Hampden began in the early 1800's as just a cluster of workers' homes built around the flour and cotton mills that had been recently established along the Jones Falls. With the invention of the cotton gin, most of the flour mills converted to only making cotton, and by the 1890's, Hampden was the leading manufacturer of cotton duck - canvas used for tents, sailcloth, and mailbags - which continued to grow in demand through the end of World War I.
During its growth as a mill town, thousands of native-born Americans, mostly from rural Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, moved to the Hampden area to find steady work. Unfortunately, in the 1920's Hampden's mill operations went into decline and by the 1970's all of the mills had moved south or shut down entirely. Despite this downturn, unlike many declining mill towns, the Hampden community stayed alive because the mill workers were able to find jobs in other parts of Baltimore.
Some 200 years after its birth, Hampden maintains the charm of a small mill town, and has become a jewel among Baltimore's many distinctive neighborhoods. Its safe and quiet streets along with its proximity to downtown Baltimore have led people from all walks of life - artists and entrepreneurs, manual laborers and service professionals - to make Hampden their home.
Today, Hampden, although named for the 17th century British Parliamentarian John Hampden, is probably most famous for its community of residents and merchants who celebrate its working class heritage - a heritage that's a source of pride for Baltimoreans, and particularly Hampdenites.
"The Avenue", Hampden's main street (a.k.a. West 36th Street), and many other surrounding streets are filled with thriving businesses where visitors can find everything from kitschy trinkets to fine arts, used furniture to flowers, while enjoying the small-town atmosphere that remains a essential part of Hampden.