Fells Point: Baltimore, Maryland
With stunning views of the inner harbor, impressive late-18th and early-19th century architecture, and streets bustling with people and traffic all day long, Fells Point is one of Baltimore's premiere waterfront neighborhoods. During its first century Fells Point, initially developed by landowner William Fell in 1761, went from a forested agricultural area into a shipbuilding and commercial center where some of the U.S. Navy's first ships were built, including the USS Constellation. After the War of 1812 and the British bombardment of Fort McHenry, the neighborhood became the country's second most popular port of entry for immigrants and surpassed by only Ellis Island in significance.
The neighborhood is bounded by Gough Street to the north; Castle Street to the east; the waterfront to the south; and Caroline Street to the west.
Fells Point faced a long, slow period of decline following the Civil War, when the area lost its shipbuilding trade to much larger ports. It continued until the 1960s when there was a proposal by the Interstate Division for Baltimore City (IDBC), which composed of both city and state employees, to locate Interstate 95 through the neighborhood. Residents responded by forming the Society for the Preservation of Fells Point in 1967. They successfully nominated the Fells Point Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places the same year.
By 1971, the Preservation Society had defeated the interstate proposal, leading it to begin work restoring the dilapidated neighborhood. To begin this process, Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development auctioned 97 structures the city had acquired in preparation for building I-95.
Revitalization was aided by the neighborhood's designation as an Urban Renewal Area, residents' commitment to design guidelines developed to protect Fells Point's historic character, and the city's 1988 implementation of the Maritime Master Plan. The result of these and related efforts is a Fells Point that features tree-lined Belgian block streets, waterfront promenades, a lively mix of restaurants and taverns, and one of the country's best-preserved historic districts.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Fells Point originally laid out, developed by Fell Family; Edward Fell inherits 1,100 acres and begins selling parcels for development in 1761. With city's best deep-water harbor, area grows quickly.
- Fells Point serves for more than a century as city's deep-water port; successful shipbuilding enterprises and daring privateers lead British in attempt to capture Baltimore by land and sea during War of 1812
- Two million-plus immigrants arrive in Baltimore through Fells Point between 1754 and Civil War
- Isaac Myers starts the first and largest black-owned ship repair yard in the country in Fells Point (1866)
- Statesman Frederick Douglass lives in Fells Point as a slave until he escapes via Underground Railroad in 1838; returns 1892 to build decent housing for blacks (Douglass Place on South Dallas Street)
- Ships carrying grains, tobacco to West Indies and Europe during 18th century solidifies neighborhood as a maritime capital; 19th and early 20th century growth from trading coffee, fertilizer, seafood, and food canning
- Fells Point Historic District, nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1967, expanded in 1986 to include several blocks to the north of original district; local historic district since 2007
- Unique concentration of late 18th and early 19th century waterfront streetscape
- Recent preservation efforts involve Bond Street Wharf; two floors of retail, apartments, offices
- Robert Long House, 812 S. Ann St., constructed 1765; oldest surviving house in city
- Irish population establishes St. Patrick Catholic Church, South Broadway and Bank Street (1792)
- Adaptive reuse of housing constructed between 1765 and 1875; middle class-owned row houses predominate
- Fells Point a center of city's industrial life; commercial, industrial development continues into 1930s
- Fells Point is a traditional walkable neighborhood where residents live near work, with access to commercial and industrial uses
- Society for the Preservation of Fells Point formed 1967; currently owns and has restored several key historic buildings, including 808 S. Ann St., which will become a visitor center
- Design Review Advisory Committee helps homeowners make improvements consistent with historic district designations; testifies before City Commission on Historic and Architectural Preservation
- In the 1970s, the zoning of Fells Point changed from heavy industrial to local business to encourage local commercial and residential development
- The Fells Point Main Street Program (2004) helps local businesses upgrade facades; organize public events
- City plans Broadway Square renovation (between Lancaster, South Broadway, and Thames streets)
- Light rail station being considered underneath intersection of South Broadway and Fleet Street
Attributes and Amenities
- Market Place, built in the 1780s along South Broadway, redeveloped by city in 1977 to provide a variety of local shops with attractive landscaping and street furniture
- Preservation Society offers walking tours and historic lectures about the history of Fells Point that help preserve the neighborhood's past
- Fells Point Visitor Center and Maritime Museum on the 1700 block of Thames Street displays the history of Fells Point from the Revolutionary War onward
- Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park, 1417 Thames St.; African American maritime history
- Sailabration in June 2012 marked Bicentennial of the War of 1812; attracted more than one million to Baltimore waterfront, including Fells Point
- Annual Fun Festival (October) brings nearly 700,000 visitors to Fells Point to support neighborhood preservation; weekend-event with entertainment, food, vendors; 2012 marks 46th year
- City-operated free shuttle bus service to downtown and Johns Hopkins Medical Complex; water taxi service connects Fells Point to Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry
- City Pier offers free summer outdoor movies
- Patterson Park's 155 acres include sports fields, meadows, playground, ice rink, and community center located along eastern edge of Upper Fells Point