By Craig Lee
No neighborhood epitomizes Baltimore quirk more than Hampden. The neighborhood mascot is the pink flamingo, John Waters is an idol, and it has the feel of a small town away from the city. Hampden is known for being the birthplace of HONfest and having the thickest “Bawlmerese” in the city. The Avenue, or 36th street, Hampden’s busiest street, plays host to a bevy of small, locally-owned shops and restaurants with eclectic owners who will treat you as if you’ve been in the neighborhood your whole life. But Hampden wasn’t always as eccentric as it is today.
Nestled between Druid Hill Park and the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus, Hampden was a community that survived off of a cluster of mills along the Jones Falls, just north of Baltimore City. The residential population was primarily composed of mill workers, many of whom had relocated from Appalachia to find work. Baltimore City annexed the community in 1889 and it remained a mill community for much of its existence. The 1960s rang in the arrival of the “beehive hairdo” and the legendary working-class Baltimore woman. And most recently, Hampden was named the eighth hottest neighborhood in America in 2016 by Business Insider.
While the mills are no longer operating for their original purpose, they haven’t gone to waste. In the past 10 years, the large historic buildings that once fed the busy port of Baltimore have been renovated and repurposed into apartments, offices, restaurants, and a gym. The row homes that sit above the Baltimore skyline (which you can see from Chestnut and 36th on a clear day) are now painted in vibrant colors and the residents that fill them are young professionals, families just getting their start, students, artists, musicians, and the occasional lifetime Hampdenite. Both sides of The Avenue are lined with shops, bars, and restaurants where the daytime wanderer can find books and novelties, and the nighttime adventurer need not want of food and drink.
You will not go hungry in Hampden. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re in the mood for oysters, gourmet pizza, vegetarian, or just a good old-fashioned burger, there’s a place that will satisfy your cravings. Oh, you’re a beer snob? There’s two breweries, Union Craft Brewing and Waverly Brewing Company, that interestingly sit on opposing sides of the Jones Falls.
You can find just about anything your heart desires in one of the shops in Hampden. Need some books? Atomic Books and Charlotte Elliott and the Bookstore Next Door have got you covered. How about a fun gift for your Aunt? Stop into Kiss N’ Makeup and you’ll leave with gifts for your whole family and a good laugh. Feeling a little curious and odd? Bazaar will not disappoint. Jewelry at The Parisian Flea, shoes at Ma Petite Shoe, Pies at Dangerously Delicious, pet goods at Howl, and the list goes on.
And for those worried about sacrificing nature for city life – fret not, for Hampden is surrounded by Parks. Wyman Park sits to the east, offering a dog park, trails, and a peaceful creek for meditation or to cool your feet off. Druid Hill Park to the south and west is the largest park in Baltimore, holds the Maryland Zoo, and is a runner’s delight. Roosevelt Park is the perfect park for summer weather, where you can sit in the open sunlight or get a little shade, bring your skateboard, or take a dip in the public pool, conveniently located on Poole Street.
But the best part about Hampden is the people. They’re quirky, odd, and some you really shouldn’t try to understand. But for the most part they’ll accept you no matter who you are or where you are from. They’ll wave to you from across the street, let you pet their dog, and welcome you into their family. In the summer you’ll hang out on your front porches together laughing at the poor parallel parkers, and in the winter they’ll help you shovel out your car. As a resident of Hampden myself, I can honestly say that I’ve never felt more at home than I have in this neighborhood.
Before you settle into Hampden, there’s a few traditions you should know about so you can blend in a little easier. There are many events in Hampden that happen every year. Early and late summer play host to HONfest and Hampdenfest, respectively. One hosts the infamous beehive hairdos and flamingos and the other hosts, well, the Toilet-Bowl races. Halloween is the second most popular holiday in Hampden, where hundreds of kids hit the streets for trick-or-treating, and houses are decorated almost or more ornately than at Christmas, so please dress appropriately. And you’ve seen the movie Miracle on 34th Street, yes? Well Hampden has its nationally known Miracle on 34th Street, it’s just a little more…Hampden.
All right, we know it’s next to Homewood, but what about us that study and work on the East Baltimore Campus? Hampden is minutes away from the School of Nursing. Hop on Interstate 83 south, make a left on Fayette Street, and you’re there. Or if you’re not in the mood to drive, Johns Hopkins Keswick Campus has a shuttle stop that takes you right to the East Baltimore Campus (great for those bad weather days). Hampden is perfect for students who want to set their creative side free.