Discover Charles Street
In every great city, there is a great street central to the history that unfolded around it. Such is the case of Baltimore’s Charles Street. Most likely named for Charles Carroll of Annapolis (1702-1782), the street reflects Baltimore’s progress over three centuries. Charles Street connects the natural wooded landscapes of Baltimore County with the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore and Federal Hill neighborhood. Today the Charles Street National Scenic Byway serves as a pathway to the many fascinating features of Baltimore, including its history, architecture, and culture.
All along the 12-mile length of Charles Street are museums, cultural institutions, and historic neighborhoods. Our virtual guide, "Your Charles Street Journey," highlights the history, people, and places that have shaped this amazing avenue.
Charles Street History
Charles Street is one of the oldest thoroughfares in the United States. Sections of the street are likely based on a Susquehannock trail, predating the arrival of Europeans to North America. When Baltimore Town was laid out by Maryland’s colonial legislature in 1729, the then-unnamed street passed by an existing farm home near the present-day intersection of Charles and Lombard streets. Briefly known as Forest (or Forrest), the road was being referred to as Charles Street by at least 1761.
The completion of Baltimore’s Washington Monument along Charles Street in 1829 spurred upscale residential development in the vicinity of the memorial to the nation’s first president. Today the area is known as Mount Vernon. Grand architecture and visionary institutions, such as the Walters Art Museum and the Peabody Institute, make Mount Vernon a beloved gem in the city. The Mount Vernon Place Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971.
The Great Fire of 1904 and the subsequent rebuilding greatly reshaped Charles Street. The reach of the fire is most evident in the streetscape in the 200 block of North Charles Street. As one travels north, the broad avenue suddenly becomes narrower past Lexington Street. The fire destroyed much of the downtown south of Lexington, allowing city planners to redevelop the street in a wider fashion. The 300 block, lined with two- to three-story buildings from the late 19th century, provides clues on how much of Charles Street looked before the Great Fire of 1904.
Charles Street in downtown Baltimore was again reshaped in the late 20th century. Beginning in the 1950s, a series of new developments brought new office buildings, residential towers, civic plazas, and a performing arts venue to the downtown area along Charles Street. In the late 1970s, the Inner Harbor was revitalized with the opening of HarborPlace, a retail and dining complex just a block away from Charles Street.
The importance of Charles Street to the city and Baltimore County is reflected in two special honors. In 2006, the entire 12-mile span of Charles Street was designated a Maryland Scenic Byway. In 2009, Charles Street received designation as a national scenic byway, one of only four primarily located in an urban setting.