Federal Hill's weary face getting a vigorous lift job

April 17, 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 1 foot vertically for every 2 feet horizontally.

Mr. Schwartz said a hungry construction market caused the contract to come 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.

Federal Hill got its name when Baltimoreans threw an enormous party there May 1, 1788, to celebrate Maryland'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, the government in Washington would have been 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.

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