's neighborhoods. Originally an industrial area populated by Welsh, German, Polish and Irish immigrants, Canton today is a lively residential area known for its friendly eateries like Nacho Mama's and upscale bars like The Gin Mill. To the north of Canton is Greek Town, another quiet residential neighborhood famous for its restaurants, Ikaros foremost among them.
To the West
Another famous sometime-Baltimorean, Edgar Allen Poe, is also memorialized in Pigtown--at PSInet Stadium, home turf of the Baltimore Ravens, the only National Football League team named after a poem.
History of BaltimoreThe most blue collar of American cities started as the most blue blooded. Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, had the idea of trying to reproduce England as perfectly as possible. But by the end of the 19th Century the city built as a seat for landed gentry had become a collection of fiercely solid working class neighborhoods, with corner bars, rising unions, and little evidence of the royal estates that had been the original idea.
Calvert's father, George, had tried to found a Baltimore colony in the 1620s in a location now known as Avalon, Newfoundland, in Canada. He decided it was a bit too cold there so, in June, 1632, King Charles I granted the Calverts a new colonial charter for warmer Maryland. George Calvert had died two months before, so the colony fell to his son Cecil. Cecil appointed his brother Leo as the first governor, and, on November 22, 1632, the Ark and the Dove set sail from England with about 140 settlers, a mix of Protestants and Catholics. In January 1633 they landed in Barbados, a bit off course but a lovely time to be in the Caribbean. With warmer weather they headed north and by March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, they had established their first Maryland landing on the island of St. Clement's.
Maryland's early years were a rich time for landed gentry newly arrived from England. With rolling estates, rich hunting and fishing, a good port and black slaves and indentured whites to do the work, it was very much like Lord Baltimore's vision of an idyllic England, except with Catholics and Protestants trying to live in harmony instead of killing each other. This religious mix was highly unusual at the time; within a few years the religious tensions back in England would lead to civil war.
In the colony's early years, 80 percent of the land was controlled by about 10 percent of the population. The town of Baltimore was chartered on August 8, 1729, as a place to put the colony's new customs house; eventually it became the chief port, and today it is the fifth busiest port in the United States.
By the 1750s the main export crops were cereal grains and flour, ground in the new mills of Baltimore. Indentured servitude came to an end, and these new freemen opened a series of small farms across the state. Trade with the other colonies and with Europe was the principle industry of this seaport town, and the forces that propelled America into the Revolutionary War were keenly felt here. Boston dumped tea into the harbor to protest the Stamp Tax, but Baltimoreans took to their ships and raided British merchant frigates under officially sanctioned "privateering" laws.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Baltimore ships proved adept at skirting British blockades to supply France. Eager to take another crack at the ex-colonies, Britain declared war. The War of 1812 had four important highlights: First, the British burned Washington D.C., leading to the President's mansion being whitewashed to cover the smoke damage (it has been referred to as the White House ever since). Second, General Andrew Jackson made a name for himself defeating the British in the Battle of New Orleans, becoming so popular that he eventually became president and got his face on the $20 bill. Third, the British have not attacked the United States since their defeat in this war. And the fourth highlight is what happened in Baltimore.
In 1814, after burning Washington, the British troops advanced on Baltimore, planning to burn the town and destroy the core of the American merchant fleet in the harbor. On Sunday, September 11, 1814, they attacked the harbor defenses at Ft. McHenry.
The battle raged for 12 hours. Eight miles away, aboard a British vessel, an American watched the bombardment. Francis Scott Key was a doctor; he'd been inquiring after a patient when a British officer decided to detain him for the duration of the battle. As evening fell and the bombardment continued, Key could plainly see the American flag above the fort. It was a huge flag, 80 feet long and 40 feet high, and the exploding cannon balls created a brilliant fireworks display in the distance. Key was inspired to write "The Star Spangled Banner," which caught on immediately. By the end of the century, Congress had made it the official national anthem of the United States. Though the lyrics are Key's, the tune, played at the beginning of all American sporting events, and long famous for being practically unsingable because of its full dynamic range, comes from an old British drinking song.
The flag from that night at Ft. McHenry now hangs in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, in Washington D.C.
By the end of the Civil War, Baltimore started to resemble the modern vision we have of it. The landed gentry of Lord Baltimore's time were long gone. The rising cities of New York and Boston and Philadelphia had become the new centers of culture, and many of the rich had moved on. (Ironically, some had moved on using the B&O Railroad. The Baltimore and Ohio, established in 1825, made expansion west easier, by supplying many of the supplies for the trip.)
The end of the 19th Century marks the beginning of baseball, a sport long associated with Baltimore. The Orioles were one of the first teams. John McGraw was one of the first stars of the game. Babe Ruth was born here in 1895; his father ran a pub on a spot in what is now Camden Yards. The Orioles' Cal Ripken, Jr., is a legend here, and everywhere that baseball is followed.
Modern Baltimore began at the end of World War II. As the new suburbs developed, downtown fell on hard times. By the 1960s, Baltimore faced the same sort of abandonment and blight as most American cities. This changed in the 1980s with the development of the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards, the new home of the Orioles. While some of the town's sections are still unpleasant for casual visitors, there is much to recommend Baltimore.
A Brief Chronology
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