Ah yes, rowhomes. They’re found in cities all over the United States and are especially meaningful to us here in Baltimore. Maybe you just drive by them or maybe you drive home to them, either way you’ve got to admit there’s something to love about the charm of these compact, efficient, and simple homes that have shaped our culture and community for over two centuries. But how much do you really know about the history of the rowhome?
We’re here to fill you in with 5 things you probably didn’t know.
#1 The first rowhomes appeared in Baltimore all the way back in the late 1700’s.
Rowhomes first came to America with early British settlers. They soon formed the backbone of East Coast cities. But while a lot of cities built rowhomes by the hundreds, Baltimore built them by the thousands. Between 1790 and 1800, Baltimore’s population actually doubled from 13,500 to 26,500. So you would guess that there was an immediate need for new housing, and lots of it!
By sandwiching houses together, builders realized they could fit more houses as land became scarce. It was also much easier to build these houses since they were often done at the same time. Some were elegant large homes with elaborate interior details, while others were simple for room, two bay wide homes.
#2 The oldest known rowhomes in Baltimore are wooden frame houses.
In 1799, a law was passed banned the construction of wood-frame row homes due to fires. After 1799 the homes constructed were all made of brick as required by law. Very few wooden frame rowhomes currently exist, but a few can still be found on South Wolfe Street in historic Fells Point.
In the heart of Fell’s Point stands a rather ordinary rowhome that you might just walk by thinking nothing of it. But this particular rowhome on 812 South Ann Street actually has a very different front façade, noticeably different from its neighbors. Named for its builder and first resident, the Robert Long House, completed circa 1765, is actually the oldest surviving residence in Baltimore.
# 3 There is a difference between a rowhome, a townhouse, and a brownstone.
While these three terms may be used interchangeably by those who aren’t familiar, there are some differences between a rowhome, a townhouse, and a brownstone. A rowhome and a townhouse are very similar, however townhouses aren’t necessarily built all in one identical row. Rowhomes will be built to line a street in a row, whereas townhouses tend to be built in different layouts within a development.
Rowhomes also tends to be a little more basic and less fancy than a townhouse. Brownstones are also similar, but they differ mostly on the outside. A brownstone is a particular style of townhouse or rowhome that’s is faced in brownstone — a reddish-brown sandstone used as a 19th century building material.
#4 Rowhomes originated in Europe.
As already mentioned, rowhomes originated over in Europe and were brought here to the east coast by early British settlers. One of the earliest known examples of rowhome construction is Paris’ Place des Vosges. Known in Europe as “terrace housing.” The Palace des Vosges is one of the city’s oldest squares and the oldest known example of urban city planning in Europe. Built from 1605 to 1612, the near-identical homes form a continuous facade overlooking the square and share side walls and a uniform roof line. The square’s design certainly did its part to launch a new builders trend for rowhomes that still continues in our cities today.
#5 In 1905, open porches were added to the front of the better row homes.
You may notice that not all rowhomes are the same. Some of them offer homeowners a front open porch area to enjoy. That is because as elite rowhome owners began to move out to more single- family homes in suburban areas, builders needed to find something new to offer to attract buyers to rowhomes again. The open porches were an attempt to offer homeowners similar options to single-family houses like a large, columned front porch with small front yards. They also began adding second story bay windows and decorated cornices.
It’s safe to say that living in a rowhome in Baltimore is living in a very important piece of history. Do you know some other interesting facts about rowhomes that you want to share? Comment below and let us know!