February Compass - eNews from Baltimore Planning

Compass Logo over historic photo of Baltimore Harbor
The Compass is a monthly eNewsletter of the Baltimore City Department of Planning.

February, 2014

A Message from the Director…

As professional planners, we love cities, especially the city where we work, live and play.  That is why the staff of the Planning Department embraces its overarching goal “to make Baltimore the most livable, dynamic, sustainable and attractive city it can be, now and in the future.” 

Baltimore is a dynamic City and we are proud to play a role in keeping it that way.  So this month we are celebrating all things Baltimore by sharing with you some of our favorite fun facts about Baltimore.  These are among the many things that have given Baltimore the moniker “Charm City”. 

I hope you enjoy this edition of the Compass and feel free to share your favorite fun facts at plan@baltimorecity.gov.

Thomas J. Stosur, Director


Photo of our Assistant Planning Director on the lane.

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Bawlmer or Baltimore, What’s in a Name

The name Baltimore translates from the Irish name Baile an Tí Mhóir, meaning "town of the big house", which was the name of the estate on which the Calvert family lived, in Ireland.

Historic Photo of Phoenix Shot Tower

We don’t need the Empire State Building

Did you know that when Baltimore’s Phoenix Shot Tower was completed in 1828, it was the tallest structure in the United States?

In its time, “drop shot” for small game hunting was made in the "Shot Tower." Molten lead was dropped from a platform at the top of the 215' tower into a vat of cold water to form bullets. Constructed of one million bricks, the Shot Tower was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972.  (Source: Carroll Museums)

Team Photo of the CFL Baltimore Stallions

In honor of the 2014 Winter Olympics, shall we cheer on our Canadian brethren… eh?

In 1995, Baltimore became the first American city to win a championship in the Canadian Football League, when the Baltimore Stallions defeated the Calgary Stampeders to win the Grey Cup. The CFL experiment to expand into the US ended in 1996, and sixteen Baltimore Stallions players earned tryouts for teams in the NFL.[2].(Source: Wikipedia)

Image of Apartment Buildings Downtown

Downtown: A Growing Live-Work Neighborhood

Did you know that Downtown Baltimore, with its more than 40,000 residents, ranks 8th in the U.S. for residential density.  The population of Downtown continues to grow as high-profile office conversions, like 10 Light Street, add new apartments to keep up with growing demand. (Source: Downtown Partnership)

History meets Healthy Food Access...

An arabber (or a-rab) is a street merchant who sells fruits and vegetables from a colorful, horse-drawn cart. Once a common sight in American East Coast cities, only a handful of arabbers still walk the streets of Baltimore.

Photo of Arabber on Charles Street
Photo of President Nixon

What does "tricky Dick" have to do with Baltimore?

We’ve said it before… We’ll say it again. Richard Nixon was President when our current zoning code was enacted in 1971.  Learn more about Baltimore's proposed new Zoning Code at rewritebaltimore.org.


Baltimore = Jazz

Wax Figures Eubie Blake and Billie Holiday at Great Blacks in Wax Museum

Above: Wax Figures of Baltimore Jazz Greats Billie Holiday and Eubie Blake at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.

Planning Department Celebrates Baltimore's Charming History

Baltimore:  Home of Duck Pin Bowling

Some Planning Department staff members, who were born and raised in other cities, had never been duck pin bowling.  So the Planning Department hosted a team building event at Patterson Bowling Center on Eastern Avenue to share this special Baltimore tradition. 

Planning Staff Enjoying Duck pin Bowling

Although the true origin of duck pin bowling is the subject of some dispute, according to our sources at Wikipedia, two Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson claim to have created the game at the turn of the 20th century, at a bowling, billiards and pool hall they both owned in Baltimore.  Regardless of the true origin of the game, it has been a Baltimore tradition ever since. (Source: Wikipedia)

Another fun fact, the Patterson Bowling Center opened in 1927, has 12 lanes and is the oldest operating duck pin bowling alley in the country.  

Celebrating the Ongoing Transformation of the Baltimore Harbor

Although it didn’t truly take over 100 years to turn Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from its storied industrial past into a shining example of urban waterfront revitalization, sometimes it might have seemed that way.  In a news article printed in August 1898 by the Kent News of Chestertown, Maryland, Baltimore’s harbor was described in unpleasant detail:

  "Every visitor to Baltimore is astonished that the foulness of the harbor if that great city is allowed to continue.  Its offensiveness, its unsightliness, its menace to health--all reflect upon the city authorities."

Image of Downtown as viewed from the Middle Branch

Above: A view of Downtown from the Middle Branch.

Photo of Cities are Fun Poster featuring James Rouse

While the northwest branch of the Patapsco River did experience hundreds of years of use as an industrial port, thanks to the genius of civic leaders like former Governor William Donald Schaeffer and James W. Rouse, master city planner, Baltimore's "Inner Harbor" was transformed with the completion of the promenade in 1973, and the opening of Harborplace in 1980.

But did you know that the Inner Harbor is now much smaller than it used to be?  The natural harbor was broad, with marshes at the confluence of the Jones Falls and Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River.  Water Street, which is now located between Lombard and Redwood Streets, was so named because it used to be close to the water.  Over many years, the harbor has been filled and bulk-headed, resulting in a much smaller, narrower urban harbor.  The image below shows an early map of the harbor, and an overlay of its existing configuration.  A similar image is featured in Inner Harbor 2.0 a new master plan for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. 

Historic map of Baltimore Harbor showing current and former shoreline location

The Planning Department looks forward to continuing our role in creating a world class urban waterfront by helping shape the next 100 years of the Baltimore Harbor with the impending completion of Inner Harbor 2.0

(Sources: CharmCityHistory.com, and the Baltimore Ecosystem Study).

Baltimore: A City of Firsts

Before it came to be known as Charm City, Baltimore was also known as A City of Firsts.  Baltimore is home to a wide variety of U.S. and world first inventions, activities and civic organizations.  While there are many Baltimore Firststhe fact that 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle of Baltimore, and this month is African American History Month, we’re focusing on those Baltimore Firsts that highlight these important celebrations.

Star Spangled Firsts

In 1797 the original Constellation became the first US war ship to capture an enemy vessel.  Currently the crown jewel in Baltimore’s collection of historic ships, the second incarnation of the U.S.S. Constellation, built in 1854, will welcome a visiting fleet of tall ships into the harbor in September, 2014 for the Star Spangled Sailabration. 

Historic Photo of USS Constellation

The Constellation was also on hand to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of the writing of the national anthem, after being invited by the National Star Spangled Banner Centennial commission to participate. Then Acting Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the vessel restored "as she appeared in 1814," but to minimize costs, "include only such general details as would be noticed by the layman."  After restoration in Norfolk, the Constellation was towed to Baltimore Harbor, where she stayed on display from September 7th (the anniversary of the 1797 frigate's launching) until October 29, 1914. She was then towed to Washington, DC where she was displayed until December.  After additional repairs at Norfolk in December, the Constellation was returned to training duty in Newport on May 19th, 1915. She has been on permanent display in the Baltimore Inner Harbor since July 2, 1999. (Source: Historicships.org)

Aerial Photo of Fort McHenry

Above: Aerial Photo of Modern Day Fort McHenry.  Below: Image of the original Star Spangled Banner when on display at the Smithsonian.

Photo of original flag flown over Fort McHenry in Battle of Baltimore while at Smithsonian

In the 1790’s the newly formed U.S. Government commissioned a series of coastal military forts, the first of which was completed in Baltimore -- Fort McHenry.  The history of Fort McHenry, however, began in 1776 when the citizens of Baltimore Town feared an attack by British ships. In response, an earthen star fort known as Fort Whetstone was constructed. This fort, like Baltimore, was never attacked during the war for independence. Then in 1793, the Napoleonic Wars began when France declared a war with England. 

In 1794, Congress authorized the construction of a series of coastal forts to protect our maritime interests. Construction began on Fort McHenry, at the site of Fort Whetstone, in 1798 and by 1803 the masonry walls we view today were completed. The fort was named for James McHenry, our second Secretary of War.  In 1809, the U.S. Army organized its first light artillery unit at Fort McHenry.

As we know, Fort McHenry played a pivotal role in the War of 1812, when during the 1814 Battle of Baltimore, Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry and penned a poem called the Defiance of Fort McHenry from a ship in the Baltimore Harbor.  The poem was subsequently set to the tune of a popular British song and renamed The Star Spangled Banner.  The Star-Spangled Banner was first recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889, and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.  It wasn’t made the official national anthem until 1931 when a congressional resolution was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover. (Source: National Park Service – Fort McHenry)

Firsts in African American History

African Americans have played an important role in U.S. history since colonial times.  In turn, Baltimore has played an important role in that same history.  Below are just a few examples of Baltimore’s Historic Firsts that should be celebrated as part of American history, especially during February, in honor of African American History Month.

  • 1817 - The African Methodist Episcopal church held its first conference in Baltimore.
  • 1829 - The Oblate Sisters of Providence formed the first Catholic order for black nuns.

Photo of Maritime Museum

1866 – Isaac Myers partnered with other Black leaders in Baltimore to form the first black-owned shipyard, the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company, at what is now the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park.

  • 1869 – Isaac Myers organized the nation’s first black labor union – the Colored National Labor Union.
  • 1921 – “Shuffle Along” becomes the first black musical on Broadway, it was written by Baltimore’s own Eubie Blake.
  • 1936 – Baltimore’s Afro-American Newspaper, originally founded in 1892 by former slave, John H. Murphy, Sr., becomes the nation’s first black newspaper chain.  There have been as many as 13 editions of the newspaper in major cities across the country; today there are just two: one in Baltimore, and the other in Washington, D.C.[3]

Photo of Thurgood Marshall
  • 1967 – Baltimore’s own Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first African-American to serve on the US Supreme Court.  Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908. He was the great-grandson of a slave who was born in the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo;[2][3] his grandfather was also a slave.[4]  His father, William Marshall, a railroad porter, and his mother Norma, a teacher, instilled in him an appreciation for the United States Constitution and the rule of law.[5]  Marshall attended Frederick Douglass High School.
  • 1983 – The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum became the first African American wax museum.