Named after John Hampden, a key figure in the English revolution of the 17th century, Hampden began as a cluster of houses for workers who manned the flour and cotton mills in the Jones Falls stream valley during the early 1800s.

Today, the historic mills house artists' studios, health clubs and offices. There is also an eclectic mix of homes and shops that have been preserved for generations.

Hampden is a community with a small-town, village-like feel, offering a refuge from faster-paced city neighborhoods.

The ages of residents vary greatly. According to Allen Hicks, president of the Hampden Community Council, some have been Hampden residents for 30 to 40 years, while some are newer to the area, mainly college students or young professionals who took advantage of the recent real estate boom.

"Hampden is a community in the midst of a slow transition," Hicks says. "Some of the issues today were the same ones back in the '70s -- the schools and parking -- but now there's a sort of schism because longtime residents believe that the younger residents don't have a sense of history."

Housing in Hampden is varied. Although rowhouses are predominant, the architectural styles differ greatly. While some houses are larger with covered front porches, white cylindrical columns and small front yards, others look more reminiscent of homes found in neighborhoods such as Ridgley's Delight and Fells Point.

Brendan Cooke of RE/MAX Firehouse Realty estimates a simple three-bedroom, two-bath rowhouse could go for $150,000 to $250,000. But because offerings are so diverse, houses also could sell for more than $500,000.

"It really depends on the condition of the property, inside and out," Cooke says. "Home price could fluctuate greatly depending on the level of renovation or how well-preserved the home is."

Like the housing market, properties for rent are varied and differ in price depending on the size. According to Leanne Lacour of Preller Properties, a Hampden apartment rents for $800 to $1,300 per month. Renting a two- or three-bedroom townhouse is between $1,000 and $1,200.

According to community relations officer Jon Walter, most crimes in the area are property related and mostly nonviolent.

"There are some robberies and stolen cars here and there," he says, "but in comparison to other neighborhoods, violent crime is low."

According to Hicks, the schools in Hampden have been a topic of concern for decades. Although Maryland State Assessment proficiency rates have been met for students in grades 3 though 6 at Hampden Elementary, Robert Poole Middle has not met them. Fewer than 50 percent of seventh and eighth graders are proficient in reading, and fewer than 30 percent are proficient in math.

Hicks says that in fall 2008, Robert Poole Middle School will transfer its students to Hampden Elementary, which will become the Hampden School. A portion of Robert Poole Middle houses the Academy for Career and College Exploration -- a public high school -- and discussions for the fate of the vacated portion will begin in the new year.

Hampden is known for The Avenue, a four-block stretch along 36th Street, housing a variety of shops including the True Vine music store, Atomic Books, Red Tree furniture store and 9th Life vintage clothing shop.

Redevelopment will begin this spring on the Rotunda shopping center, which will bring a $130 million retail and office center that will include a 22-story hotel and apartment tower, condominiums and townhouses, a bookstore, restaurants and a new Giant supermarket to replace the existing one.

Parking is a big issue in Hampden, especially around commercial districts. Many residents take the MTA shuttle that transports passengers to the Remington and Woodberry communities and the light rail.

Hampden is home to the famous Honfest, a celebration of all things Baltimore, and the Miracle on 34th Street light show, a block of houses decorated for the holiday season. Hampden is also near Wyman and Roosevelt public parks -- which offer walking, jogging and picnicking -- and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

With the exception of neighborhood bars and restaurants, Hampden doesn't have a bustling nightlife scene. It is, however, a short drive to downtown clubs and attractions.

The Giant Food in the Rotunda shopping center is the closest grocery store.

Restaurants run the gamut. There are diners such as Cafe Hon on The Avenue that serve American fare, and ethnic foods are well-represented in Hampden. Residents and visitors can enjoy Japanese, Mexican, Italian and Chinese fare.

brad.schleicher@baltsun.com