Exploring Baltimore’s neighborhoods: Abell
Although it’s just nine square blocks in the middle of Baltimore City, Abell is known in part for its vibrantly colored “Painted Lady” rowhouses (an extension of its former Charles Village connection) and historic architecture.
» Abell boundary: Greenmount/33rd/Guilford/29th
» Neighboring areas: East of Charles Village, south of Oakenshawe, north of Harwood, west of Better Waverly
» Read more: Oriole Park fire left mark on Abell
» Fast fact: The Abell neighborhood, like Abell Avenue, derives its name from the Abell family, longtime owners of The Baltimore Sun newspapers.
But it’s the “open minded” community that leaves people “eager to get into the neighborhood,” said Jo Ann Robinson, an archivist and member of the Abell Improvement Association.
Most of the 550 or so homes in the primarily residential neighborhood are porch-front rowhomes with second-story bay windows — many of which have been painted in funky, bright colors for the annual Charles Village contest. Along Barclay Street are a number of late-19th century free-standing homes where historically African-American families lived, atypical of the traditional Abell rowhomes.
Mixed residential and commercial areas are prevalent along Greenmount Avenue, the border to the east. Portions of the southeast near 29th, the southern neighborhood border near Barclay Elementary, have been dedicated for light industrial and educational use.
The neighborhood encompasses the 32nd Street Waverly Farmers Market, a small, community-maintained park and garden. The community comes together each September for the community street fair and children’s parade, “led by kazoos, drums and homemade costumes,” Robinson said. “And so begins our festival.”
Once a part of Waverly, “Peabody Heights” and most recently Charles Village, “there was always a different sensibility in” Abell, Robinson said.
“In the early stages of our being in Charles Village, this was still much more lower-middle class, blue-collar, immigrant area,” Robinson said. “The people moving in weren’t quite into gentrifying. There were much more modest homes and jokes about us being ‘Chuck Village’ — not quite in with the ritz and well-to-do as Charles Village back then.”
But there’s a strong sense of history and community, Robinson said, with many buying houses along Abell in the ’20s and passing the homes down to their children, and their children’s children.
“It was also a much more conservative place,” Robinson said.
In the time when the Vietnam War was beginning to heat up, Robinson recalls a real estate agent saying that “up on Abell Ave., people fly their flags. Lower in the village, we burn them.” And on Fourth of July, every house had a flag.
“It was that kind of neighborhood,” Robinson said.
Jo Ann Robinson at her home along Abell Avenue. Robinson has a doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins and is the neighborhood archivist in Abell. (Kalani Gordon/Baltimore Sun)
“But in the 1970s, we were more involved in movements — anti-war, women’s and civil rights movements. This area became a haven for gays and lesbians.”
At one point, Robinson recalls, Abell was casually called “Lavender Lane,” since many gay households were being established here.
“One thing that’s characterized this corner that’s now called Abell, I think, is a general spirit of tolerance,” Robinson said.
This is part of an ongoing series about the history, culture, and future of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Have a suggestion? Let us know.