Federal Hill

Federal Hill Historic Districts

Neighborhood Association Website

  • National Register of Historic Places 4/17/70
  • Baltimore City Historic District Ordinance 17-0073, 12/04/2017

Summary Description

Situated on a street grid with street names retained from its original settlement, Federal Hill demonstrates distinctive characteristics of a significant place combining various architectural styles and workmanship well-preserved over the course of its long history. Federal Hill comprises about 24 city blocks just south of the Inner Harbor. At its northeast corner, Federal Hill Park rises steeply from Key Highway overlooking the downtown skyline and providing open recreational space for the community.

The neighborhood retains remarkably intact streets of largely residential properties reflecting the eras in which they were built and the economic status of their early residents. Likely the oldest house in the district at 130 East Montgomery dates to the late 1700s, built of wood with side gables. This form continues in many early examples in Flemish bond brick construction with gabled roofs and dormers. Simple Greek Revival rowhouses are found throughout the district, along with many Italianate rowhouses, along with a few detached houses with small front gardens. Details include stained glass, bracketed cornices, and iron fencing.

Commercial structures, some with ornate storefronts, along the two primary thoroughfares, Light Street and Charles Street, reflect a range of 19th and early 20th century styles. A market, a few churches and an adaptively re-used high school are examples of institutional buildings in the district.

Summary Significance

Federal Hill figures in many important events in Baltimore’s history and in the development of industry and commerce. The district’s name alludes to the celebration in 1788 of Maryland’s ratification of the Federal Constitution, which culminated on the hill. In 1797, an observatory opened on Federal Hill which enabled merchants to receive advance word of ships approaching the harbor. Many early settlers of Federal Hill fought in the War of 1812, and residents watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry from the hilltop. During the Civil War, the hill was fortified and occupied by Union troops.

The Federal Hill neighborhood, situated as it is on the south side of the Inner Harbor, was the home of shipyards from the late 18th century and the home of the related business owners and workers. As the industry evolved and wooden hulls and sails were replaced by iron hulled steamers and engines, the yards adapted as well. In World War II, Federal Hill yards armored, refurbished, and repaired ships to meet the war effort.

Glass making, canning, packing, fertilizer production, brewing, baking, and paint manufacturing all thrived in Federal Hill over the years, often owned and operated by European immigrants. African Americans have made their homes throughout Federal Hill as well from before the Civil War.  In the mid-20th century as maritime industry and other uses shifted along the Inner Harbor, the desirability of Federal Hill as an urban neighborhood was recognized by those who joined long-time residents in restoring and renovating properties as part of the back-to-the city movement beginning in the late 1950’s.