$900,000 face lift will restore Civil War-era depot President Street Station museum project is assured with $450,000 federal grant

April 16, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Baltimore's President Street Station, site of a bloody riot that led to the first casualties of the Civil War, is about to undergo a $900,000 restoration and conversion expected to make it the next big Inner Harbor attraction.

The federal Department of Transportation has awarded a $450,000 grant so the historic depot can be transformed into a Civil War and Transportation Museum that is expected to draw 100,000 visitors a year.

The station will be operated as an affiliate of the B&O Railroad Museum, which is overseeing the restoration work and preparing exhibits.

Although the federal funds must be matched by other public and private funds, reconstruction is expected to begin by late spring or early summer and be completed by the fall of 1994.

John Ott, director of the B&O Railroad Museum at Pratt and Poppleton streets, said he plans to link President Street Station and the B&O Museum with a shuttle bus and possibly move a rail car or locomotive to the President Street site.

He predicted that the new museum will give the B&O Museum a strong Inner Harbor presence and will become a powerful attraction in its own right, especially for Civil War and railroad buffs.

"We want to take it back as much as possible to its original appearance and highlight why the building is important," Mr. Ott said. "By not just making it another new museum but an adjunct to the B&O, we'll have the resources and staff to make it work very well. I'm sure there will be 100,000 visitors a year."

The restoration is one of the first projects in Baltimore to receive funding under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency

Act of 1991 (ISTEA), federal legislation that drastically reorganized federal transportation aid programs and gave states and local governments greater authority to spend transportation funds as they chose.

It is also a victory for Friends of the President Street Station, a local group that has worked for six years to restore the city-owned building.

A little more than a year ago, the group pressured city officials to spend $92,000 to stabilize the building by constructing a new roof and sealing it from the elements. The group also pushed for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We're very happy that it is being saved," said Ralph Vincent, president of the citizens' group. "We're quite impressed with Mr. Ott. He has an ambitious plan for the B&O Museum and many of us are railroad fans, so we're very happy he's involved. . . . This is a best possible plan."

Mr. Vincent said his group will work with the B&O Museum to gather information and artifacts for the President Street museum. Members of the Baltimore Civil War Roundtable, the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, the Railway Historical Society and the Sons of Confederate Veterans will also be involved.

Located near President and Fleet streets, the Greek Revival station was one of the first public buildings with an arched roof, and it is the oldest surviving big-city depot in the United States.

When it opened in 1852, it was the southern terminus for the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. It was one of the busiest passenger terminals in the city until 1873, when a new terminal opened on Charles Street at the site of the present Pennsylvania Station. It continued to serve as a freight terminal until the 1950s and was acquired by the city in the 1970s.

Now part of the Inner Harbor East urban renewal area, the vacant station marks the gateway to a 20-acre parcel where a group headed by Gilbane Properties and Baltimore businessman John Paterakis is building a $350 million mixed-use development containing shops, offices and residences.

The most significant event associated with the station was a bloody 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 Abraham 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 President Street, where 31 train cars were to be uncoupled and pulled by horses along Pratt C Street to Camden Station, where the troops were to continue their journey south.

As they headed west from President Street to Pratt Street, the volunteer soldiers were confronted by an angry mob of stone-throwing Southern sympathizers.

At least nine civilians and three soldiers died in the fighting along a one-mile section of Pratt Street -- the first casualties of the Civil War.

Recently, the Friends of the President Street Station uncovered evidence of a second skirmish in Baltimore between a local mob and Pennsylvania volunteers that left at least five of the Pennsylvanians dead and 13 wounded. That event occurred alongside the President Street Station railway terminal several hours after the famous Pratt Street riot.

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