Plaque is back in Fells Point: History is served, again

April 04, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

At the foot of Broadway today a gathering will rededicate a plaque, once battered and neglected but now refurbished. The sign marks Fells Point as a historic site and salutes its long maritime history.

The rededication is expected to bring together politicians, history buffs and Fells Point residents who want the neighborhood known as much for its place in history as for its reputation as a good place to have a drink.

"We wanted to really bring attention back to Fells Point and its tremendously long maritime history," said Charles Norton, who with his wife, Darcy, led the effort to refurbish the plaque and plan the rededication.

Some 600 ships were built in Fells Point between the Revolution and the Civil War. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was brought to the neighborhood as a slave. He learned to read in Fells Point, and was also trained there as a ship caulker.

The plaque also has a special history.

It was originally dedicated in 1970 when the Daughters of American Colonists presented it to then-City Council President William Donald Schaefer. It was put atop a pole near the Broadway pier.

But it disappeared four years later. "I think people thought it was some precious metal," Mrs. Norton said. "In fact, it was cast aluminum."

The plaque had been missing more than a year before it turned up in a pub "somewhere across town," Mrs. Norton said.

It was reinstalled in Fells Point, where it remained until it was toppled in the fall. "A truck backed into it during a neighborhood festival," Mr. Norton said.

It was welded and put back up. Before long, a city work crew painted the plaque black, obscuring the lettering. "The workers were told to come down and paint everything on the square -- that was metal -- black. And it was painted over. Nobody could read it," Mrs. Norton said.

"As one lady put it, 'The plaque has a rather disquieting tenure,' " Mrs. Norton said.

For the past week the Nortons and two friends took turns on a ladder restoring the plaque to its original condition. They repainted the Maryland seal on its face and restored gold lettering in preparation for today's 1 p.m. festivities.

The 1812 Fort McHenry Guard will be on hand to perform drills and salutes. A lecturer from the National Parks Service will give a talk, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will present a proclamation.

The Pride of Baltimore II will be docked at the Ann Street Pier, and a new 15-star American flag will be run up its mast. A cannon shot from the Pride will climax the celebration.

"It should be quite a day," Mrs. Norton said.

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