Pigtown. It sits on the southwest side of Baltimore like a concrete and asphalt memory, mesmerizingly anonymous in its everyday sensibility. Look a little closer though and one can see not only neighborhood history, but the history of the city and, in a sense, the country too.
The neighborhood’s story is in the name, which came from the pigs that were once run squealing and grunting through the area to slaughterhouses then-located nearby. The railroad - the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad - brought the pigs. It also brought the neighborhood too.
The railroad was a first. The first one in the U.S., making Pigtown the birthplace of American railroading when the B&O built the Mount Clare Station and Yards in the area and ran the first miles of track.
The first homes were built for railroad workers and for nearly a century and a half the railroad provided good jobs and drew many to the neighborhood, especially from the Appalachia area.
But both the railroad and the slaughterhouses are long gone. The Mt. Clare Shops were closed in the mid-1970s when the B&O merged with two other railroads. The only remnant of that railroading past is the B&O Railroad Museum, occupying a portion of the old Mt. Clare Yards - the rest redeveloped into a shopping center.
Like neighborhoods in many cities, Pigtown’s underlying narrative follows industrialization and now that of a largely post-industrial city. The neighborhood declined into crime, drugs, prostitution and other illicit activities.
But the area has changed again. New residents have moved in. Homes have been refurbished and reconstructed. New construction can be seen in certain areas. Some may call it gentrification, but that’s often too easy a definition. Pigtown still retains a larger charter and sense of self, rather than a wholesale remaking. Many long-time residents are still in the homes they’ve lived in for years, an anchor that for many shows how identity can be tied to place.
The pigs are still there too and represent two sides of the same neighborhood. Side one is what the neighborhood used to be: its heritage, history and railroading past.
On the other side, the pigs are a source of neighborhood pride and found on murals, house numbers and signs throughout the area. They still run through the streets too, but these days it’s part of a neighborhood festival celebrating the area’s past, while working to shape both its present and future.