Baltimore

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Economically, geographically and culturally, Baltimore is an amalgam. One of early America's busiest seaports, it was also its first important railroad terminal. Not content to be a shipping hub, it also became a leading manufacturing center, renowned for shipbuilding as well as airplane production.

Situated just below the Mason-Dixon line, Baltimore is, strictly speaking, a Southern town. Yet its industrial base and urban energy cast it more in the mold of America's Northern cities.

Culturally, Baltimore's tradition of diversity dates back to 1649 and the passage of the Toleration Act, which permitted the practice of all religions in the colony of Maryland. In subsequent years the region's air of acceptance inspired waves of Polish, German, Irish, Italian, Greek and other immigrants. The various enclaves these newcomers established made Baltimore a collection of diverse neighborhoods, which is not to say that the melting pot always simmered peacefully. In the early 19th century, for example, Baltimore acquired the nick-name "Mob Town" because of its inhabitants' tendency to take to the streets en masse to demonstrate various ardently held beliefs.

Today, by and large, things are much quieter, but the neighborhoods retain their distinctive character--so much so that, no matter where you stand in Baltimore today, you can walk six or eight blocks in any direction and be in what, for all intents and purposes, is a different city.

Inner Harbor
Any tour of Baltimore should start with the Inner Harbor, an area that owes its character not to ethnicity but to industry. For years the area was at the heart of Baltimore's port facilities. As the city's shipping business declined in the post-war years, the Inner Harbor did too, until, by the mid-1970s, it was a long stretch of dilapidated docks and abandoned warehouses. But the end of the 1970s saw the start of a concerted effort to revitalize Baltimore, and a key part of the plan was the creation of Harborplace, a three-acre retail and entertainment complex that would become the anchor of a reanimated Inner Harbor. The effort was a resounding success.
Today the Inner Harbor's attractions include the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Harborplace, the U.S.S. Constellation, the Pier Six Concert Pavilion, and The Power Plant, which houses several night-spots. In addition there are a number of excellent hotels, including the four-star Harbor Court, many fine restaurants, such as Obrycki's (one of the city's premier crab-houses), and two very busy marinas. Without a doubt, the Inner Harbor's renovation was vital to the general renaissance Baltimore experienced during the 1980s, and it remains the key draw of the city's approximately $625 million-a-year tourist industry. But its real value, at least to ordinary Baltimoreans, lies in its promenades and other public spaces. On summer nights, the Inner Harbor is mobbed with citizens from all over the city enjoying themselves and their hometown.

Downtown
In 1729, about 60 years after the first colonists settled in the area, the two roadways that are now Charles Street and Baltimore Street were laid out. Today, the intersection of these two streets (with Charles running north and south and Baltimore east and west) provides the framework for downtown Baltimore. This area, just above the Inner Harbor, is the city's primary business district. Here you'll find offices for the city's financial and banking institutions, international trade organizations, medical research companies, as well as law, engineering and architectural firms. If you're in town on business, this is probably where you'll be spending a lot of your time.

A grid of roughly 25 blocks, with its long axis running east and west, it's an easy area to find your way around in. It's within walking distance of most of the downtown hotels, and, as with the rest of the city, it's filled with great places to eat--everything from breakfast and lunch counters like David & Dads to four-star restaurants like Sotto Sopra.
Another wonderful feature is the large number of art galleries that line Charles Street, such as the C. Grimaldis Gallery, which offer a relaxing afternoon diversion.

To the North
Proceed up Charles Street about 10 blocks and you'll find Mount Vernon, one of the city's loveliest neighborhoods. Its chief feature is a park of shrub-lined lawns and flowerbeds, laid out in the form of a cross. Standing at the center of the park is a 178-foot tall monument to George Washington, which is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, and offers a great view of the city. Mount Vernon is also home to the Peabody Conservatory of Music, The Walters Art Gallery, the Enoch Pratt Free Library and several excellent restaurants, including The Brass Elephant and Tio Pepe. Moreover, it's an architectural treasure trove, offering examples of dozens of building styles in an area of only a few square blocks.

Just above Mount Vernon is Bolton Hill. Known as the "Gin Belt" during the 1920s, this area was home to the city's Jazz Age bohemian community. F. Scott Fitzgerald made his home here for a while, and Tender is the Night was published during his stay. Today, the area is home to the Maryland Institute College of Art, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and the University of Baltimore, as well as a present-day bohemian hangout: Spike and Charlie's.

Still farther up Charles Street lies well-groomed Charles Village, home of Johns Hopkins University. Just next door is Hampden, a funky blue-collar/alternative district made famous by independent film director John Waters.

Continue north, and you'll find Guilford, which features the wonderful Sherwood Gardens, and Mount Washington, a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood with lots of great restaurants, like The Desert Caf茅.

Finally, your northward trek will land you in Towson, one of the city's busiest suburbs.

To the South
Just south of downtown, on the other side of the Inner Harbor, is Federal Hill. One of the most popular residential areas in the city, its streets are lined with stately 19th century row homes, and peppered with great restaurants like The One World Caf茅 and Ten Oh Six. The neighborhood is also home to the Cross Street Market, where a variety of vendors sell a vast array of fresh and prepared food items, and the American Visionary Art Museum, one of the most fascinating art museums in the country.

To the East
Immediately east of downtown is Little Italy, one of the city's most cherished neighborhoods. Settled in the 1840s by Italian immigrants seeking work on the city's railroads, the area is now known mainly for its many restaurants. At last count, the 12 square blocks of little Italy hosted 20 restaurants, from old favorites like Sabatino's to newcomers like Aldo's.
One of the great joys offered by Baltimore is a stroll down the streets of this neighborhood on a warm night, surrounded by the friendly attitude of the people and the pleasant aromas of the kitchens.

Just past Little Italy is Fells Point. This was once the chief Colonial shipbuilding center, and frigates known as Baltimore Clippers were launched from the end of Broadway, the neighborhood's main drag. Today Fells Point is known for its craft and antique shops, restaurants, bars and coffeehouses.

During the weekend the neighborhood is jammed with college-age revelers who flock to the many party-oriented dance clubs like Bohager's. But during the rest of the week, a mix of young urban professionals and bohemians come on the scene to eat at restaurants like Bertha's and Ding How, and relax and listen to live music at places like Funk's Democratic Coffee Spot and The Full Moon Saloon.

Just above Fells Point is Butcher's Hill, an area once home to dozens of butchers who sold their wares at Fells Point's Broadway Market, and farther north is Old Town, a neighborhood settled by German and Irish immigrants in the early 1800s.

Just to the east lies Canton, one of the most recently re-vitalized of the city's neighborhoods. Originally an industrial area populated by Welsh, German, Polish and Irish immigrants, Canton today is a lively residential area known for its friendly eateries like Nacho Mama's and upscale bars like The Gin Mill. To the north of Canton is Greek Town, another quiet residential neighborhood famous for its restaurants, Ikaros foremost among them.

To the West
A quick trip west from the Inner Harbor will take you into Pigtown, originally an area of stockyards manned by German and Irish immigrants. It's now a residential neighborhood, filled with classic Baltimore-style rowhomes with marble steps and formstone facades. Pigtown is now home to the B & O Railroad Museum, and the area's most famous son is memorialized at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum.

Another famous sometime-Baltimorean, Edgar Allen Poe, is also memorialized in Pigtown--at PSInet Stadium, home turf of the Baltimore Ravens, the only National Football League team named after a poem.

History of Baltimore

The most blue collar of American cities started as the most blue blooded. Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, had the idea of trying to reproduce England as perfectly as possible. But by the end of the 19th Century the city built as a seat for landed gentry had become a collection of fiercely solid working class neighborhoods, with corner bars, rising unions, and little evidence of the royal estates that had been the original idea.

Calvert's father, George, had tried to found a Baltimore colony in the 1620s in a location now known as Avalon, Newfoundland, in Canada. He decided it was a bit too cold there so, in June, 1632, King Charles I granted the Calverts a new colonial charter for warmer Maryland. George Calvert had died two months before, so the colony fell to his son Cecil. Cecil appointed his brother Leo as the first governor, and, on November 22, 1632, the Ark and the Dove set sail from England with about 140 settlers, a mix of Protestants and Catholics. In January 1633 they landed in Barbados, a bit off course but a lovely time to be in the Caribbean. With warmer weather they headed north and by March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, they had established their first Maryland landing on the island of St. Clement's.

Maryland's early years were a rich time for landed gentry newly arrived from England. With rolling estates, rich hunting and fishing, a good port and black slaves and indentured whites to do the work, it was very much like Lord Baltimore's vision of an idyllic England, except with Catholics and Protestants trying to live in harmony instead of killing each other. This religious mix was highly unusual at the time; within a few years the religious tensions back in England would lead to civil war.

In the colony's early years, 80 percent of the land was controlled by about 10 percent of the population. The town of Baltimore was chartered on August 8, 1729, as a place to put the colony's new customs house; eventually it became the chief port, and today it is the fifth busiest port in the United States.

By the 1750s the main export crops were cereal grains and flour, ground in the new mills of Baltimore. Indentured servitude came to an end, and these new freemen opened a series of small farms across the state. Trade with the other colonies and with Europe was the principle industry of this seaport town, and the forces that propelled America into the Revolutionary War were keenly felt here. Boston dumped tea into the harbor to protest the Stamp Tax, but Baltimoreans took to their ships and raided British merchant frigates under officially sanctioned "privateering" laws.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Baltimore ships proved adept at skirting British blockades to supply France. Eager to take another crack at the ex-colonies, Britain declared war. The War of 1812 had four important highlights: First, the British burned Washington D.C., leading to the President's mansion being whitewashed to cover the smoke damage (it has been referred to as the White House ever since). Second, General Andrew Jackson made a name for himself defeating the British in the Battle of New Orleans, becoming so popular that he eventually became president and got his face on the $20 bill. Third, the British have not attacked the United States since their defeat in this war. And the fourth highlight is what happened in Baltimore.

In 1814, after burning Washington, the British troops advanced on Baltimore, planning to burn the town and destroy the core of the American merchant fleet in the harbor. On Sunday, September 11, 1814, they attacked the harbor defenses at Ft. McHenry.

The battle raged for 12 hours. Eight miles away, aboard a British vessel, an American watched the bombardment. Francis Scott Key was a doctor; he'd been inquiring after a patient when a British officer decided to detain him for the duration of the battle. As evening fell and the bombardment continued, Key could plainly see the American flag above the fort. It was a huge flag, 80 feet long and 40 feet high, and the exploding cannon balls created a brilliant fireworks display in the distance. Key was inspired to write "The Star Spangled Banner," which caught on immediately. By the end of the century, Congress had made it the official national anthem of the United States. Though the lyrics are Key's, the tune, played at the beginning of all American sporting events, and long famous for being practically unsingable because of its full dynamic range, comes from an old British drinking song.

The flag from that night at Ft. McHenry now hangs in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, in Washington D.C.

By the end of the Civil War, Baltimore started to resemble the modern vision we have of it. The landed gentry of Lord Baltimore's time were long gone. The rising cities of New York and Boston and Philadelphia had become the new centers of culture, and many of the rich had moved on. (Ironically, some had moved on using the B&O Railroad. The Baltimore and Ohio, established in 1825, made expansion west easier, by supplying many of the supplies for the trip.)

The end of the 19th Century marks the beginning of baseball, a sport long associated with Baltimore. The Orioles were one of the first teams. John McGraw was one of the first stars of the game. Babe Ruth was born here in 1895; his father ran a pub on a spot in what is now Camden Yards. The Orioles' Cal Ripken, Jr., is a legend here, and everywhere that baseball is followed.

Modern Baltimore began at the end of World War II. As the new suburbs developed, downtown fell on hard times. By the 1960s, Baltimore faced the same sort of abandonment and blight as most American cities. This changed in the 1980s with the development of the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards, the new home of the Orioles. While some of the town's sections are still unpleasant for casual visitors, there is much to recommend Baltimore.

A Brief Chronology
1634 - Arrival at St. Clement's Island.
1689 - Anne Arundell Town named Maryland's capital. Renamed Annapolis, 1695.
1729 - Baltimore established, August 8th.
1745 - Baltimore becomes the state capital.
1808 - Mother Elizabeth Seton opens a school for girls on Paca Street. The following year, Mother Seton establishes an order of teaching nuns.
1812 - University of Maryland founded.
1814 - Ft. McHenry defends Baltimore from British invasion after the burning of Washington, Sunday, September 11th. Eight miles away, Francis Scott Key, an American doctor detained by the British, writes "The Star Spangled Banner" as he watches the flag stay high over the fort.
1849 - Edgar Allan Poe found ill in a gutter one night, October 7th. Died a few days later. Still a mystery.
1904 - Massive fire destroys most of Baltimore's business district.
1906 - Satirist and critic H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) joins the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
1924 - Mencken, with George Jean Nathan, founds the American Mercury magazine. He continues as editor until 1933.
1975 - Mother Elizabeth Seton canonized as the first American saint.
1980 - National Aquarium opens.
1982 - The critically acclaimed movie Diner shows a side of Baltimore the world had forgotten: a nice place to live.
1992 - Oriole Park at Camden Yards opens April 6th, setting the standard for modern baseball parks.
1995-99 - The television series "Homicide" makes the city's high crime rate a source of pride and a popular tourist location. Like Baltimore itself, the series suffers from low ratings but has loyal fans who like what they see and keep coming back.

The Weather

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Avg. High 41 44 54 65 75 84 88 86 78 68 57 46
Avg. Low 28 28 38 47 57 67 72 70 64 51 42 32
Mean 35 37 47 57 67 76 80 78 72 60 50 38
Avg. Precip. 3.1 in 3.2 in 3.6 in 3.2 in 4.1 in 3.3 in 3.7 in 4.3 in 3.5 in 3.0 in 3.6 in 3.8 in

 

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