A lesson in Baltimore neighborhood naming colloquialisms

What's in a neighborhood name? B'more colloquialisms...

Time to indulge in an exploration of Baltimore neighborhood naming colloquialisms.

News reporters are often guided by the boundaries created by the Baltimore Police Department. Baltimore residents tend not to be governed by these lines defining neighborhoods. Neighborhood names and quadrants can be something of a state of mind. We use a shorthand for the places we've known all our lives.

I have observed South Baltimore, excluding Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, undergo a name change. South Baltimore once meant only the peninsula bounded by the Northwest and Middle branches of the Patapsco River and tipped by Fort McHenry. It ended on the south at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge on Hanover Street and in the west at the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks that terminate at Camden Station. This South Baltimore included smaller communities — Locust Point, Sharp-Leadenhall and Otterbein.

Brooklyn, Cherry Hill and Curtis Bay, while located in the southern section of the city, had names of their own and were not part of South Baltimore. If that sounds lacking in logic, it is.

In the 1970s, the term Federal Hill gained in usage for the Montgomery Street and Warren and Riverside avenues section. The name found so much favor that today it's shortened to Fed Hill and describes a larger area, including the landmark Cross Street Market. Fed Hill has gained traction and seems to describe the bar and restaurant scene here, too.

I am fascinated by the terms used within a neighborhood. Parts of my family arrived in today's Fed Hill in the 19th century. They spent many summer evenings catching a breeze on park benches atop Federal Hill Park. They shortened the experience by saying, "We're going up the hill."

The part of the family who resided in today's Charles Village (a name coined in 1967) described trips "up the road." That was code for shopping along Waverly's Greenmount Avenue, the thoroughfare that was once York Road.

Hampden's 36th Street has another name, simply The Avenue. I know of two other The Avenues — Pennsylvania Avenue (at Laurens Street) and Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown.

A great deal of Northeast Baltimore adheres to the Northwood label. In recent years, places such as Arcadia, Lauraville and Beverly Hills have asserted their names. Because they were transit destinations, Hamilton and Gardenville also enjoy recognition.

The term West Baltimore can cause a debate. I think of West Baltimore as beginning at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and running to the Baltimore County line. Northwest Baltimore begins at a nebulous place above North Avenue — and would include the old suburbs of Walbrook and Windsor Hills. Southwest Baltimore begins south of West Baltimore Street and includes Hollins Market, Pigtown and Carroll Park.

The names for downtown Baltimore are all over the map. While I grew up saying "going downtown" for department store shopping and the Lexington Market, my South Baltimore grandmother said she was "going uptown." We both arrived at the same destination.

If you had legal or banking business, you might say, logically, you were off to the Court House. Going to City Hall was a specific destination, but it tended to mean a sub-area of downtown somewhat beyond Holliday Street. The Block was always just that.

There was no Inner Harbor 50 years ago. That body of water was either the harbor, the basin or the Patapsco. Harbor East was Aliceanna Street — and hard to find.

I grew up hearing Fells Point described as simply "the foot of Broadway." Fells Point, as a name, seemed to be confined to old maps in 1955. On the other hand, Patterson Park, Canton and Highlandtown, as well as Bayview, held their own in usage. Oldtown, a historic area where the Jones Falls joined the Patapsco River, is less recognized.

Little Italy always seemed to enjoy a secure recognition basis in Baltimore naming, often because of its bountiful restaurants. As in "going up the road", or "downtown," you were off to Chipp's or Sab's.

You know what I mean.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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