Caulkers’ Houses

Homes of early African Americans in Fell's Point

As the Robert Long House at 812 South Ann Street reflected the life of the new and successful merchant class in Colonial Fell’s Point, the humble dwellings at 612-614 South Wolfe Street present a picture of how the great and varied labor force needed to man the city’s growing maritime industries lived during the first half of the 19th Century. These two small one and a half story wood houses, one room deep with an attic space, are the surviving sections of one of several “quadplex” units. Built c. 1798 as a speculative housing project these “quadplexes” provided inexpensive rental dwelling units for this growing number of workers. A unique building type, the this “quadplex” consisted of a single rectangular structure, approximately 49 feet long and 16 feet deep that was divided into four equal dwelling units. Each dwelling unit had its own fireplace, located within a single chimney pile shared with the adjacent dwelling unit. So as a duplex is to two houses, a “quadplex” is to four housing units.

As the “quadplex” is a unique building type for Fell’s Point in the late 18th Century, so too is its construction. The buildings were built as timber frame structures. Instead of the more commonly found wood framed, diagonally braced buildings with vertical wood studs spaced at a uniformed distance from each other and then sheathed in wood clapboard or shingles as was typical of the time, this “quadplex” used brick nogging between the heavy timber members and the diagonal bracing which survives today.

The houses have a strong association with the Free Black community living in Fell’s Point by providing affordable housing in the neighborhood in the first half of the 19th Century. Many found employment in the adjacent shipyards in the caulking trade which was dominated by Free Blacks in the 1830’s through to the Civil War. Famed Abolitionist and Civil Rights leader Frederick Douglass spent his early years in Fell’s Point where he learned to read and write before he escaped to freedom in 1838. In addition as part of his training he became a caulker in the shipyards not far from 612-14 South Wolfe Street.

Having been vacant for over twenty years and needing major structural and architectural rebuilding, the houses are now being restored by the Preservation Society. The Society’s restoration effort is being led by the Friends of 612-14 South Wolfe Street whose mission is to preserve these structures and shine a light on their significant social history.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are not currently any specific tour hours, but you can contact us to set-up a private tour that is within CDC guidelines.