A Guide to Baltimore Rowhouses
Like Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, Baltimore’s housing stock for the past 200 years has mostly been made up of rowhouses. But over that time the types of rowhomes that were built changed, and each specific style reflects the neighborhood it's in and the history of the city itself.
Here are the five basic types of rowhouses you’ll find in Baltimore, and what neighborhoods you'll find them in.
Baltimore’s first rowhouses were built in the mid-1790s. The idea of the rowhouse came from England, where elegant rows of homes were built both to appeal to a middle class and give more people access to homeownership.
That tradition was continued in the U.S. with the “ground rent” system, where a developer only bought the rights to build houses from a property owner, and the new homeowner would have to pay a small rent to the property owner but would get a house at a cheaper price. (This practice continued for a long time, and some Baltimore rowhouse owners still don’t own the property beneath their house and have to pay ground rent.)
A population increase in Baltimore starting around the turn of the 19th century required more housing, and soon, Federal Era rowhouses were built for all incomes. One of the keys to Baltimore’s development was having large houses on main streets, medium-sized houses on side streets, and very small houses on alley streets. Most of the Federal Era houses are characterized by two-and-a-half stories with pitched roofs (rather than flat). These homes are found in Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods.
Find them in: West Side, Federal Hill, Harbor East, Jonestown, Fells Point, Canton
While the Federal Era houses are plain and kind of rare today, Italianate rowhouses are ornate and the most common type of rowhouse. The Baltimore harbor and the railway industries were booming in the 1850s, and immigrants needed places to live. The most distinguished feature of the Italianate house is the cornice, or the very top of the front of the building. Decorative elements could be made of cast iron and easily reproduced, so many houses have the same ornamental brackets at the edge of the roof.
These houses are generally three stories and can be found in the neighborhoods that were built after the Inner Harbor was developed.
Find them in: Downtown, Locust Point, Highlandtown, Washington Village, Broadway East, Middle East
In 1890, the first electric streetcar whizzed down the streets of Baltimore. A new system of streetcars allowed people to live farther from their work, so more and more developments appeared along the streetcar lines. Other transformations in production and industry also changed how homes could be built.
The Artistic period of Baltimore rowhouses started in the 1870s and lasted until 1915, and this period offered houses that were more expressive and unique. Exact styles vary by neighborhood, but some have front porches (since colorfully painted); bow-fronted brick houses and marble steps; or are very large with decorative brickwork, copulas, and bay windows.
Find them in: Charles Village, Barclay, Highlandtown, Hampden, Mid-Town-Belvedere, Bolton Hill, Upton, Druid Hill Park, Patterson Park, Butcher’s Hill
Although all of the rowhouses in Baltimore are charming, up until 1915 they were all very dark. The houses were long and skinny; often the front room had windows, the middle space or room had no windows, and a small kitchen area in the back had a window.
Previously, houses were built to be 12 to 16 feet wide, but they later expanded to 20 or 21 feet. These newer houses were advertised as open, light, and modern. Some developers built porches or glassed-in sunrooms and new amenities, like radiator heat, gas ranges, and indoor plumbing to add to the appeal (Baltimore’s municipal sewer was only installed in 1912).
Find them in: Remington, Waverly, Greater Govans, Northwood
In many ways, the construction of World War II and post-war houses is very similar to that of the daylight rowhouse. These rowhouses are also wider and shallower, with windows in each room, but they’re plainer than the earlier version. Neighborhoods like Waverly, Northwood, Loch Raven, and Belair-Edison usually have a mix of both of these eras.
During both the Daylight and Postwar periods, homeowners also became interested in free-standing houses. They wanted fresh air and yards, and at that time, they had cars that could bring them to jobs across the city, so free-standing houses were built, which started to break the mold of a city of rowhomes.
If you want to learn more, check out home for sale in Baltimore and read Mary Ellen Hayward’s “The Baltimore Rowhouse.”