In its early years, the histories of Baltimore, America, and the state of Maryland, which began as America’s 6th colony, are inextricably connected. It was in 1632 that Cecilius Calvert, also known as the second Lord Baltimore sent his brother, Phillip, to America to manage the new lands he had received from the King of England. Having acquired the territory that surrounded the long Chesapeake Bay in honor of his dead naval hero father, for 42 years until his death in 1675, Cecilius governed his possession from Europe.
Before he died, however, he did send his 24 old year son, Charles, to take over for Phillip. Soon, like William Penn in Philadelphia, Charles developed good relations with the native Indian tribes. And though he was a Catholic and not a Quaker like Penn, he also offered religious freedom in his territory.
Although the Baltimore lordship extended to a fifth generation, the Calverts lost their their land several times because of their choice of religion. As such, during these early years, there were several Baltimore locations. However, the present city of Baltimore was established in 1729.
It was its seaport, 125 miles up the Chesapeake, that ultimately made this part of Maryland the center of activity that it still is today. In colonial times, it was the most accessible inland harbor for the export of American tobacco. It also offered the closest shipping lane to the Carribean for the import of that island’s prized sugar cane.
Besides the shipping of goods, Baltimore also built ocean going vessels. So many of them that by the late 1700’s they led the nation in shipbuilding. Of all these watercraft, it was their clipper ships that got them worldwide fame. This was especially so during the War of 1812 when it was these schooners that easily outran the blockades the British had tried to set up.
A principal city in the early founding of America, by 1760 Baltimore had become a center for colonial opposition to the King. In fact, when the British occupied Philadelphia during the winter of 1777, the Continental Congress met at Henry Fite’s mansion, making Baltimore the Nation’s Capitol for a short period of time. During the eight year American Revolution, Baltimore’s well protected inland port, made it a leading supply center for the fighting effort.
Later in 1791, it was Baltimore’s parent, the colony of Maryland, that donated the land 45 miles south for this Nation’s Capitol. Twenty one years later, when the British burned Washington DC to the ground, it was Baltimore that was once again called upon to empower American freedom. In turning back the English army, it was soldiers, stationed at Fort McHenry, located in Baltimore’s harbor, who, along with the local populace, that helped put an end to the War of 1812. It was also during this battle that Francis Scott Key created the poem that would become America’s National Anthem.
This firefight also inspired Battle Monument. A memorial to those who fell defending the city, it was built in 1815 by the local citizenry. Surrounded by two streets a block behind City Hall, it climbs 228 steps to the top and is even pictured on the city seal.
Still reveling in their new found freedom a little over a decade later, in 1829 it was Baltimore that would boast the first Washington Monument. Designed by Robert Mills, this salute to the first US president is surrounded by four small parks in what is now the Mt Vernon Cultural District about 10 blocks from City Hall. Small in comparison to the National Mall in Washington DC where Mills second creation stands, the obelisk itself is also much shorter, 178 feet versus 562 feet.
The first half of the 1800’s signaled much abundance for Baltimore. Ever protective of its status as a shipping capital, in order to compete with the Erie Canal which brought goods from the East Coast and Europe to the Midwest, in 1827, it built the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. A grand success, by 1874 it reached all the way to Chicago.
Maryland was an occupied territory during the Civil War years. Since the state kept slavery legal, Union forces arrested its Mayor and many other civic leaders and held them prisoner at Fort McHenry. As a result, most all city affairs were put on hold. For example, the present day City Hall which had been designed just before the fighting began, was not completed until 1875.
Prosperity also returned after the war and prevailed right up until fire struck. In 1904, the Great Baltimore Fire burned for over 30 hours. By the time it was finally extinguished, it had destroyed 1,526 buildings and incinerated over 70 city blocks.
Even as Baltimore was rebuilding, immigration continued to flourish. Between 1790 and 1860, the tide of Irish and German settlers was so great that Baltimore's population soared from 13,503 to 212,418.
When in 1869 several steamship companies devised a way to capitalize on this, Baltimore soon became America’s other Ellis Island. Instead of using a building at a harbor entrance to perform the needed exams and process paperwork, boat operators made it possible for doctors and immigration officials to do so on the ships themselves as they steamed up the Chesapeake Bay.
By 1913, Baltimore immigration was averaging forty thousand per year. However just as a center was being completed, to process the flow of immigrants, World War I interrupted.
During both World Wars, Baltimore was an important shipbuilding and supply-shipping center. By the 1960's and 70's, however, it was beginning to feel the strain of the shift it needed to make from a manufacturing based economy. When city leaders saw their city losing population and commerce to neighboring suburbs, they reinvented Baltimore.
In seeking to establish Baltimore as a tourist mecca, during the 70’s they built a number of attractions. The National Aquarium, a festival marketplace called Harborplace, the Maryland Science Center and the Baltimore Convention Center that resulted, seem to be helping to complement its many historical draws . Together these recently constructed visitor engines alone draw 13 million people each year.
In 1815, Baltimore was the second largest city in America. Now as it continues its rebound here in the 21st Century, it has become the 12th largest city in the United States. According to a 2005 study, there are now 641,943 people living in this history rich city.
Soon a powerful looking building that easily occupied a full city block appeared. Fed by a long tree lined promenade, Baltimore City Hall was three stories tall and capped by a massive dome. Inside and out, it had been fully renovated in 1977 and tours of its rotunda are even open to the public. On its steps we would meet its Mayor, Martin O’Malley.