Baltimore's fragrant, gleaming Lexington Market, the world's largest, continuously running market for more
than six generations, has exceeded the 230-year mark in its history. Old as the nation itself, Lexington
Market has been a wonderful Baltimore tradition since 1782 at the original site it occupies today, on
Lexington Street, between Eutaw and Greene Streets.General John Eager Howard, a hero of the American
Revolution, donated the land for the market, named for the Battle of Lexington, on his return from the war. It
had been a pasture on his family's vast estate, a tract spreading north and west to where Washington's
monument and General Howard's statue now stand.Without waiting for streets, sheds or stalls, outlying
farmers converged on the site as soon as General Howard gave the word. They trundled up 'in great
Conestoga wagons, their horses strung with bells, making their own roads . On the rolling green yard, they
spread out hams, butter, eggs, turkeys and produce.Merchants joined the farmers in setting up a purchase
and barter exchange for grain, hay, farm staples and livestock. Farmers spent all night loading their wares
and traveling the twenty miles from Towson and Reisterstown, with sales beginning at dawn. Not until 1803
did a shed go up at Eutaw and Lexington Streets.
From then on, The Market grew by leaps and bounds until the formal marketplace sprawled over another
block to Greene Street. At first, the place was only opened Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 2:00 AM till
noon, the starting and closing historic bell ringing for 145 years.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson passed the vicinity as they rode horseback to and from their Virginia estates and Philadelphia, the nations capital.
Famed statesman Daniel Webster visited the scene in 1785, and later the arts were represented by such visitors as painter James McNeill and novelist William
Thackeray. When Ralph Waldo Emerson visited the Market he proclaimed Baltimore the "Gastronomic capital of the world". Perhaps it was the timing, but with
its name change from Western Precincts Market to Lexington Market, Howards Hill became one of the wonders of the 19th century. In 1817, the city finally arrived
at its boundaries and took over. Five years later The Market was extolled by the visiting United States Attorney General William Wirt, who wrote to his daughter in
Washington that: "You may conceive the vast quantity of provisions that must be brought to this market when you are told that 60,000 people draw their daily
supplies from ' which is more than twice as many people as there are 'in Washington, Georgetown, Alexandria and Richmond, all in one."
Growth of Baltimore Town up and over Howard's Hill had made it the nation's second largest city. Turnpikes linked it to Harrisburg and Richmond, with lines of
wagon teams, rumbling north and south to this bustling junction of bay, canal and turnpike. Lexington Market was the hub. From Pennsylvania, Cumberland and
Virginia countrymen traveled three and four days to hawk their butter, winter apples, handmade socks, yarn gloves and hams at The Market.
By mid 19th century, Lexington Market has acquired its full growth and was hailed everywhere as the largest and best market on earth. Although commission
merchants moved into the picture, nearby farmers, who preferred to keep the huckster's profit, jammed the area with as many as 600 wagons on Saturdays.
After the Civil War, and through the turn of the 20th century, Lexington Market was a recognized social center for the most democratic traditions. Social leaders
exchanged trade gossip about current news and produce prices. Atmosphere abounded. Street singers, musicians, fortune tellers and evangelists competed
with soap box economists for shoppers attention. Gourmet dining took place at oilcloth covered tables set in teeming aisles.As new tides of immigration swept
into the nation, Lexington Market acquired new blood among it's stall keepers and exotic foods on its counters. In 1916, a Greek-Italian peanut war cut prices 3
cents a quart and prompted a stall sign blasting; " Remember, We Do Not Sell Common Peanuts Here". By 1925, there were over 1,000 stalls under 3 block-long
sheds. In addition, there were as many stands and carts outside and traffic in the area had become a problem. "Lexington Market must go" declared an
exasperated Mayor Preston in 1912. "Whether the tenants desire it or not". But Lexington Market refused to go, despite many attacks. Though street stalls were
banned by Mayor Jackson's Traffic Committee in 1935, they not only survived but seemed to multiply with the publicity. In 1937 the movement to replace the old
buildings with something new and modem was well under way, but the plans stayed on the drawing board until 1949.
In that year, what civic leaders seemed unable to do in a decade, happened overnight in a six-alarm fire that raged in the main buildings, destroyed $2,000,000 worth of merchandise, and $500,000 in stalls and equipment. The blaze, which broke out on March 29, 1949, hurled flames hundreds of feet into the sky, and brought out twenty four engine companies, six truck companies, two high pressure units, a water tower and six ambulances."The Market is dead. Long live The Market!" exulted The Baltimore Sun the next morning. Fire merely hastened what progress was prepared to do.Progress moved quickly after that.
Today, The Market houses one hundred and forty merchants and is preparing to undergo a major renovation. The tradition lives on as customers hand down their market baskets from generation to generation.
As part of the new Westside of Baltimore Renaissance, Lexington Market joins the atmosphere of energy, confidence and enthusiasm. Lexington Market is
leading the many new projects envisioned, planned and underway on the Westside. The Lexington Market Revitalization was completed in November 2002.
The most recent renovation program features larger exterior windows, expanded storefront windows, new lighting and signage, new column treatments and
exterior architectural details and finishes.
Change has again come to the area. A major renaissance is in progress for the West Side of Downtown Baltimore. The nearby historic Hippodrome Theater has
been elegantly transformed to host Broadway Across America and many other performances. One half-block away, the former Town Theater is now a new home
for the Everyman Theater company. The area that includes these venues and the Market has been officially designated The Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment
District, with the expectation of more features to come. Residents are supporting the area as well, moving into Centerpoint: a new mixed- use development
opposite the Hippodrome, and The Atrium, an adaptive reuse project over a former department store. More units are coming online in the District every year,
adding market rate dwellings that are expected to total in the thousands over the next five years. As these residences are occupied, customer demands and
tastes will likely change.
But, as it has for over 200 years since its first days on Howard’s Hill, Lexington Market will continue to reinvent itself to stimulate the senses, satisfy the palates, and
meet the food needs of the next generation of residents and visitors.