A couple months ago I bought a book off of Amazon which I thought would be a good coffee table book as it is about the history of the rowhouse in Baltimore, but when it arrived I found that it was more then just a picture book.
The book is called The Baltimore Rowhouse and is written by Mary Ellen Hayward and Charles Belfoure. When the book came I found it to be a wealth of information on the architecture of this city’s homes that I never imagined existed. The book is chopped up into time periods and styles of architecture. Some time periods and styles over lap, but it was relatively easy to identify which classification mine falls under.
Built in 1875 and in the South Baltimore neighborhood of Locust Point, my house was constructed in the Italianate Period (1850-1890). This was a time period which saw a rise in construction of houses for working-class families around areas of industry. The book said that at this time transportation was still too expensive for people to live further than walking distance to their jobs, so people lived very close to work.
The book gives very detailed explanations of what was going on in each time period and even more detail into the reasons why various architectural elements were incorporated into the homes constructed at this time.
I do a lot of walking around the neighbourhood these days with Huey and I had always wondered about the little things that separated one block of rowhouses from the next.
One of the reasons I bought my house was that it measures close to 14′ wide. If you have ever been in one of the smaller alley houses they can get as small as 10′ when both walls are studded. The book says that when they developed the working-class house there were two bay and three bay wide homes ranging in width from 12 – 14′. Each of the homes had “six rooms and most had low basements.” The three-bay versions were built on main streets, which explains why mine is close to 14′ wide as it is on Fort Avenue which is a very wide street in comparison to some others as it stretches from all the way down past Federal Hill and runs straight into fort McHenry.
The book also explains that “in the three-bay versions a tiled entrance vestibule led into a narrow hall, which opened into the front parlor (measuring 9′ x 12′) and back to the stairs and the dining room. The kitchen was at the rear of the house, beyond the dining room.” If you look back to my posts on the Living Room and the Kitchen you can see my house was identical to this layout, right down to the front parlor, tiled vestibule and kitchen at the rear.
I had always wondered why the house was chopped up as it was downstairs. The book summed it all up in this statement:
“In a house so very narrow, it is very telling that the builders crowded in an entrance vestibule, hall, and formal parlor, sacrificing crucial living space space to preconceived notions of how life should be lived properly.”
The beginning sections of the book describes the opulence and detail that went into the grand rowhomes in Mt. Vernon, etc. so it is easy to see why my house was built the way it was. The builders wanted even the common man to be able to on some level experience the way the wealthier lived. It was a “striking reminder of the pervasive desire among all income levels of Baltimoreans to have style in their houses.”
Some of the less noticeable things I learned were that some houses built by builders with a bit more money, had “cut-stone facing at the basement level,” which explains why unlike some homes which have fronts constructed entirely from brick, mine has marble at the sidewalk level. Mine also has big blocks of the same stone running under both the large front window and the windows upstairs.
The interior trim and details were mostly mass produced at the time and were less expensive knock-offs echoing the design of higher cost elements.
The book even featured the text of a realtor’s 1885 ad to home owners or investors:
“Five new six-room dwellings, one vacant, the other four rented; will pay 14 per cent; stoves in parlors, ranges, bath-room, hot and cold water, gas fixtures, etc.; nicely papered throughout; price only $700 each.”
Hard to imagine where my original bathroom was, what type of gas fixtures were hooked up to the piping found throughout the first floor, and what a stove looked like in my parlor. Even more difficult to imagine… $700!!!! I could have done some crazy things to this place had it cost $700. Haha.
Reading this book led me to dig even deeper into the history of my house using the state/city websites to research the deed. There is a tremendous amount of information available online (for free). I started with the last deed number shown on my real property tax levy and went back from there. The house changed hands a ton of times going all the way back to the late 1800′s when the deed only referred to my entire block of Fort Avenue. I have probably well exceeded my word limit here as I usually like to have more pictures than words, so I will save the in depth history of my home for another time.
As much as I had hoped this was gona be a post about kitchen cabinet hardware, it wasn’t. It seems as though I’m stuck in a holding pattern with a lot of the things I want to accomplish. Every week something else seems to come up. Part of the reason I didn’t even make it to Ikea was Locust Point Rowhouse’s 4-legged, stinky, slobbering….and as of late, still bothered by cherry eye.
The eye looks relatively good here, but closer examination its a real (no pun intended) “eye sore.” The surgery I had for him 2 weeks ago failed. He’s having surgery again this week to try and get it right this time. I feel bad for the guy as I’ve had to drag him to the damn vet what seems like once a week. He’s not in any pain from what I can tell, but its gross to look at and not good to leave it untreated. His other eye has shown signs of doing the same thing so they are going to pre-emptively fix the other eye in the hopes that we can be done with this nonsense because really, he’s a pretty well behaved dog. He sure has much more energy and athleticism then I imagined a bulldog to have, but I guess I just lucked out. Haha.
Oh and the other reason nothing got done was a cracked rim on my car…but that’s not in the least bit interesting.