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May 23, 2011

Neighborhood love: Pigtown


Photo of Mount Clare in Pigtown by Meg Fairfax Fielding


Today, Meg Fairfax Fielding is reviving a reader-fueled feature that started off strong last year and sadly petered out: My Neighborhood 'Tis of Thee, an opportunity to share a resident's-eye view of where you live. Neighborhood love -- or tough love, depending.

Last year readers shared Overlea, Hoes Heights and Canton with us. Now comes Meg to give you a tour (complete with photos) of Pigtown, the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood also known as Washington Village. She just bought her first house elsewhere in the city -- an earlier contract she had on a home in the neighborhood fell through -- so it's a chance to reflect on her Pigtown days.

Take it away, Meg:



I've lived in Pigtown for about five years, since moving back to the U.S. from the U.K. I wanted to live in a place that was up-and-coming, and was close to things that I knew and places I visited a lot. Pigtown seemed to tick a lot of boxes, and when a nice little house with very reasonable rent on a tree-lined street became available, I snapped it up.

The main street in Pigtown is Washington Boulevard, which swings from east-west at Martin Luther King Boulevard, to north-south as it heads past Carroll Park. On the east, Russell Street and MLK Boulevard make up the general boundary, and on the south, it's Monroe Street. To the north, it's Pratt and Lombard streets.

Most of the housing stock dates from the 1880s and is comprised of two- and three-story rowhouses. The B&O Railroad was the leading cause for the original development of the neighborhood, and as legend has it, the pigs used to run down Washington Boulevard, from the railroad sidings at the B&O to the slaughterhouses where Camden Yards is sited now. In the early 2000s, a number of new townhouses were built on Scott Street and comprise Camden Crossing.


Above: The bus yard


Pigtown is filled with interesting buildings, including the B&O Roundhouse (the largest 22-sided building in the USA)' the MTA's bus yard buildings with their Palladian windows and elegant buttresses; the historic Mount Claire Mansion set atop a hill in Carroll Park; an old kosher abattoir on Paca Street; and the Victorian gasworks building that is home to Housewerks, the architectural antiques and salvage business.


Above: Housewerks


As one of the truly integrated neighborhoods in the city, Pigtown has long-time residents living alongside newly-arrived urban professionals who commute to Washington on the Camden line, or attend classes at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

It is a neighborhood of walkers, either heading for public transportation, to schools from elementary to graduate level, or out giving their dogs their daily exercise. From my house in Pigtown, it's a seven-minute walk to Camden Yards, about 20 minutes to the Convention Center and 25 minutes to the Inner Harbor.

Above: The view from Pigtown. (This doesn't quite do it justice -- click for a larger image.)


Pigtown really starts hopping on Ravens game days, when the neighborhood fills with fans attending the game, or tailgating in the parking lots surrounding the stadium. On warm fall days when the windows are open, you can hear the cheers from the crowds as the Ravens make a great play. Orioles games are a little quieter, but on summer evenings, you can hear the cheers and see the fireworks after the games.

There is a lot of available housing stock in Pigtown, as the economic downturn came just after numerous investors had purchased vacant houses or shells and started to renovate and rehab them. It's sad to see so many empty houses on some blocks. But there are a lot of real estate deals to be had in the area.

People in Pigtown know each other, they're friendly to each other, and they actually speak to each other when they pass by on the street. People keep an eye out for each other, too. There are several community organizations that schedule routine clean-up mornings, manage the Main Street marketing and work on overall neighborhood issues.

While Pigtown is in the middle of the city and just moments from the always busy I-95, it is often a very quiet neighborhood, with just the sounds of the train whistles blowing and the distant hum of traffic. I've often walked my dog Connor late at night and reveled in the quiet of the streets.

I can't write a piece like this without addressing some of the perceptions of Pigtown, namely, that it's a crime-ridden area. My personal experience, and that of the CitiStat tracking, does not bear this out. There is some drug-related activity, but if you're not buying or selling, then it's generally not an issue.

There is scant property crime in the area of Pigtown where I live, and most of the personal crime is between people who are known to each other. I've had plants and decorative items in front of my house for years, and nothing's ever turned up missing. One of my enduring memories is of an early summer evening, with the windows open, listening to someone walking up the street singing an old Motown song.

Pigtown's just another one of Baltimore's neighborhoods that's like a little village.



Above: A painted screen. Below: A street view.





Thanks, Meg!

If you'd like to write your own My Neighborhood 'Tis of Thee piece, give me a shout at jhopkins(at)baltsun(dot)com. (You can find the photo gallery here -- and more photos just of Pigtown here.)

And just a reminder: I'm happy to get guest posts that share your housing experiences or your expertise. You'll find details here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: My neighborhood, 'tis of thee


nice article

Thanks for your story Meg. While I do not live in Pigtown, I own a building there and my family's had a medical office on the corner of Washington and Scott for years. We're there pretty much every day, know many of our neighbors and really appreciate the sense of community. It is everything Meg writes about and I wish more development and revitalization efforts would come into the neighborhood. During the real estate boom, it really felt like the neighborhood was turning a corner. But the economy really hit the area pretty hard. I'm starting to see signs of development again - Welcome Tasty Creations bakery! - and that's a very good thing.

It's nice to read a good story about my neighborhood for once. Everyone always has this image of Pigtown being this bad place when it really isn't. People need to come here and see it for what it really is; a truly diverse neighborhood. I hope this story will help spur more development in Pigtown.

I love it!! Everyone said I was crazy for moving to Pigtown but everyone who has come to my casa Loves it! My parents are looking at buying investment property in Pigtown & my neighbors just purchased their first house in Pigtown three blocks over. Thanks for the article!

P.S. I like Pigtown better than the Washington Village, just an FYI for the poll currently going on.

Meg, thank you for that beautiful depiction of our neighborhood. I moved to Pigtown from Annapolis 6 years ago. The greatest thing about Pigtown is the feeling of a small community. When I lived in the 'burbs my next door neighbors seldom returned waves, but in Pigtown, if the ladies of Carroll Street don't see you for a few days, they knock or call to make sure you are okay; I love that. Baltimore is not perfect but you can't beat a strong sense of community.

I've lived in Pigtown for a year now. I love where I live. I love that my home is affordable, that I'm so close to things I don't need a car to visit, and that I'm surrounded by many different types of people. It's not cookie cutter at all! Pigtown is somewhere that you can really call home and grow your roots in, making a difference and feeling a satisfying sense of community. It has it's problems, but I assure you that you just as safe in Pigtown as you are in any neighborhood like Canton, Fed Hill, or Fells. Thanks for writing, Meg :)

I've got to checkout Pigtown, sounds great.

WOW I can sit and write all day about Pigtown. I remember as a child it was a wonderful place with many Rose bushes in everyones back yards the smell was so nice. Pigtown use to be a working class neighborhood and about 20 yrs ago that changed, it became a non working neighborhood. With more people on welfare n drugs. And with low rent housing it was a haven for thugs. Now on the upside I can say it is changing. You can no longer get a cheap house, rent starts at 800$ an up... I cant even afford that my self, good thing I own my home. Here in Pigtown you can find every kind of ethnic background w/ also rich /poor / middle class. Im sure theres millionaires here too ... We have renters n home owners. I think at this time the home owners are starting to out weight the renters. As for crime You know it only takes one house on the block to make everyone miserable. But the Police seem to be on top of that . If there is an issue of a drug house they r cleaning it up quickly.. There are so many people giving a day on the weekends to help keep it clean, so I feel its starting to take shape finally. You know it only takes one bad person to make a place look bad, but it take many people to make it look good.. I personally have served at the school and the rec center I feel I did my part to help the community. People need to come together as a team to make this place work. Its close to everything..... I started planting flowers 20 plus years ago , now people seem to be planting flowers everywhere. It just makes it look so pretty. I live in a row home n the past 8 yrs have had a veggie garden in the back of my home n flowers in the front.... I have had every kind of bug n birds living in my garden, that make s me happy...... I know Im doing mother nature right......Yes I too have had my grievences with Pigtown, but I guess all in all it does have alot to offer..... You cant find a better deal on home any where n if u fix it up its pricless....u can afford to make a castle at these prices.... My husband has a drywall finishing comp and we have seen the unbelieveable homes here that look like mansions inside. Marble , granite , wood floors, 3 bathroom, bathrooms, decks on the roof and more.... full basements garages etc... But I prefere the good ole days when I could get a bag of potaoes chips freshly cooked n the grease would drip thru lol..... are at the candy store a bag of candy only 5cents haha . When I was younger every corner store sold CODDIES... n PICKLED ONIONS...YUM. I guess those days r gone and time for someone new to move in and start a new tradition.... I hope who ever it is , takes good care of her.... Who really cares bout the name Pigtown r washington village ? I dont and I have lived here my whole life 54 yrs. But Pigtown name does have history....... with me anyway. So come on folks come to Pigtown, build ur caslte inside n out , please plant flowers, because then we know u really care to make her a beautiful place to live....

Ive worked in Pigtown on rehabbing houses.And Pigtown has many things going for it.But i think that the author ,Meg, is wrong to downplay the crime issue. My impression of Pigtown has always been that its safe to live in and walk through.

But there is a tremendous amount of drug dealing. And a huge amount of prostitution. I myself live in Highlandtown.And i love Highlandtown.But i will be the first to say that we have similiar problems in Highlandtown.And i would say that while one shouldnt overdramatise the problems in a community, one also shouldnt downplay the problems too much.

The fact is that drugs and prostitution do exist in large amounts in Pigtown and that problem needs to be solved.The same goes with my neighborhood of Highlandtown.there should be no shame in admitting that a neighborhood has problems.

I would also add that one thing that has hurt Pigtown was the building of new houses .Canton had new houses built[North Shore, The Moorings,ect ]. But this was a few years after proffessionals had bought up older rowhouses and fixed them up.

I think that the new housing development that was built near the B&O Railway Museum, drew in proffessionals that would have otherwise bought older houses to fix up.

Pigtown was also badly effected by flippers who bought houses and gutted them to get housing loans that they had no intention of paying back.Thats why there are so many gutted houses.The crooks basicly pocketed the home improvement loans.This happened all over Baltimore[and America]. But Pigtown suffered more then any other neighborhood in Baltimore for some reason .

Once again, i dont mean to imply that its not a great neighborhood.But im simply saying that like all neighborhoods, it should face its problems truthfully

BTW, I do want to say that in my opinion, the Housewerks building is the finest looking building in Baltimore.I dont know what it looks like in the inside.But it has always been my fantasy to have that building as my home.

A very impressive piece of architecture!

@ Pete, you need to go inside the Housewerks building!!! It is AMAZING inside!! My dad went there when we were looking for a return floor grate & brought us all back. The inside has huge ceilings, very Baltimorean crown molding, some great pieces for your house if you are doing some rehabbing and the basement has some serious potential. I'd love to put a romantic restraurant in the basement. We went to second chance first & the guy said to check out Housewerks, we found a floor grate that was the perfect size & after my dad & I cleaned it up, it looks fantastic!

Not sure what everyone else has experienced but I have lived in Pigtown for 6 years and my husband and I couldn't wait to get out of there in April!!! I can hardly think of anything positive to say about the neighborhood. The drugs, the drug addicts, the drunks, the drug addicted prostitutes, the break-ins, the street fights, the loud cursing on the streets, the shootings, the mice and rats, I could go on and on... I see that Pigtown has potential ( in the very distant future), but for a family there are much better places to live. We are putting our home on the market but I don't feel good about it because I can't mislead other families about the neighborhood. When we were looking to buy a home in Baltimore, so many encouraged us to consider Pigtown since it was "up and coming". I saw a sign in the window of a home in Pigtown a few years ago: I BELIEVE I'VE BEEN DECEIVED. I can't say it any better.

The decline of Pigtowne begin when the Lafayette Towers were torn down.The huge drug trade there was confined there
filtered out into the nearby area.Pigtowne was consumed & never recovered.I lived here my whole Life & is saddened by what Pigtowne has become: Yes there are a lot of great people here and I have no problem saying that I'm from Pigtowne. When I was a kid I had no fear of going anywhere in pigtowne;now as a 50 year old man I don't go anywhere in pigtowne without driving.The sounds of gunshots I've grown accustomed to.The people who live in Pigtowne who have been here all their lives will said that it's a good place but the truth of matter is that they like me can't afford to go anywhere else.

Ahhh...Pigtown!! How I love thee! Honestly, this is the type of neighbourhood with a different personality on each street. If i could move back, i would rent on one of those tiny streets south of washington blvd, east of cross, just north of the elementary school. Pigtown is the best and worst of bmore all in one place. Its a logistical gem, has a great walk score, small heroin and prostition problem. Pigtown has every thing from "street pharmacists" to real ones living side by side. Beautiful tiny row homes, which are all different inside. Welfare queens and Sociology Majors...every thing is there. Its definitely not for the timid! This florida girl earned her stripes in pigtown! What makes pigtown perfect is that its NOT federal hill!! There. Needs to be a placein every city for the working class. You all are gonna gentrify yourselves right out of buss boys and mail carriers and hospital orderlies and security guards and cashiers and crossing guards. ..ect ect

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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