A look at Highlandtown, a neighborhood in East Baltimore that has embodied the American melting pot for over 100 years.
When Matthew Muir arrived in Baltimore to attend college, the native New Yorker lived in a few neighborhoods while seeking a community that best suited his taste for urban living.
He landed in Mount Vernon three years ago, and it felt like home.
Moving to the suburbs in the late 19th century was a fashionable thing to do, particularly for wealthy residents of city neighborhoods like Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill. Roland Park, a North Baltimore development created in the 1890s, was not the first of its kind in this area to inspire relocation. But in many ways, “Roland Park was the catalyst for the Baltimore suburban movement that followed it.”
That’s what Douglas P. Munro wrote in his 2015 book “Greater Roland Park,” which takes readers on a photographic journey through the neighborhood’s history. Conceived as a garden suburb that incorporated topography into its planning, Roland Park’s spacious lots and large homes earned it a reputation as Baltimore’s premier neighborhood for the affluent. That status has endured through time.
Ask anyone in Baltimore where the Shot Tower is and they likely can tell you, but many wouldn’t be able to name the neighborhood.
If locals can’t identify Jonestown, boosters wonder how tourists will find the neighborhood north of Little Italy that’s home to several landmarks and historic homes. Even Baltimore’s tourist maps overlook the area, colorfully highlighting such nearby destinations as the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill, Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton, while leaving Jonestown and other areas in a drab gray.
“You might have heard today that there were three shootings that happened over there on Cold Spring. Part of that stuff is what we’re trying to weed out. That element, as long as drugs continue to rule …”
Julius “Julio” Colon is aware of the perception – and, as noted in the quote above, the reality – of Park Heights. In his role as president and CEO of Park Heights Renaissance, Colon sees evidence of urban blight every day. Vacant buildings throughout the neighborhood. Forty-some liquor stores dotting long stretches of Park Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road. Significantly higher-than-average rates of teen pregnancy, HIV infection and recidivism among residents.
By the turn of the 20th century, a “little Eden” had sprouted three miles north of downtown on Harford Road, The Baltimore Sun reported. Years later, the paper noted that “a hamlet set in the wilderness” had sprung to the south. In those early days, the neighborhoods of Hamilton and Lauraville were sprawling, suburban communities that stood in contrast to city life.
Driving on I-95 just north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, you cannot help but notice the grinning, mustachioed cartoon character that appears to be winking at you. Though National Bohemian hasn’t brewed its beer at the intersection of O’Donnell and Conkling for 35-plus years, the company’s iconic mascot remains a ubiquitous reminder of this city’s industrial past.