Construction workers launch latest assault on Federal Hill


April 16, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Baltimore's Federal Hill, a bastion for Union gunners during the Civil War, is under assault by construction crews laboring to shore up the sagging north face of the grassy landmark.

Under the command of Potts & Callahan Inc., the workers have begun site preparation for a $900,000 project to install a new drainage system under the steep slope overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The six- to 12-month project will include installation of new drain pipes every 20 feet and collector pipes to shunt the water into the storm sewer system, said Gennady Schwartz, chief of capital development for the city Department of Recreation and Parks.

Then the retaining wall will be rebuilt and the north face regraded and compacted to a uniform slope rising one foot vertically for every two feet horizontally.

Mr. Schwartz said a hungry construction market brought the contract in well below the $1.5 million estimate made last summer.

Once the first phase of the work is done, he said, the contractor will begin six more months of repairs and improvements to the city park atop the hill.

Details of that work will await further design and meetings with residents of the Federal Hill neighborhood. But it is expected to include landscaping, sidewalk repairs, lighting, perhaps a new park entrance and a gazebo.

"We have a very strong community there and we would like to incorporate their vision, because they're the ones using the park," Mr. Schwartz said. "It is also an historic park, and we will need approval from the Maryland Historic Trust."

In all, $1.9 million has been allocated for both phases of the work.

A natural hill long mined for its clay and sand, Federal Hill got its name when Baltimoreans threw an enormous party there May 1, 1788, to celebrate the state's ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

It later served as the site of a shipping observatory. Spotters with telescopes would identify incoming ships by their company flags, then raise a duplicate on the hill so that merchants would know whose ship was coming in.

During the Civil War, federal troops took the hill and trained their guns on the city as a warning to Baltimoreans with Southern sympathies not to join the rebellion. Had Maryland seceded, it would have left the government in Washington surrounded by enemy territory.

A $5,000 study by the Center for Urban Archaeology already has determined that the north slope of the hill holds nothing of interest for archaeologists.

"We came to the conclusion that there had been a really massive amount of ground disturbance in that area," said Louise E. Akerson, the center's archaeological curator.

Besides the mining, the north slope was altered by construction of the original retaining wall in the last century and the movement of Key Highway 50 feet south into the foot of the hill.

Ms. Akerson said no further archaeological work is planned, although she has been watching the construction unofficially, in case something turns up.

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