Baltimore’s linear neighborhoods in 1880

Baltimore Neighborhoods 1880I’ve been working for several years on a project that involves geocoding all the residents of several cities in 1880. Here is a historical puzzle. In the attached map of a portion of Baltimore, individual buildings have been coded as predominantly white or black. Almost always “predominantly” means all the residents are the same race.

I am used to thinking of neighborhoods as some sort of polygon, extending from a central core along the streets in every direction. In this case we see evidence of linear neighborhoods, where the “neighborhood” is defined solely by racial composition. Three north-south streets are nearly all black for many blocks (Dallas, Bethel, Durham),. The parallel streets are nearly all white.

First question: where have you seen this linear pattern before? I have not.
Second question: what is the source of this pattern on these particular streets? There must be some specific history to it.

I’ve made the red dots smaller on this map so that the black resiential pattern stands out more clearly. This section of the city was majority white.


3 thoughts on “Baltimore’s linear neighborhoods in 1880

  1. Stephen Matthews

    A very interesting pattern.
    The first thing that came to my mind but it is admittedly not quite the same are the old
    Charles Booth maps of London (1880s-1900s). These maps group street segments by a
    poverty classification scheme. The Booth maps are viewable online at the Charles Booth
    Online Archive ( So in contrast to the Baltimore example these
    maps do not use point/individual houses as the unit of analysis but rather clusters of
    houses along a street segment. The streets of London are color-coded based on seven
    poverty classes. There are a small number of sections of the city (e.g., East London)
    where there are 3-4 classes of poverty in close juxtaposition, occasionally alternating
    by street. That said nothing as dramatic as the linear pattern of Baltimore. Indeed,
    because Booth’s maps are based on a seven-class scheme rarely are the poverty class
    of two adjacent streets found at the opposite extreme of the poverty classification.
    Instead, the adjacent streets are more likely to be characterized in an adjacent
    poverty class. So the Booth maps use seven classes not a dichotomy and its ‘social
    class/poverty’ that is being mapped not race (black/white). The Booth maps are
    classics but the visual patterning is not as pronounced as the Baltimore example.

    – Stephen A. Matthews

  2. Tom Mulholland

    My immediate reaction was to see what I think you might find if you did a parrallel process (although in this case on a socio-economic basis) of New Town in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have stayed in what were staff quarters which were typically the back end of the main house. They would be above the stables which have now been converted into double garages. It is where the rubbish and sewage (literally) were to be found. So it would not surprise me to see that this was where black people would have had to live.

    Looking at Bethel Street South in streetview in google maps reinforces this impression. The narrow laneway and garage doors are similar in nature, if not age to those I have seen in Scotland. The other side of that would suggest that the maon houses would be on substantially larger street. A look at South Broadway has all the hallmarks of the more affluent address. The wide boulevard would have plenty of space for a carriage to turn in. This is consistent with the employee/servant to big house relationship.

    Since I have never been to the States I find it difficult to estimate the age of the buildings that are visible now. So I could be inferring too much from the current streetscape.

  3. Duane Marble

    As I recall, similar linear patterns were found in Ann Arbor, Michigan some decades ago. This was written up in a UM thesis by the late Donald Deskins.


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