In the 1840s, the decade when Washington Medical College (present site of Church Home and Hospital), Washington Hill's namesake, moved closer to the City, Washington Hill was still considered a distant suburb. It was not until the decade before the Civil War that the building of large houses along Broadway and East Baltimore began in earnest. The belief that high grounds were surrounded by healthier air encouraged this trend, as did the availability of gaslight, and the fashionable townhouses at the top of Washington Hill were completed in the 1850s.
Although Washington Hill did not become a residential area until the 1850s, the history of the area begins at least a century earlier. Fells Point, Washington Hill's southern neighbor, was an important East Coast Harbor by 1750 due to its deep-water harbor. In 1733, Fells Point and Baltimore Town were incorporated into Baltimore City, but until the walling of Harford Run, draining of swampland, and the construction of a new bridge at Fayette Street (which was not completed until 1812) the two areas retained separate identities because of transportation difficulties and the threat of yellow fever. After the two business centers were joined, Washington Hill was more strongly influenced by the shipping industry, as illustrated by the arrival of businesses serving seamen and the opening of several boarding houses, some of which are still in operation today.
During the years after the war, many freed blacks moved from the south into Baltimore. By the early 1900’s a small black community had developed in Washington Hill along the inner blocks of Dallas, Bethel, and Spring Streets.
During the thirty years after the Civil War, the sea brought immigrants, principally German and Russian Jews, instead of sailors to the homes and businesses of Washington Hill. Through WWII, Washington Hill continued to be a diverse community, especially as Appalachian whites and Lumbee Indians joined Germans, Irish, Poles, Bohemians, Russians, and Jews.
In response to the suburban-migration of the 1940s and 50s and 'urban renewal' projects that planned to demolish existing structures, the neighborhood organized the Citizens for Washington Hill. Among their success stories are a cooperative of over 200 resident-owned dwellings that dominates Broadway and the blocks of East Fairmount and East Baltimore Streets, and a new complex of apartments that lines East Baltimore and Wolfe Streets.