A little about Canton...
East of Fell’s Point on Baltimore’s outer harbor is Canton, a charming waterfront neighborhood founded in the late 19th century.
A quaint village square rimmed with restaurants, pubs and shops along O’Donnell Street is the heart of this neighborhood. But wander off Canton Square to the surrounding blocks and find the heart of Baltimore, from the nearly-lost Baltimore art form of the painted screen to window shrines and rows of classic marble stoops on traditional Baltimore brick and formstone row houses.
Canton is buffered by Patterson Park, once the country’s largest urban park, and Canton Waterfront Park. Much of Canton's unique flair comes from the seamless blend of the new and the historic.
Canton was founded as a waterfront plantation by Captain John O’Donnell at the end of the 18th century. O’Donnell had sailed to Maryland from Canton, China to sell a valuable cargo of teas, china, silk and satin. By 1800, O’Donnell’s plantation included 1,981 acres between Fells Point and Colgate Creek.
By the mid-1800’s, the O’Donnell plantation was transformed into a hub of commercial and industrial development, heavily influenced by the new Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Canton became the site of Baltimore’s first charcoal iron works, a cotton mill, a distillery and two new shipyards. These industrial businesses were soon joined by the Baltimore Copper Smelting Company and a series of small oil refineries that were later purchased by Standard Oil.
Canton’s industrial economy continued to boom into the 1900’s despite the Great Depression of 1929. The variety of industries represented by Canton’s corporations insured that the generations of immigrant workers (Welsh, German, Polish and Irish, primarily) were largely unaffected by economic conditions in the rest of the country.
However, in the mid-1900’s, the coming of the container ship era and the decline of smokestack industries began to hurt Canton industry and the area went into decline. As property values slumped, many families fled their row homes and moved to the Baltimore suburbs.
Today, Canton has been successfully transformed into a cozy, upscale waterfront community where newcomer young professionals and empty-nesters mix with lifelong Canton residents. This mix of old and new gives Canton a unique personality.
For example, when you walk the streets of Canton, screen paintings abound. Screen paintings are an artistic tradition started by a Baltimore grocer in 1913 when he adorned the window screens of his shop with paintings of meats and vegetables. The trend caught on quickly when neighbors recognized the privacy provided by the one-way effect of painted screens. While painted screens decreased in popularity with the advent of window air conditioning units in the 1960’s, the tradition is making a comeback, with many new residents inquiring where they can have their screens painted.
Formstone is another predominant feature of Canton row homes. Formstone was marketed in the 1940’s and 50’s as a product to refurbish and modernize existing buildings by covering deteriorating masonry and providing improved insulation. Since Canton row homes are constructed completely of brick, formstone held appeal for many residents. Today, many new residents are opting to remove the formstone and repoint the existing brick facades, however you will find formstone facades remaining on almost every Canton block.