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.
Hamilton and Lauraville
»Hamilton: Perring Manor/Perring Parkway/Old Harford/Harford/Echodale
»Lauraville: Cold Spring/Back River/Harford/Echodale
» Neighboring areas: Morgan State, Montebello, North Harford, Westfield, Glenham-Belhar, Beverly Hills, Arcadia, Loch Raven
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Despite its seemingly pleasant, isolated existence, Hamilton-Lauraville was not immune from changes taking place throughout the city over the next several decades. Though the single-family homes with spacious yards remained, the hustle and bustle on Harford Road slowed, and urban decay set in.
Today, Hamilton-Lauraville is in the midst of revitalization. A drive down Harford Road today isn’t quite what it was in 1944, when “stores, schools, theaters, churches, office buildings, laundries, bowling alleys, hamburger stands and night clubs” dotted the street. But commerce has kicked in again, making the area one of Baltimore’s fastest-growing neighborhoods.
“I’ve always used a tripod analogy,” said Regina Lansinger, director of the Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street commercial revitalization program. “The tripod is each leg, one is the commercial, one is homes and the other is schools. Each of those attracts the other. If one of those legs is missing, the foundation is a little shaky and the neighborhood goes downhill. So we’ve been building, building, building and trying to get the community working together to get all these things done.”
A tour of the neighborhood starts at Lansinger’s second-floor office on the corner of Harford and Hamilton, right above the popular Green Onion Market. Given Hamilton-Lauraville’s tradition as an early farming community, it probably shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the neighborhood still values locally grown food.
At Hamilton Elementary/Middle School, a 5,000-gallon cistern is buried below the parking lot, holding water that comes down off the roof, is collected and then processed through a solar-energy-powered pump. The water is used to grow the leafy green vegetables planted in a large, white hoop house in the corner of the parking lot. The Hamilton Crop Circle, which grows vegetables year-round throughout Northeast Baltimore, sells the produce to restaurants and stores in the neighborhood.
“The plants grown in the hoop house, the Crop Circle would take compost buckets to the restaurants, and tell them to just put their scrap waste in their prepping for meals, no meat,” Lansinger said. “They would collect that … bring it back here and they had a compost section going back here. It’s kind of a real circle. They grow it here, it goes to our local restaurants. You can’t eat more locally than what’s grown here in the neighborhood.”
The restaurants throughout the area have been a major draw to citizens all over the city. Clementine, Big Bad Wolf, Hamilton Tavern, Koco’s Pub, Tooloulou and Maggie’s Farm are among the neighborhood’s many culinary attractions.
“We had a handful of really good restaurants, several years ago, probably 10 years ago, that really helped get things changed around here,” Lansinger said. “It became very much an urban, agriculturally friendly neighborhood. And it still is. It has been for a long time. It was rediscovered in recent years. So we have these great things going on with Harford Road restaurants, and we have a really strong arts presence in the neighborhood.”
Lansinger has worked to create family-friendly events throughout the year, including the Downhill Derby (a soapbox derby down Harford Road) and Boo Fest (a Halloween parade for neighborhood children). The ultimate goal is to continue the resurgence of Hamilton/Lauraville, drawing more families to the area and hearkening back to the neighborhood’s golden era.
“We do have a fair amount of people that have come back from the county because they do want to live in a neighborhood,” Lansinger said. “We have people that have come here from Fells Point, Federal Hill, Canton. They started out in neighborhoods either as singles or as young couples, then outgrew their homes very quickly. When they see the backyards here, it’s a great place for their kids to play. People are into gardening and growing. That’s an attraction, too. The neighborhood is coming back to life again.”
This is part of an ongoing series from The Baltimore Sun about the history, culture, and future of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Have a suggestion for what neighborhood to explore next? Let us know.