For residents of Hamilton-Lauraville, the neighborhoods in Baltimore’s northeast corner represent the best of urban and suburban living: the area is bisected by a vibrant, walkable commercial corridor and is near enough city amenities for worthwhile enjoyment, while its abundance of single-family homes with sizeable yards and proximity to parks offer plenty of green spaces.
Hamilton-Lauraville encompasses the communities of Lauraville, Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Moravia-Walther, Waltherson, Glenham-Belhar, and Hamilton Hills. Lauraville, being the oldest of these neighborhoods, dates back to the 1850s, when a small settlement that largely catered to the families of lumber mill workers was established. The mill was owned by John Henry Keene, who named the town after his daughter, Laura.
The area was mostly farmland with Harford Road acting as a turnpike for trucking produce to the markets in the city. It would remain part of Baltimore County until 1918 when it was annexed by Baltimore City.
Despite annexation, Lauraville and Hamilton Hills have always retained a suburban feel with spacious backyards, detached, single-family houses, and tree-lined streets. Lots of beekeepers and backyard chickens these days. The occasional above-ground pool.
Throughout its history, the population was largely German, although in recent years it has become much more diverse with about a 50% black and 40% white population. This is a far cry from the era when white members of the Lauraville Improvement Association actively fought against the creation of nearby, historically black Morgan State University. In 2019, the community met with college leaders for a “Peace, Unity and Reconciliation” ceremony to make amends for their past actions.
In the past couple decades, the neighborhood has not only seen a transformation in the makeup of its population but also in terms of economic development, especially in the retail and restaurant sectors, which have seen incredible growth. The neighborhood has become a destination for diners with an incredibly diverse array of high-quality establishments popping up, as well as community gardens and a Tuesday Farmers Market in the 4500 Lot, a community gathering space transformed out of an abandoned gas station.
“There’s a huge gardening community here,” said Christie Church, a Lauraville resident and attorney. She went on to talk a little about the wildlife, of which there is a considerable amount, in part because it borders Herring Run Park. “We get deer in our yards regularly. Foxes. Rabbits.”
The park was designed in 1904 by the great landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., famous for other notable parks like Wyman Park and Druid Hill Park. His father, Frederick Law Olmsted, was the architect of Central Park in New York. It was originally an extension of what is now Lake Montebello. The large amount of green space in the neighborhoods is a result of the parks, the suburban layout, and the proximity to the county line.
It is a peaceful, relatively prosperous middle-class community. “It’s wild how quiet the residential blocks are,” Church said. “All my neighbors have been around for several years or more.”
Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street maintains a very comprehensive list of links to neighborhood businesses and restaurants as well as other local amenities, which can be found online.
A few highlights include the tea and British snacks at Emma’s Tea Spot, the Tunisian-inspired pizza at Char’d City, and vegan treats at Cloudy Donut. A new bookstore, Snug Books, recently opened in November and Wax Atlas is an incredible record store with a great section devoted to local music and used records for as low as a two for a dollar.
Gretchen Pike moved to the neighborhood in 2006 because she liked the family-friendly atmosphere, local businesses, and abundant green space. “You could get a house with a yard and a driveway for under $200,000 and it was a place I felt like you could raise a baby,” she said. “It is very family-oriented up and down the main street. Lots of kids and strollers. Families are very community-minded.”
She went on to describe the role of families in supporting the local economy. “Children grow up learning to be fiercely loyal to local businesses like Maggie’s Farm, Red Canoe, Zeke’s…People live by their values and have the luxury,” Pike said. “The neighborhood is solidly middle-class, but it is also pretty financially diverse, which is reflected in all the unique local businesses up and down the street.”
Now, as the weather is warming up and the foliage is starting to bloom, is the ideal time to explore Hamilton-Lauraville, especially if you are from out of town or just don’t get to that corner of the City often. All too often visitors to the city hover around the harbor, but the leafy, green outskirts are worth the uphill trek.