From a hilltop in Carroll Park dominated by the Mount Clare Mansion, one can see the panorama of downtown Baltimore to the north, a reborn Montgomery Ward warehouse directly to the south, and, in every direction, the rooftops of the thousands of rowhouses that make up the neighborhood alternately known as Pigtown and Washington Village.

Two cement lions guard the gates of the Georgian mansion built in 1760. They seem to be serving as sentries for a neighborhood that, until recent years, had need for vigilance.

Two cement lions guard the gates at Mount Clare Mansion. (Sun photo by Amy Davis)

But the neighborhood named after the pigs that once ran from the B&O Railroad yards to the nearby slaughterhouses (see Pamplona, with pork, in Pigtown) is undergoing a renaissance that, community leaders say, will match its rich, edgy history with a solid, healthy future.

Those charged with making Pigtown work again say a lot has changed since the 1970s, when the area began losing residents and scaring off visitors with blight and crime. Now, the area is more livable for the 5,000 people who still call it home and more enticing to those just passing through.

While remaining a neighborhood of, by and for its longtime working-class residents, $300,000 townhouses are being built and rehabilitated older homes have flooded the market. A plan in progress to spruce up the neighborhood's main drag is also coming to fruition.

Roughly bounded by Pratt Street to the north, Monroe Street to the west and south and the Russell Street corridor to the east, Pigtown has a lot to offer travelers who want to make the trip 10 blocks west from the Inner Harbor to see what city life is all about, the area's boosters say.

But for all that's new, Pigtown's main attraction is its distant past. The neighborhood that produced legendary harmonica player Larry Adler and former state senator Julian "Jack" Lapides emanated from Mount Clare Mansion and its surrounding Carroll Farm, which doubled early on as the largest "pig iron" furnace in the colonies. The home, farm and furnace were built by Charles Carroll, a driving force behind the Maryland Constitution and the cousin of a more celebrated Baltimore namesake who signed the Declaration of Independence. Nowadays, the Mount Clare Museum House is manna for lovers of 18th- and 19th-century furniture and decorative arts.

Surrounding the mansion is Charles Carroll's old estate, now called Carroll Park. The 117-acre expanse includes the city's biggest and most complete skate park, new baseball fields, an historic stable, several basketball courts and a popular nine-hole public golf course.

The Gwynns Falls Greenway, a 14-mile-long hiking and biking trail that links the western suburbs to the Inner Harbor and waterfront neighborhoods, also passes through Carroll Park.

In the early 1800s, the neighborhood began to branch out into surrounding marshes -- soon to be streets -- and homes were built to the farm's east and west. To the east, black slaves freed from Carroll's farm moved in. Pigtown may have contained the largest number of free black residents during the 1800s. Many of their descendants still live in rowhouses east of Washington Boulevard.

"Back in the '30s and '40s, there might have been no more than five families who took up all seven blocks," says William "Bus" Chambers, 77, a lifelong resident there. "It's still like family down here."

Antiques of all kinds dominate the large interior room of Housewerks. (Photo by Beckie Burkhardt, Special to baltimoresun.com)

Black workers were among those hired by B&O during the industry's infancy to pour iron and lay rails. The railroad's history, plus dozens of old locomotives and rail cars, is laid out at the B&O Railroad Museum, considered by many enthusiasts to be the most important rail museum in the country. The museum's roundhouse building was once a manufacturing and repair center for B&O and occupies the exact physical spot where the nation's railroad industry started in 1827. The roundhouse suffered an extensive roof collapse after a blizzard in 2003 but has since reopened.

Although Mount Clare and the B&O Museum are the two can't-miss cultural highlights, Pigtown offers several other edifices of note to architectural tourists. The former Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. Valve House has been restored and turned into an architectural salvage store called Housewerks.

Other architectural oddities beckon: Idiosyncratic alley houses that date back to the 1850s can be found on the tiny blocks of Callender and Rhinehart streets. The city's first neon sign has been retrofitted and set up again above Fraternity Federal Savings and Loan (at 764 Washington Blvd.). And century-old brownstones have been rehabbed in the 500 block of Scott St.

Entertainment may be a bit harder to find -- boosters admit the area could use an infusion of nightlife and restaurants. However, locals point to one of the many neighborhood taverns as a good place to shoot pool and catch up on Pigtown lore.

The Washington Boulevard strip -- the neighborhood's main street -- does boast Patrick's, billed as the oldest Irish pub in the United States (its family-owned precursor opened in 1847), a sentimental favorite that sits on the neighborhood's northern fringe.

Baltimore's first neon sign has been retrofitted and reinstalled above the Fraternity Federal Savings and Loan. (Photo by Beckie Burkhardt, Special to baltimoresun.com)