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Cathedral Hill

Discover Charles Street > Your Charles Street Journey > Cathedral Hill


From 1815 to 1840 on the first hill above the harbor, Baltimore’s merchant princes built America’s first cathedral and first Unitarian church, and then found their own architectural voice in broad streets and dignified brick rowhouses. They built ships and then invented the railroad to bring the agricultural harvests to Baltimore for the ships to carry. For more than a hundred years, the residents of the hill created major institutions including Johns Hopkins Hospital and University, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the Peabody Institute. Their efforts put Baltimore on national and world maps.

Things to See in Cathedral Hill

  • 300 Block of North Charles Street — The three blocks of almost uninterrupted rowhouses line both sides of the narrowest part of Charles Street. Little has changed since 1830 except for shop fronts that were inserted a century ago and the big black telephone company building that was built in the 1970s.
  • Women’s Industrial Exchange (333 N. Charles Street) — Originally a private residence, the building was converted to a bakery, lunchroom, and a boarding house in the late 1890s. The lunchroom and shop sold cupcakes, chicken salad with tomato aspic, and hand embroidered baby caps, rag dolls, and knitted neck scarves. The lunchroom provided employment for the waitresses and the women selling the merchandise and provided income for the struggling homebound women who supplied the hand-made goods.  
  • Baltimore Basilica (408 N. Charles Street) — This church is the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in the United States. Construction began in 1805 and was complete in 1821. It is one of the finest examples of Neo-Classical architecture in the world.  Benjamin Henry Latrobe designed it for free as he was completing the U. S. Capitol for President Jefferson. It is considered a masterpiece of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, one of the new nation's first outstanding architects.
  • Enoch Pratt Free Library (400 Cathedral Street) — The Enoch Pratt Free Library, standing at Cathedral and Mulberry streets, was one of the nation’s first free libraries. The Central Branch building, built in 1933, is noted for its refined Art Deco styling. Along with its collection of books, the treasures inside are amazing, including the full-length portraits of Maryland’s proprietors in their finery, memorabilia of Edgar Allan Poe, and all of H.L. Mencken’s library books and manuscripts.
  • First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (2 W. Franklin Street) — This National Historic Landmark is very important to the Unitarian Church. In 1818 in this newly opened church (the first structure built for a Unitarian congregation in America) William Ellery Channing preached the sermon that became the central document of the faith. It is also impressive in its architecture. Designed by French architect Maximilian Godefroy, it was designed in the latest European style. Its coffered barrel vault ceiling was added in 1890 to improve acoustics in the sanctuary.
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