Iron literally gave shape and structure to Baltimore from the earliest days. Its most important derivative, steel, remains a powerful force in the local economy. This metal legacy is still visible on downtown streets in the form of surviving 19th century iron-front buildings, grand structures that teach us much about Victorian sensibilities and tastes.
Baltimore's cast-iron buildings make a unique architectural statement: crisp, clear and articulate. They are equally important as the structural forerunners of the modern steel-framed office tower.
An exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society Feb. 7 through May 1 will explore the phenomenon of the cast-iron front. "The Founder's Art: Baltimore's Cast-Iron Architecture and Ornamental Ironwork" includes color photographs of existing iron fronts, historic prints, models of buildings and gates, wooden foundry patterns, actual cast-iron columns and other architectural elements, and wrought-iron hardware from Baltimore's G. Krug & Son, the country's oldest continuously operating ironworks. The exhibit is sponsored by Baltimore Heritage, a local preservation group. Opening night falls on the 88th anniversary of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, which destroyed the archetypal 1851 Sun Iron Building and most of the city's cast-iron architecture.
For home libraries, an illuminating new volume, "Baltimore's Cast-Iron Buildings and Architectural Ironwork" (Tidewater Publishers, $19.95), celebrates the cast-iron era with photographs by Ron Haisfield and text by James D. Dilts and Catharine F. Black.