Train depot nominated as landmark President St. Station is 1 of 6 in state

January 08, 1992|By Edward Gunts

President Street Station, the Civil War-era train depot that has been listed for many years on local preservationists' "endangered landmark" list, is one of six Maryland properties that have been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

The nomination is a sign that the vacant 1850 train station, site of a bloody riot that claimed the first lives of the Civil War, has finally been recognized as worthy of preservation and rehabilitation.

Representatives for the city of Baltimore, which owns the building and has been trying to determine an appropriate use for it, support the nomination, according to Jeff Middlebrooks, executive vice president of the Baltimore Development Corp.

"We're comfortable with it. The city's interest is in preserving the building" and finding a new use for it, he said. "Designating the building is a recognition of how valuable it is, and it may give some advantage to a prospective developer because of tax breaks" that may result.

"It's long overdue," said Fred Shoken, president of Baltimore Heritage, the preservation advocacy organization that has placed the building on its endangered landmark list. "It's a first step in recognizing the importance of the building," he said.

The governor's consulting committee for nominations to the register will meet at 100 Community Place in Crownsville on Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. to consider the nominations. Other nominees are: the Lake Roland Historic District in Baltimore County, the Madison Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Mount Aventine in Charles County, Arlington in Somerset County and Barnaby House in Talbot County.

Historians note that the Greek Revival station, now part of Baltimore's Inner Harbor East renewal area, is architecturally significant because it is the oldest surviving big-city train depot in the United States and one of the first public buildings to have an arched roof.

The most significant event associated with it was a riot one week after Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina to mark the start of the Civil War.

After that attack, President Lincoln called 75,000 Union troops to Washington to protect the capital.

On the morning of April 19, 1861, the 700-man 6th Massachusetts Regiment arrived at the President Street Station, where 31 train cars were to be uncoupled and pulled by horses along Pratt Street to the Camden Station, where the troops were to continue their journey south.

As they headed west from the station to Pratt Street, the volunteer soldiers were confronted by an angry mob of stone-throwing Southern sympathizers, who attempted to prevent them from reaching Camden Station. At least nine civilians and three soldiers died in fighting that stretched along a mile-long section of Pratt Street -- the first casualties of the Civil War.

The register is the list of properties acknowledged by the federal government as worthy of recognition and preservation for their significance in U.S. history.

The station is in the center of a 20-acre parcel where a group headed by Gilbane Properties and Baltimore businessman John Paterakis plans to build a $350 million mixed-use development containing shops, offices and residences.

Last fall, work crews hired by the city began a $92,000 project aimed at stabilizing the deteriorated exterior of the train station, which closed as a railroad terminal in the 1950s. The building RTC had been in danger of collapse after being weakened by years of exposure to the elements.

Mr. Shoken said that while he is encouraged by the National Register nomination, the station will remain on his group's "endangered" list until it is stabilized even more.

"It's a relief that nobody's going to knock the building down and that it's not going to collapse due to deterioration," he said. "But until there's a developer who sits down with plans to do something, we're still concerned about it."

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