Named in honor of Baltimore Sun founder A.S. Abell and the avenue that bears his name, the Abell neighborhood in North Baltimore comprises nine square blocks in the heart of Baltimore. Known for its vibrantly colored “Painted Lady” row houses, the area is almost entirely residential leading to an active, close-knit community that makes Abell one of Charm City’s most charming neighborhoods.
Abell Improvement Association President Caroline Jelavich purchased her home in Abell in 2016 after a few years of renting in Midtown-Belvedere and Original Northwood. Jelavich said she was sold on Abell after attending a few community events with friends who lived in the neighborhood. It was a “perfect fit” because of its friendly, community feel, she said.
“People were so welcoming and warm and involved, and I thought, ‘this is where I want to live.’ These are the people I want to be around,” she said.
Residents enjoy annual events like the Abell Community Street Fair in September, a Memorial Day Picnic and the New Year’s Eve Progressive Dinner — a night where neighbors move from house to house for each course of the night’s meal. The dinner culminates in a champagne toast at the final home of the night.
“You meet new people, but you’re also with people you know,” said longtime Abell resident Jenny Harbold. “Some people jump in and out; others do the whole thing. It’s so much fun.”
Harbold purchased her home on Abell Avenue in 1984 and remembers when some of the first brightly colored houses started to pop up in the neighborhood, replacing the traditional brown brick fronts.
“One day their woodwork was painted forest green,” she said of a neighbor’s home. “I remember everyone standing around it on the street saying ‘can they do that?’”
In 1998, residents of Abell and other nearby neighborhoods were challenged to take up a paintbrush and brighten up the area in exchange for cash prizes. The contest led to the brightly colored Victorian homes known as “Painted Ladies,” that now line the neighborhood’s streets.
Harbold color-coordinated her house with a next door neighbor who won (the contest required individual entries) and the two split the prize money. Their trophy — a dipped paintbrush — still hangs on Harbold’s pastel-colored porch.
“It makes our neighborhood special,” Harbold said. “It has a happy feel and shows we’re a community.”
Though Abell is mostly residential, there are a couple of commercial spaces that have become part of the community.
The Book Thing, located at 3001 Vineyard Lane, is a nonprofit that collects donated books. It opens its doors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekend for book lovers to come by and pick up free books to take home. Executive director Russell Wattenberg first opened The Book Thing in his Charles Village basement in 2000 before moving to the Abell warehouse in 2005.
When a fire damaged the building and its contents in 2016 forcing Wattenberg to cease operations temporarily, he said the Abell neighborhood and other surrounding communities played a large part in collecting the books that allowed The Book Thing to reopen in 2017.
The Book Thing brings people together who share a common passion for books and reading, he said.
“This is one of the few places that you see all different groups communicating as peers,” he said. “The first people to arrive are usually a lawyer that comes in after he goes to the [32nd Street] farmers market and some men from a local shelter. People come in from all different parts of the community.”
Across the street, Peabody Heights Brewery has become such a big part of the neighborhood that it even released a limited-edition beer—Abell Hands—benefitting the community association. The brewery opened in December 2012 in the old Capital Beverage Corp. building, which used to be an old soft drink bottling plant. It was the first to open in Baltimore City in more than 30 years. Despite sparking other openings throughout the city, it continues to hold its place as the largest craft brewery in the city by square footage and annual sales, according to the brewery’s Director of Marketing Edward O’Keefe.
“We absolutely love our neighbors, and they support us so much,” O’Keefe said about the Abell community. “For us, the taproom is about bringing people together, and we’re proud to say we’ve created a space that is welcoming to everyone. We’re only doing for the community what our community was already doing for itself—just in a different setting with a couple of beers and more children around.”
If you want to explore the neighborhood and meet neighbors from this part of the city, join the Live Baltimore team at our next happy hour held in the Abell neighborhood. The event will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 14 at Peabody Heights Brewery, 401 East 30th Street, and will feature custom I Heart City Life pint glasses designed by a local artist. A $10 ticket will get you a pint glass to take home, your first beer and the chance to meet other city lovers. To get your ticket visit www.LiveBaltimore.com/events.
About the author: Margarita Cambest is a Communications Coordinator at Live Baltimore. Live Baltimore is a nationally recognized, independent nonprofit organization committed to promoting the benefits of Baltimore City living. Each year, Live Baltimore provides thousands of individuals with information on the city’s 250+ neighborhoods, rental living options, home buying incentive programs, historic tax credits and more. For more information, visit LiveBaltimore.com.