Industries flourished in the lower Gwynns Falls Valley since the early 1700s, when the Baltimore Iron Works Company turned iron into nails and anchors and Dr. Charles Carroll's gristmills ground wheat into flour. The Union Stockyards, located south of Wilkens Avenue near the railroads from 1891 to 1967, brought "every hoof under one roof" in was was claimed to be the largest stockyard east of Chicago.
Nearby Wilkens Avenue is named for William Wilkens, a German-born entrepreneur who built a large factory complex in 1845 to the east where the Westside Shopping Center is located. The Wilkens Curled Hair Factory, which had as many as 1,000 employees and operated until the 1920s, processed animal hair from slaughterhouses to make mattresses and upholstery—and, like many other industries, dumped its waste into the waterways flowing to the Chesapeake Bay. Wilkens built housing for some of his workers and provided land for the avenue that bears his name today.