As the crown jewel of the nation’s oldest continually operating municipal market system, Lexington Market has attracted crowds for more than two centuries. A trio of markets established in 1784 provided early Baltimoreans access to fresh food: Centre (also known as Marsh), Fells Point (also known as Broadway) and Hanover. As the city’s population increased, so too did the system of public markets. When the Battle of Baltimore took place, this popular market had already operated for over thirty years. Local Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard donated land for a market in 1782, named after the 1775 battle in Massachusetts in which Howard participated. Known as Howard’s Hill Market and the Western Precinct Market, Lexington served as a hub of both commerce and social interaction in early Baltimore.
Vendors—including fishmongers and butchers—from the farmland and waterways surrounding the city carted their goods in on market days, Tuesdays and Fridays. The open stalls that made up the bustling market were covered by a permanent structure in 1803, making it one of the largest buildings in the city in 1814. Shortly after the battle, in February 1815, the commissioners of the Western Precinct appointed a committee tasked with grading, leveling, and paving the streets west of the Jones’ Falls—which certainly aided vendors’ transportation to and from the market. The city expanded the structure with an addition in 1818.
At the zenith of the municipal system in the late 19th century, Baltimoreans could choose from eleven markets in the city limits. In addition to Lexington, several of these historic markets remain in operation today: Hollins (1838), Cross Street (1846), Lafayette (1871; now Avenue), and Northeast (1885).