The only surviving row houses in Cumberland, the Decatur Street Row Houses, are rare examples of a type of building more often found in large urban areas. It is tempting to look only to the large, impressive homes of the Washington Street Historic District for evidence of the growth the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad brought to Cumberland, but it is important to remember that most people did not live in such elegance. In fact, many middle and working class Cumberland citizens lived in buildings identical to the Decatur Street Row Houses. The "row house" seems to have been created to meet the housing crisis that occurred after London's Great fire of 1666. In the United States, the housing form arrived first in Philadelphia, and quickly spread throughout the colonies as a very common form of urban residential architecture. Its major features include use of brick construction and symmetrically arranged windows and doors to allow for speedy and inexpensive construction, although regional variations exist. Each unit is attached to the next, sharing walls (and thereby cutting construction costs), and the exterior walls of outer units are often blank with no windows. Based upon a "full Georgian" five bay facade, row houses are often 1/3 (2 second story windows lined up over the first floor door and window) or 2/3 (3 second story windows over the first floor door and two windows) Georgian. The Decatur Street Row Houses include both 1/3 and 2/3 Georgian variants.
Decatur Street Row Houses
Photograph by Kathleen McKenney, courtesy of the City of Cumberland
200-208 Decatur Street, 1974
NPS Photograph by Ronald Andrews
Built in the 1840s, it is no coincidence that the Decatur Street Row Houses appeared soon after the arrival of the B&O railroad in 1842. With new citizens moving into town to work in the new shops, factories, and mines, the need for affordable housing was high. Professionals and working classes quickly took up residence on Decatur Street, and the street retained its status as a "respectable" neighborhood well into the 20th century. Unfortunately, in recent years alterations of these unique buildings have threatened their historic appearance. The Decatur Street Row Houses have recently been identified by the city of Cumberland as a "Strategically Targeted Area for Revitalization," which will hopefully ensure the survival of an important part of Cumberland's 18th-century heritage.
The Decatur Street Row Houses are located at 200-208 Decatur St. They are private residences, and not open to the public.