Editor’s note: The Stone Hill profile is one article in The Sun’s City of Neighborhoods series, spotlighting Baltimore communities. Other neighborhoods in the series: Highlandtown, Mount Winans, Stonewood-Pentwood-Winston, Dickeyville and Ashburton.
Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood is famous for Honfest and the Christmas lights on 34th Street. But few know about Stone Hill, the historic mini-neighborhood lying at its southern tip. This secluded cluster of homes along the Jones Falls was built as millworkers’ housing around the 1840s, when Hampden was part of Baltimore County.
“What sold me was the feeling of a real village,” says resident Shana Boscak, who lives in a duplex stone house that she and husband Alexis converted into a single home. In her neighborhood: “We all know each other.”
A plaque from the National Register of Historic Places informs guests that they are entering “a patriarchal industrial hamlet built circa 1840 by the Mt. Vernon Mill Co.”
The neighborhood was designed so that managers could keep a close watch on workers, who passed by the boss’ house on the way to work. Today’s residents enjoy the luxury of spacious lawns for kids to play on, and the proximity to nearby Wyman Park as well as the Jones Falls trail.
The oldest part of Hampden, Stone Hill shares similar demographics to the surrounding neighborhood, a majority white, formerly blue-collar enclave that’s been gentrifying for decades.
The Jones Falls stream powered generations of mills, helping make Baltimore an engine of commerce. It was here that 18th-century wealthy flour miller Elisha Tyson built a stately home — one of the oldest houses in Stone Hill. A Quaker and early antislavery advocate, Tyson also helped enslaved people flee bondage, says Mark Thistel. With his wife, Thistel bought Tyson’s historic home and spent years restoring it. (The couple rents out a neighboring rowhome on Airbnb.)
In the 19th century, the Mount Vernon Mill Co. bought Tyson’s home and the land surrounding it, building stone duplexes for worker employed at its factories, which produced cotton duck fabric for ship sails. Employees paid discounted rent to live in the houses, which the mill sold to private individuals in the 1920s.
Bill Sullivan remembers falling asleep to the rhythmic “ch-chunk, ch-chunk” of the textile looms across the way when he was growing up in Stone Hill in the 1960s. He would later work at the mills while a high school student at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, sweeping floors for $1.10 an hour. The mills shut down in 1972, and many former residents left, too. Now retired after a career with the US Postal Service, Sullivan may be the only resident from the old days who still lives here, in his childhood home that retains the wood paneling his father installed decades ago.
The faint whirr of the Jones Falls Expressway has replaced the sound of machinery. The micro-neighborhood of 21 granite duplexes is bordered by Chestnut Ave. to the west and Kewsick Road to the east. Concrete staircases provide easy access to the neighboring mills along the Jones Falls, which are now home to businesses and restaurants like Cosima. The Mill Centre, formerly Mill No. 3., houses a gym, artist studios and other offices.
Things to do
Stone Hill is a short walk to the shops and restaurants of surrounding Hampden, but residents also seem content with gardening their substantial lawns or tending to kids playing in front yards. Last Halloween, residents passed out personalized bags of treats to costumed children.
While statistics for Stone Hill aren’t available. Hampden is 90% white, according to an analysis by Baltimore’s planning department in 2018. That’s far higher than the city average; Baltimore is just around 30% white. Hampden has a history of excluding nonwhites and other perceived outsiders. Catholics, Jewish people and African Americans were historically barred from living in Stone Hill. The Ku Klux Klan held a carnival in an adjacent field in the 1920s.
Median household income in Hampden was nearly $80,000 in 2018, significantly higher than the city’s median of $50,379. Unemployment was 5% in 2018, 2% lower than the city’s rate. And the median home sales price was over $200,000, more than twice the city’s median.
The neighborhood’s population was just below 7,000 in 2010, the most recent data available. According to City Councilwoman Odette Ramos, whose district includes the neighborhood, that number has grown significantly since then with the addition of various housing units like 400 apartments at the ICON in Rotunda.
Transit and walkability
Live Baltimore gives Hampden a walkability score of 81, and a transit score of 51. Stone Hill residents are close to the Jones Falls bike trail and Maryland Avenue Cycle track, making an easy and environmentally-friendly commute to downtown Baltimore.
Residents are in charge of maintaining the neighborhood roads, and many are in a state of disrepair. The reason stems from the fact that the original deeds to the homes included half of the street.
Be prepared to get to really know your neighbors: Those who live in duplex homes report hearing significant noise from adjacent homes, though some residents, including Shana Boscak, have converted duplexes into single units. Residents say the historic homes, however charming, often require costly repairs and can be hard to heat.
Hampden is relatively crime-free compared to the rest of the city; no homicides were reported in the zip code last year, and just one in 2019. In contrast, Baltimore recorded almost 700 homicides during that time.
Shana Boscak is president of the Stone Hill Neighborhood Association.
Odette Ramos (D), Baltimore City Council, District 14.
Regina T. Boyce (D), Maggie McIntosh (D), Curt Anderson (D), Mary Washington (D), District 43.