Fleet Street

Unlike East Street, Fleet Street did not experience substantial development until the late 1800s when 24 of the 27 dwellings were constructed. Most were built as tenements by merchants Jacob Blum and Joseph Basil and rented to African-American laborers, watermen, laundresses, and domestic workers.

African-Americans Start Owning Their Homes on Fleet Street


Gradually, many blacks changed the ownership pattern on Fleet Street by purchasing their own homes. Around 1880, Benjamin Holliday, a black waterman, purchased 45 Fleet Street, an 18th-century dwelling. Henry Clay was the highest bidder for 51 Fleet, another 18th-century house, auctioned in 1872. Susan Wright built 48 Fleet c. 1897 and left it to her daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Joseph McGowan, who were employed at the Naval Academy. The property is still owned and occupied by their descendants. During the same period Anthony Wilson built 50 Fleet and his wife Eliza, a chambermaid, retained ownership after his death. This small neighborhood kept its character well into the 20th century and expanded to include the three-story Ideal Hotel at 14 Fleet, built in the 1920s. Once a drugstore and hotel, it was the largest building on the block, and undoubtedly served the African-American watermen and tradesmen needing easy access to the City Dock and Market House.

Roger Williams


During the same period, Roger Williams opened his barber shop in the much older "flat iron building" at the corner of Cornhill and Fleet Streets. Williams' shop became a social institution, enduring until his death in 1983.