100 years ago in The Sun: the centennial of the incorporation of Baltimore

December 29, 1996

The following editorial appeared in The Sun 100 years ago, December 31, 1896.

SIXTEEN YEARS AGO the people of Baltimore celebrated the sesquicentennial, or the 150th anniversary, of the foundation of the city. Today is the 100th anniversary of its incorporation into a city.

On the last day of the year 1796 the act of incorporation was passed by the legislature of the state, the preamble to the act setting forth that ''it is found by experience that the good order, health and safety of large towns and cities cannot be preserved nor the evils and accidents to which they are subject avoided or remedied without an internal power competent to establish a police, and regulations fitted to their particular circumstances, wants and exigencies.''

For nearly 70 years Baltimore Town had been without this power.

The site for the town had originally been selected with admirable judgment. Under the act of August 8, 1729, 60 acres of land were purchased from Daniel and Charles Carroll, ''about the place where John Flemming now lives,'' (1729) and the land was laid off in building lots. John Flemming was a tenant on the estate of Charles Carroll, and his house stood near the present intersection of Charles and Lombard streets. Three years later Jonas -- afterward Jones -- Town was laid off on the eastern side of the falls.

The advantages of the location were manifest. The harbor was commodious and absolutely protected, and while a seaport, the town was at the same time an interior town. For as late as the census of 1790 the center of population in the United States was in Baltimore County.

The new town speedily commanded the trade of the Chesapeake Bay and many of its great tributaries; it was surrounded by splendid timber; it was built upon the best brick clay; there was all around it beautiful building stone and it was adjacent to abundant water power, which, before the general use of the steam engine, was a much more important consideration than it is at present.

The new town grew slowly because during the last century the manufacturing industry, which has given so great an impulse to urban growth during the later years of the present century, had not then arisen. The occupation of almost the entire population of the country was in agriculture and commerce, and it was the shipping industry, along with the trade of its stores, which sustained the city.

In 1752, nearly a quarter of a century after Baltimore Town had been laid out, the population was still not more than 100 souls, while that of Baltimore County was over 17,000. It was not until 1757 that the first brick house in the town was erected. In 1796, when the town was incorporated, the population was probably about 15,000. By the census of 1790 it was 13,500.

The commerce of the town had grown faster than the population. In 1790 there belonged to the port 27 ships, 31 brigantines, 34 schooners and 9 sloops, with a tonnage of 13,564. In seven years this had increased to about 60,000 tons, and the exports for the year ended September, 1798, were valued at over $12 million. Baltimore was that year ranked as the third commercial port of the Union. The improvement of the harbor was done probably largely with convict labor, as the court dockets of some of the counties during that decade show that criminals were sentenced ''to work at the wheelbarrow on the 'Bason' in Baltimore.''

The destruction of our carrying trade by the [Civil] war and the supplanting of the Baltimore clippers and nearly all sailing ships by the iron steamships gave a backset to the commerce and shipbuilding of the port. But the natural strength of the city's location has speedily asserted itself, and its foreign commerce is now increasing at a rapid rate its already enormous proportions.

It was in Baltimore in 1792, by the enterprise of the Maryland Insurance Company, that the first water company in the United States was formed. It was in Baltimore that the first balloon ascension in America was made. It was here that steel pens, invented in England, were first patented and manufactured in this country. It was by the state of Maryland and in the city of Baltimore that the first monument was erected in honor of George Washington.

Baltimore was the pioneer in America in the manufacture of gas for street and public purposes, and the old Museum, at the corner of Baltimore and Calvert streets, was the first public building to be lighted with gas in the world. It was Baltimore which incorporated the first railway company in the United States, and it was on that road that the first train drawn by a steam locomotive ran. It was here that the first silk ribbons made of American silk were manufactured. The first steamer of the first regular transoceanic steam line made her first voyage from this port. It was a Baltimore shipyard which produced the first two iron steamers on this side of the Atlantic.

It was to Baltimore that the first electric telegraph was run, and it was a Baltimore newspaper, The Sun, which first adopted its use in the collection of news among all the newspapers of the world. It was The Sun also which was the pioneer in the United States in the use of the cylinder press, which marked one of the greatest advances in the civilization of the 19th century. It was here that the iron plates for the first iron war vessel built were rolled, and the first iron building (The Sun) erected, and, finally, it was in this city that the first electric railroad was constructed and operated.

The city has continued to grow in size, wealth and importance. Its population probably reaches 600,000. Its commerce, its grain trade and its manufactures, the stability of its financial institutions, its unexcelled educational institutions, its libraries and churches, give it a rank among the greatest and most enlightened cities of the world.

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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