June 14, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Living Among Abundance: Reflecting on Hollins Market

Hollins Market (a somewhat modern view) was conceived of in 1835, when George T. Dunbar donated a plot of land in West Baltimore to the city for the purpose of the erection of a public market. Joseph Newman led the building efforts, and the wood-structured market opened in 1836.

It was part of a network of Baltimore markets that served the needs of their local neighborhoods and communities. List below is from the 1880 Baltimore City Directory.

Storms destroyed the early market, but a more solid structure was built a year later, with additions added. Another rebuilding happened in 1839, with a large hall placed above on a second floor.

Market stalls were sold to the public, and many owners became vendors. These stalls continued outdoors, along the blocks of Hollins Street that headed eastward, where stall numbers were carved into the granite curbs. Some owners rented out space to others, and close to 400 indoor and outdoor stalls sold their wares. These included meats, produce, seafood, baked goods, housewares and prepared foods.

The hall above served many social purposes, including as a temporary home for St. Paul’s M.E. Church in the 1860’s. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were celebrated by the Land League there in the 1880’s.

It also was the temporary home of the Maryland Institute in the years following the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. The art college had space above Center Market, but their former building was a total loss.

A large gymnasium was built upstairs as well, and Baltimore’s first professional basketball team, known as the Baltimore Arcadians played teams from the Federal League there. A women’s professional basketball team also played there, and it must not have been dull. They played the sport on roller skates.

Kevin Hughes shared this photograph of his ancestor for our enjoyment! Claude Lowery Hughes played for five seasons for the Federals, and recalled that an exhibition game with the women's team earned him a broken nose, courtesy of a flying roller skate. You've been warned, fellas.

Hollins Hall, on the second floor of the Market, was closed in 1968.

The Market continues today at the corner of Hollins St. and S. Carrollton Ave., albeit in a modest condition. Hollins Market is one of several markets in Baltimore that are being developed into a more modern concept, and we look forward to frequenting it once again as these plans become a reality.

The Irish were similar to many ethnic immigrant groups that fled Europe. Most laboring class families left lands where hunger was a constant presence. Families arriving at Ellis Island in later years were struck by the abundant meals served there. It seemed like a Christmas or Sabbath Day feast, and many wondered what kind of land they had entered. Some even commented that the "bread tasted like cake"!

Their hunger had been caused by more than just poverty. Some were from bartering cultures, and the trauma of war, and the transition of farmland from crop production to grazing land left nothing to trade for, and barren markets were common. Many had a single crop or farm product available to them, and another day of potatoes was the reality for many an Irish family.

Baltimore’s abundant public markets were places that received tremendous amounts of foodstuffs from the fruitful surrounding truck farms, located in the “horseshoe” of counties that surrounded the city. Meat, dairy, cold storage crops and the produce of the season flowed daily into the public markets of Baltimore, and modest families had hundreds of places that were happy to sell them what they could afford.

The markets themselves proved to be magnets for related businesses, and also served as supply points for the thousands of horse-and-cart men, known as "Arabbers", who fanned out through neighborhoods. Once desperate for food of any sort, the city’s immigrant population could shop all they wanted, or even wait for the market to come to their front stoop, via the “Arabbers”, when they couldn’t get out of the house. These cart men led their highly decorated horse-and-wagons along Baltimore’s alley streets, shouting out their offerings of the day for housewives to consider.

Today’s pictures include views of the eastern and western terminus of Hollins Market's street stalls (below): beginning at Hollins and Carrollton Sts., and continuing for blocks until ending at Hollins and Poppleton Sts., where the significant columned building known as St. Peter the Apostle Church stood.

Young boys (below) were also known to earn a little pocket money at the Market. Overburdened shoppers could hire them for a penny or two as they helped them get home with their packages.

We are delighted to present several photographs in this issue of “The Big Pivot” series from John McGrain, who recently passed away. He was a dear man and capable historian in the greater Baltimore area. John took these shots in 1962.

For the really curious, we encourage you to revisit the film Avalon, produced by Baltimore native Barry Levinson. The film contains several images taken in the Hollins Market neighborhood.

Photos below courtesy of John McGrain

Chesapeake Bay blue crabs for sale....a familiar Baltimore summer treat!

Receive your Baltimore Irish History fix directly to your inbox

Get more ideas on what to do on the
Baltimore Travel Guide.