Civil War Rail Depot Rises Again

April 23, 1993

Interest in the Civil War has been growing steadily since the 1990 PBS documentary series on the subject. On spring and summer weekends, it is not unusual to see collectors, equipped with metal detectors, combing through city parks in search of bullets and other memorabilia that may have been left behind by Union soldiers. In Carroll Park, the site of a former military camp, up to 300 aficionados are expected to erect tents Memorial Day weekend for one of the Civil War enactments which have become popular in recent years.

The Civil War front never reached Baltimore but that did not mean the city was an uninterested bystander. Emotions often ran high in this city which swore allegiance to the North but had extensive ties to the South. Some of the first casualties of the war occurred during a bloody riot at the President Street Station, just four blocks east of where the National Aquarium now rises.

That ramshackle depot, reputed to be the oldest surviving metropolitan rail terminal in the country, last saw a train in the 1970s. It then began awaiting the wrecker's ball. It was condemned by the city for an extension of the Jones Falls Expressway that was never built. Arsonists tried to burn it down; vandals repeatedly attacked it. Yet the two-story brick building, topped by a gently arched roof, survived.

This landmark is now getting a new lease on life. It is about to undergo a $900,000 restoration and conversion into a Civil War exhibit in a geographic area that is rapidly becoming the center of Baltimore City history. The main buildings of the Baltimore City Life Museums are just a short walk away. A new children's museum is being developed nearby.

If everything goes as planned, the refurbished President Street Station should be opened in the fall of 1994. Although it will be operated as an affiliate of the B&0 Railroad Museum, the depot will contain self-standing exhibits on the contribution of Baltimore's pioneering railroads to the war between the states. A shuttle bus will whisk those wanting to see more collections to the B&O museum on West Pratt Street.

This is an exciting and timely recycling effort of a historic edifice. Like Camden Station, which was restored in conjunction with the construction of Oriole Park, the rebuilt President Street depot is certain to become a tourist attraction that will invite visitors to other nearby exhibits, including the city's Public Works Museum.

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