Architectural Ambler June 2009 Fells Point Historic District
Volume 3 / June 2009
Fells Point Historic District
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 early20th-century wharves and piers extending out into
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.
Welcome to the Architectural Ambler. The Ambler
explores the history and architecture of historic
districts listed in the National Register of Historic
Places, the nation’s official list of certified historic
districts and buildings.
Rows of mixed-use buildings - with shops on the ground floor and residences above - line Fells
Point’s Broadway Market, established in 1784.
Any building, structure, or land area which is listed
in the National Register of Historic Places, or any
building which is located in a registered-historic
district and is certified by the United States Secretary
of the Interior as being of historic significance to
its historic district, may be protected by a historic
preservation easement, and the Trust is one of the
largest preservation easement-holding organizations
in the nation. There are hundreds of historic districts
listed in the National Register, and each one tells a
unique story from the history of the United States.
The Ambler will bring these stories to you.
We welcome feedback and look forward to
incorporating new ideas into upcoming issues.
To send us comments or suggestions, please email
The elegant City Recreation Pier building, constructed in 1914.
Trust for Architectural Easements
A classic Greek Revival-style rowhouse
Arched passageways between rowhouses straddle
Bulkheads lead directly down from sidewalks to
basement store rooms
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
The City Pier was once a social gathering spot for Fells Point residents
Trust for Architectural Easements
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 historic 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 at [email protected]
To suggest a historic district for a future issue of the Architectural Ambler,
please visit www.architecturaltrust.org, or send an email to [email protected]
The Robert Long House, c. 1765, is the oldest house in Baltimore
Disclaimer: This newsletter is intended to provide a non-expert reader with basic
information. For professional advice, please consult architects, contractors, and/or engineers.
About the Author
Laura L. Thornton is the Trust’s Director of Education. A graduate of Wellesley College, Laura began working with the Trust in 2004 after
receiving a Master of Architectural History from the University of Virginia. As Director of Education, she visits schools to teach about the built
environment, and leads tours and workshops about architecture and historic preservation. She is also the editor of the Columns newsletter.
About the Trust
The Trust for Architectural
Easements is one of the largest
preservation easement holding
organizations in the United
States. The Trust protects more
than 800 historic properties
and is dedicated to preserving
historic neighborhoods by
raising awareness about the
need for historic preservation,
and the resources and
programs available to aid in
the preservation and protection of America’s historic architecture. For more
information about the Trust, the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive
Program, or to meet with a local Trust representative, please call us or send an
email to [email protected]
Local flavors are served in this 19th-century
Broadway Market building
Trust for Architectural Easements