Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of occasional articles inspired by readers' curiosity. What do you wonder about the Baltimore area that you'd like us to investigate? Tell us at baltimoresun.com/ask.
Annie Milli knows how passionate Baltimore’s residents are about the city’s neighborhoods.
As the executive director of Live Baltimore — which tasks itself with mapping out all 278 neighborhoods over 92 square miles — she’s heard her share of arguments.
“Not everybody agrees with the way Live Baltimore defines neighborhoods, and we definitely get feedback from residents,” she said. “When you ask people where they’re from and which neighborhood they live in, you’ll get a couple of different answers.”
Live Baltimore and the city build their maps using Neighborhood Statistical Areas, which are defined by the city’s Department of Planning every 10 years during the U.S. Census.
However, Milli added that while her group counts 278 neighborhoods, more than 400 neighborhood associations are registered with the planning department, which would create overlaps and uncovered areas.
Of course, every neighborhood needs a name. And with so many to label, there are bound to be some weird ones in the bunch.
In the latest installment in a series of occasional articles inspired by readers’ curiosity, The Baltimore Sun looked into the origin stories behind five unique neighborhood names.
This Southwest Baltimore neighborhood’s origin story starts with the obvious: pigs.
Before it became known as Pigtown, the area was first called Cattle Quarter in the late 1800s because livestock would be herded through it to slaughterhouses in South Baltimore and along Wilkens Avenue.
However, sometime in the early 1900s, swines became the dominant livestock in the area.
There are long-held rumors that Pigtown residents used to steal their namesake animals.
Kim Lane, executive director of nonprofit Pigtown Main Street, said the legend is rooted in the narrow rowhomes that line many of the residential neighborhoods. Lane said the houses would regularly have the kitchen set up in the basement, so people would allegedly steal their next meal by wrangling passing pigs through their basement windows.
Known more now as the childhood home of Freddie Gray and emblematic of Baltimore’s racial segregation, Sandtown has a rich heritage. Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and jazz musician Billie Holliday both at one point called the West Baltimore neighborhood home.
In the early 1900s, the area gained a reputation as a working-class community, with companies like Schmidt Baking Co. and Lafayette Market serving as major employers.
According to the group Men of Sandtown, the neighborhood got its name from “the sand that fell out of the backs of horse-drawn carriages and trucks going to and from the sand and gravel quarry located on Monroe, Laurens and [Presstman] Streets.”
As for the Winchester part of the name, Eli Pousson, director of preservation and outreach at Baltimore Heritage, said the earliest reference he could find about its origins was in a 1976 Baltimore Sun article about the “Sandtown-Winchester Community Corrections Steering Committee.” The article claims the group is “known by two old names of neighborhoods in the area,” meaning Winchester was likely its own neighborhood before merging with Sandtown.
He said the name is “almost certainly” based on Winchester Street, which was opened in 1867.
“Given the year the street was opened and the significance of Winchester, Virginia, during the Civil War, I’d guess it is named after the city in Virginia,” Pousson wrote in a message.
In north Baltimore, Hoes Heights may be one of the city’s more strangely named neighborhoods. And it doesn’t have anything to do with a particular piece of farming equipment.
Rather, its name comes from a historic Baltimore figure: Grandison Hoe.
Bryson Dudley, a volunteer with the Maryland Historical Society, wrote for the society that Hoe was a “freed slave in Antelbellum Baltimore who once owned and operated a farm on the location.”
The property, which stretched north to what is now Roland Heights Avenue and west to Falls Road, was valued at $3,600 with an estate worth $200 in 1860, Dudley wrote.
Beverly Hills is a relatively small northeast Baltimore neighborhood situated between Moravia-Walther, Arcadia and Lauraville.
According to Pousson, the builders of the neighborhood began calling the area Beverly Hills around 1923. Live Baltimore says the neighborhood and its association were both formally established in 1929, soon after the majority of the homes in there were built.
So why Beverly Hills? Were the developers huge fans of the California city that was founded about two decades earlier?
Unfortunately, Pousson and officials with the Baltimore City Archives could not come up with a definitive reason as to why this particular development is so named.
Pousson posited that the neighborhood could be tied to a Beverly or Beverlen Street constructed in South Baltimore in the 1800s, but wrote in an email “I don’t know if that has any relationship to the builder’s decision to use that name to start promoting the neighborhood in 1923.”
City archivist Rob Schoeberlein wrote in an email that it could also derive from the name of the developers, the Beverly Hills Corp., citing a 1923 Baltimore Sun article that says “a 65-acre tract of land in the Lake Montebello section has been acquired from the Weaver estate by the Beverly Hills Corporation.”
So many hyphens and syllables.
Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello — or CHM for short — is another northeastern Baltimore neighborhood with a rich history.
According to Live Baltimore, the region used to house the large estates of several prominent Baltimore families, including that of Revolutionary War general and lawmaker Samuel Smith.
Much like the hyphens holding the tendons of this neighborhood together would suggest, its name appears to derive from three parts of its origins.
The “Coldstream” may come from the estate of a man who served as the namesake for another Baltimore landmark, Patterson Park. William Patterson’s estate lay northwest of the park named after him.
Pousson pointed to a passage in “Baltimore’s Patterson Park,” a book written by Tim Almaguer, the director of strategic partnerships for the city’s Recreation and Parks department, which refers to William Patterson’s estate as Coldstream.
The “Homestead” comes from the name of a suburban village established in the area in the 1800s.
In John Thomas Scharf’s 1881 book “History of Baltimore City and County, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day,” Scharf writes the push for a suburban neighborhood began as far back as 1852.
Homestead became known as the neighborhood “within a few moments’ walk of Lake Clifton, the estate of Horace Abbott, that of the late Thomas Kelso, and President Garrett’s ‘Montebello.’” Scharf wrote.
Finally, “Montebello” originates from the name of Samuel Smith’s country house, which he began building in 1799, Pousson said.
In “The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History,” author Robert L. Alexander writes that the country house that bore the Montebello name “stood on several hundred acres off Harford Road.”
“Striking and beautiful, Montebello assembled all elements of the Adam style,” he wrote. “Who designed it remains a mystery.”