Franklintown Historic District
Baltimore, Baltimore City
Franklintown, located on the western edge of Baltimore City, is the result of a plan developed by William H. Freeman (1790-1863), a local politician and entrepreneur, in 1832. Freeman’s innovative plan evolved gradually over the course of several decades and the plan owes its success to his untiring promotion of the village. The central feature of Freeman’s concept is its unique use of an oval plan with radiating lots around a central wooded park. Surrounding areas of equal importance include a historic commercial area and grist mill buildings set between the Franklin Turnpike and Dead Run. The unique combination and juxtaposition of elements controlled (at lest to a great extent) by Freeman---the picturesque old stone mill, the innovative radiating oval plan, and the associated hotel and commercial area---is a strikingly early example of planning with few known precedents in this country. Whether Freeman’s primary concept was a new type of rural enclave and experiment, or whether it was a bold attempt to create an early form of resort community, it is a sophisticated concept. Franklintown substantially retains its original rural character despite its location within predominantly urban Baltimore City. Roads are curvilinear in nature and the area is heavily wooded in places, adding to its rural, scenic appeal. The picturesque Dead Run streambed runs though portions of the district, and the Franklin Turnpike (now Franklintown Road) leads to the district from downtown Baltimore City and provides a bucolic transition from the urban area to the village.
The Franklintown Historic District is significant as an example of an early 19th century planned resort community or suburb. The 1832 date appears to be a key factor in its significance, as few resorts or suburbs have been documented at this early date in this country’s planning history, and William Freeman’s design of an oval park with radiating, wedge-shaped lots cannot be shown to be influenced by or derived from any similar known plans. Although he was not a landscape designer or planner by trade, Freeman’s plan demonstrates an unusually high degree of skill and entrepreneurial spirit. The majority of the modest vernacular buildings which comprise Franklintown as a district convey the intent of Freeman’s plan and the era of Franklintown’s establishment as a rural village. The key residential buildings are excellent examples of the I-house form and display steeply pitched cross gables found in vernacular rural buildings throughout much of Maryland. The pivotal commercial buildings such as the Franklintown Inn continue to display Freemna’s intent of providing amenities to the residents of Franklintown. The collection of mill buildings is also impressive for the high degree of integrity they display. They continue to articulate their original purpose and appear to be a rare group of buildings within the present-day boundaries of Baltimore City. The period of significance for Franklintown begins in 1826 when Freeman began laying the groundwork for Franklintown by building the Franklin House and extends to 1934, when the Franklin Mill stopped grinding.