Woodberry began as a small mill town, with its first flour mill created in 1802 to process grain grown in Frederick County for export. In 1804, the Falls turnpike followed an old Indian trail out of Baltimore city (Woodberry was part of Baltimore county until its annex in 1888) to the area, and this road spurred development in the area.
By 1820, the Baltimore area was a world center for flour milling. Cotton duck grew in popularity soon after and by the 1830's, most of the flour mills were converted to cotton mills. The Poole and Hunt Foundry (which created the cast iron columns for the Capitol's dome in Washington, D.C.) and the North Central Railroad came to Woodberry in the 1850's. By the time of the Civil War, there were four cotton mills in the Hampden-Woodberry area, mostly owned by the Gambrill family. These operations were small; by the 1860's, only about 500 employees worked in these mills.
The 1870's were a time of great growth in Woodberry. Woodberry Mill (on the small area of Union Ave that runs next to the light rail tracks) was expanded, and Meadow mill was built by William Hooper and Sons. The mill workforce grew dramatically from 616 to 2,931 workers in this decade. People from Pennsylvania, northern Baltimore County, and Carroll County learned of the jobs in the area, and came into the area by train. Almost everyone in the area worked in these mills; sometimes entire families, including children, worked 12-hour days. The mill owners played a patriarchal role in the worker's life by building churches, houses, schools, libraries, and savings and loans for their workers. These were not just for the workers benefit; it helped keep workers at the mills. Woodberry even had its own paper, the Woodberry News, published by Frank Morling.
The area was annexed to Baltimore City amidst worker's protests in 1888. This gave the powerful mill owners the ability to become politically active. Two notable residents of Woodberry are Alcaeus Hooper and Clay Timanus. Hooper became mayor of Baltimore in 1895; Timanus was elected mayor a few years later. By 1900, the mills in Woodberry were one of the largest workplaces in the entire country. 1870-1923 was the heyday of Hampden-Woodberry (they were more closely associated during this time, with the Mill area their common ground) as a cotton mill area. Unfortunately, demand for cotton duck fell dramatically after World War I, and companies faced the prospect of strikes within their massive workforces. In April 1923, the Mount Vernon Mill (Located on Falls road across from the Mill center, currently used by Life-like) announced a new 54-hour workweek with a 7 and one half percent increase in pay. Workers wanted to keep their 48-hour week and wanted a wage increase, the company refused and the workers went on strike. Workers had struck before, but this time the company refused to cave into the workers demands. Eventually the workers returned to work after about eight weeks. This signaled the decline of the mills- by 1925, Mount Vernon mill sold three of its mills and moved to Tallahassee, Alabama, and Greenville, South Carolina, where costs were lower. The mills hung in there through the rest of the 20's and the great Depression, and came back for a time during World War II, but declined sharply after the war, with the advent of synthetic materials.
The physical isolation of Woodberry, along with the original resident's dependence on the mills helped give the area an identity unique to Baltimore. One does not even think that he or she is in Baltimore City in certain parts of Woodberry.