Originally, Essex was ten blocks, running from Mace Avenue to Marlyn Avenue. It was begun in 1909 by the Taylor Land Company for those residents in Baltimore who wanted a place outside the city limits to perhaps grow a garden or to pursue some other rural activity. Land was cheap, and sales were enhanced by a promotional pamphlet.
Henry Guttenberger built the first general store in Essex in 1910 on the corner of Eastern Avenue and Mace Avenue. Between 1911 and 1912, the Taylor Land Company donated the lots for Essex Methodist and St. John's Lutheran churches. They also donated the land where the volunteer fire department built their station. The permanent fire station opened in 1921.
With the ever-growing population came the need to build schools. The elementary school opened in 1925 with 400 students. Essex Community College, now CCBC-Essex, was founded in 1957. Classes were first held at Kenwood High School, with fifty part-time and nine full-time students. In 1961, the college moved to Dorsey Avenue, and in 1968 moved to its present location, in Rossville. This site was owned by the Mace family, and the family burial plot is maintained and protected by the college.
A fire in August 1957 destroyed an entire block of businesses on Eastern Avenue, and the business district never fully recovered from that catastrophe. The ten-alarm blaze caused a half million dollars in damages, and, in the time it took to repair the buildings, new shopping centers were built, changing the buying habits of consumers.
The Glenn L. Martin Company was the single biggest reason for the rapid growth of the area. Employment at the company peaked at more than 53,000 workers during World War II. In the years following, industry in the area dwindled, and much of the original Glenn L. Martin facility became the property of the State, including Martin State Airport. The remaining aerospace business followed a progression of corporate mergers and today is owned and operated by Lockheed Martin.
Another important company was Eastern Rolling Mill, which opened in 1919. The plant, at the head of the Back River, produced carbon sheet steel. In 1944, Eastern merged with Industrial Stainless Steel, Inc. to form Easco. The plant then merged with the British company Avesta-Sheffield in the early 1990s, finally shutting down operations in the late 1990s.
Today, there is interest in revitalizing the Essex area by including it in government-sponsored empowerment zones. Many neighborhoods have begun a "clean-up" of their areas, hoping to transform Essex into a place that will be ready to move into the twenty-first century. Improvements include removal of run-down, low-income housing, including the Tall Trees Community and the Riverdale Community; new medians and pavement on Eastern Avenue; a new single family home community called Waterview; and the auctioning of Middle River Station for commercial area. MD 43 Extended has opened which connects the old waterfront community and Carroll Island area with the booming White Marsh commercial area.
On August 2, 2009, the community of Essex celebrated its 100th birthday with a party at Cox's Point Park on Riverside Drive. It featured live music by Joey McCann, Mickey Light, Maria Rose, Don "Big Daddy Country" Cox, and others.
Sources: Baltimore County Public Library