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.
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.