By Christopher Parris
Fell’s Point is a historic waterfront neighborhood engrossed in history. That’s usually one of the first things that come to mind whenever anyone mentions the area. However, the more I ventured through the nooks and crannies of Fell’s Point in search of history, the more I found locales that emanated everything but history. The question that comes to mind now is, “Is keeping Fell’s Point’s buildings preserved the same as keeping history alive among construction?”
Located at the southeastern area of Baltimore and founded in 1726 by a man named William Fell, Fell’s Point has had a past of being a seafaring town due to the easy access into the Inner Harbor and former shipyards present as well. Now in Fell’s Point, different types of lifestyles, cultures, and people come together in a waterfront neighborhood full of cobblestone streets, pubs, shops, and more.
As I arrived inside my vehicle Gary, a beige 2003 Mitsubishi Galant, on the corner of Fleet and Ann Street, I felt an oddly familiar feel to the atmosphere around me when I stepped out of the driver’s side.
Surrounding me were buildings that were layered with the same type of bricks you can find in downtown Baltimore or any other city for that matter. I saw no signs of any foliage or anything that stood out that would help the street scream anything else but a concrete jungle. Fell’s Point wasn’t looking bright at all for me so far.
Reluctantly, I began to walk towards Broadway through Ann St., and an interesting event occurred. As if falling through the rabbit hole like Alice did in Wonderland, the world around me began to shift. Plant life seemed to sprout around me with slim trees sporting auburn colored leaves to signify the coming of fall, and leaves slowly descended from the tips of these trees and landing on the sidewalk below.
Continuing to walk, I saw one of the branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library stationed here in Fell’s Point. The layout of the front of the building seemed almost somewhat regal, with the stone work befitting to someone of the likes of royalty. However, when I began to walk around the side of the building, the windows were covered with 1970s-like shutter shades, blocking what could potentially be inside. Upon closer investigation on one of the pillars near the entrance, the library looked like it housed a Spanish Outreach program inside. The letters engraved in the pillar looked like they were grinded down from lack of maintenance so it may have not even been up to date.
As I walked toward Broadway, one of the most famous streets in Fell’s Point which is actually known for its broad width, there was a series of lofts that caught my attention in more ways than one.
Layered with black brick, there was a series of four eight feet tall windows that lined the building’s front, reflecting the sunlight’s rays. These lofts seemed very out of place compared to the rest of the scenery because right next to these modern buildings were small row homes that convey Fell’s Point history. This startling contrast made me begin to wonder about that question I asked myself earlier, whether the “history” of Fell’s Point was history.
As I journey further into Fell’s Point via Broadway, there was a small office placed on the corner of Broadway South. The office dealt with the selling of houses, townhomes, and apartments in the area. Pursuing my mission to find out if Fell’s Point historic days were in the past, what better way to find out the history behind building than people who are selling them?
Walking into the building, it looked like the office was just recently renovated with a freshly buffed floor and the incenting aroma of an Air Wick scent pulsating through the air. Another item that immediately got my attention was a young, rather stunning secretary with brunette hair and hazel eyes placed behind a mahogany desk.
“Good afternoon. I was curious if you could tell me a little bit about the historical significance of some of the old townhouses you’re selling?”
Immediately, her warm smile and everything else on her face dropped and responded, “If you would like to learn more about the properties on sale, feel free to visit our website,” she answered almost robotically.
I figured out rather quickly that she couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to tell me anything about those properties; I thought that secretaries should at least have a base knowledge of what their company is selling. I was already beginning to see the new and fancy outweigh the history in Fell’s Point. I never did get the name of the website from her either.
Walking out of the office, I peered to my right and I saw an enormous crane and a myriad of other construction equipment at Broadway Market North and Aliceanna Streets. The construction was for the implementation of brand new apartments to be placed square in the middle of Broadway. Not even completely built, the skeletons of what will soon be apartments dwarfed the surrounding three-story homes and row homes littered about in Fell’s Point.
Rather than seeing reparations on buildings, which I expected to see, I saw that they were building new additions around the old ones. I found it rather strange that Fell’s Point is known for its love of maintaining its old historical buildings, yet the neighborhood was building right on top of them.
As I began to walk toward Broadway Pier, one of Fell’s Point’s iconic landmarks, the shops littered on either side of me were somewhat quaint yet seedy-looking, as if they were waiting for a potential buyer to walk in any one of the stores and be ensnared by their traps consisting of frilly jewelry and designer-like clothing.
Finally at the end of Broadway Pier, I was graced with the history of Fell’s Point. To the left where the sometimes visiting vessels that arrive every once in a while and the water taxi landing that intertwines itself throughout the Inner Harbor, the City Recreation Pier still stands. The Recreation Pier used to funnel immigrants looking for a new life in Fell’s Point and functioned as a commercial pier in its prime. The pier also had recreational facilities such as a ballroom and a meeting place for young people among the population and filmed a show called Homicide: Life on the Street from 1992-1999. The pier is somewhat a shadow of its former self. The docking entrance is all but destroyed at the end of the pier and trees have begun to sprout out on the side from where the ferry used to pull in. The small waterfront neighborhood had such an attachment to the pier; they decided to erect bricks that were placed at the end of Broadway Pier to commemorate them.
Standing on the end of Broadway Pier, my mind began to wander. How many people have walked this pier? How many different ships from foreign nations have docked at Broadway Pier, exploring an entirely different culture?
From the distance, I could see the Domino’s Sugar sign that almost every Baltimorean knows about. Feeling fully invigorating and with a renewed sense of hope, I began to continue my journey through Fell’s Point in search of history. Thames Street cuts near the pier and on it was the iconic cobblestone road that many residents of Fell’s Point call their pride and joy. However, the nostalgia of history’s past was cut short with the sighting of asphalt filling in for what it seemed to be a pothole in the road. It killed the ambiance and what little my mood had perked up from after the Recreation Pier.
Walking down Thames Street, I encountered on Brown’s Wharf a restaurant called Shuckers, which also overlooks the harbor. When I approached the building, it was completely stripped down to its bare foundation on the inside, like someone had ransacked the place in search of something. I asked a bystander walking by if they knew what had happened.
“Oh Shuckers? Yeah, they shut that down this past summer because they owed a lot of money in rent, so they got an eviction notice. But to be honest, their food was kind of shitty.”
I was slightly taken aback by the sheer honesty of the man, but appreciated it. I hoped that at least any type of new ownership would bring back life to the otherwise empty corner at the wharf.
Instead of continuing on Thames Street, I decided to walk behind the closed down restaurant and walk up along the edge of the harbor. Three Baltimore City workers in charge of cleanup were sitting along the edge. About 50 feet away perched in the water was a machine unlike anything I had seen before. A garbage boat or a trash skimmer helps collect trash floating around in a body of water, trapping the floating the floating debris and later disposing it in another location. It was nice to see that the water, that is deemed polluted by most residents here in Baltimore and Fell’s Point, was being kept in trying to keep it clean.
As I proceeded towards my next destination, Bond Street Wharf, I walked past an alleyway where a small crane was sitting there surrounded by two men depicting which part of the building they wanted to take down first. Again, it brought me to question if Fell’s Point really was Fell’s Point anymore. While change is necessary in order to move on from the past and improve on the future, is it right to completely strip everything away without homage to the past?
Arriving at Bond Street Wharf, I didn’t find a wharf at all. What I found was an office building with small business inside and “Do Not Walk On Grass” signs strewn about the area. A door lady gave me a somewhat abrasive look to make sure I wasn’t causing any trouble or had walked on the grass I suppose. What remained of the original wharf was a small pier that looked destroyed from contestant water damage and termites with boards of wood littered about. Just as I walked away, a middle aged woman walked her two miniature poodles on the grass. Instantly, the woman guarding the entrance to the office was yelling at her to take the dogs off the grass and to continue to walk past the building. Just then, my stomach began to make a gurgling noise.
Finding food wasn’t a problem in Fell’s Point. What made it into a nice challenge was to find a place not many people went to. As I aimlessly wandered around Broadway Market, a sign on a window from Sal’s Seafood, near Broadway Market South, garnered my attention: Alligator Tacos: $10.00.
I walked in and the intense smell of the different types of seafood caught me off guard. The ceiling was covered with Barry the Bass wall mounts, each one capable of singing some type of song if anyone could reach to touch the button.
“Hello sir can I help you today?” said the Latino man wearing an apron covered with fish guts behind the counter.
“Can I try the alligator tacos please?” I said in a somewhat nervous type of voice.
“Oh yeah Carlos! We got a guy willing to try some alligator today!,” he said with a smirk on his face. I took a seat in a small corner, close to where they sold their seafood to people just looking to get in and get out quickly.An enticing aroma quickly filled the air as I heard the alligator sizzle as it hit the griddle in the background. It was almost as if I could smell all the different types of seasonings hop right off the alligator and into my stomach.
As the man named Carlos came up to my table to deliver my alligator tacos, I was immediately mesmerized by the type of tortillas that the meat was wrapped around. Holding the tortilla, which was made from corn, I bit into the cilantro-covered alligator with just a hint of season salt and lettuce. Almost instantly, I reached a state of pure, tangy bliss. From one bite, I got a taste of the fresh produce they used in the taco, the wonderful texture of the alligator that was somewhere along the lines of part steak and part chicken, and the mildly spicy sauce they used to accentuate the flavors as well. As I devoured the last piece of the alligator tacos, I left the small dive in search of the history that was desperately lacking in this adventure before I left.
Shakespeare Street, where the Fell’s family grave and their first family home are located, couldn’t have been wider than 20 feet from townhouse to townhouse. When I walked through the claustrophobic street, it seemed just like any other street located in any other city; cars were parked one behind the other ranging from the luxurious to the downright decrepit. Some townhouses already had some Christmas decorations set up, as if they were working from an entirely different time schedule than the rest of the neighborhood.
Almost mistaking the empty space next to a townhouse as a random parking spot, I arrived at the Fell’s Family grave. Assortments of leaves with a variety of fall colors were piled around the small four feet block of stone. Engraved were the name Fell and the years in which the Fells died. Right next to the grave was the first house the Fell’s had lived in when they first arrived in Fell’s Point. The tall navy blue front door had been clearly kept maintained for onlookers that had happened to walk by on the street, away from the rest of Fell’s Point. I marveled at how pristine it looked until I looked up to see a giant hole in one of the second floor windows in the building. Well, so much for respecting history.
As I began to wander back to Gary, my mind began to rewind everything I did that day and what I had witnessed. Was I disappointed? I most certainly was. Did I get a chance to explore and explore new things? I most certainly did. History was most certainly present at Fell’s Point, but like most things in life, something that is worth searching for in the world is usually hidden. You just have to look at it at the right angle.