Bicentennial bursts Inner Harbor: Fireworks tonight begin the 200th anniversary year of city's incorporation.

December 31, 1996

IT IS ONE of the biggest fireworks displays in Baltimore ever. And why not? Tonight's 22-minute New Year's extravaganza over the Inner Harbor ushers the city into the bicentennial of its incorporation.

The incorporation on Dec. 31, 1796, converted the 67-year-old Baltimore Town into a city. About 20,000 people lived here at the time. But despite the change in legal status, the city remained part of Baltimore County until 1851, when protracted disputes about such common properties as tobacco warehouses, the jail and courthouse finally led to the legal separation of the two jurisdictions.

After James Calhoun was elected as the first mayor of Baltimore on Jan. 16, 1797, a marine observatory was quickly established on Federal Hill. The Library of Baltimore was also incorporated -- it later became part of the Maryland Historical Society. Yet another milestone was the founding of the Maryland Academy of Sciences, which started as an informal gathering of leading citizens. Among its early meeting places was a stable.

Although the academy is said to be the second oldest science institution in the country, it was not until 1976 that it acquired its own building -- the Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor. But when three six-foot rooftop neon signs blaze the number "200" tonight, that will denote not only the bicentennial of the city's incorporation but the academy's birthday as well. These will be celestial events: It was under the Bouvard-Herschel Comet of 1797 that the founders of the Maryland Academy of Sciences first met and the city was incorporated. On March 23, another comet, the Hale-Bopp, will make its closest approach to Earth, coming within 120,000,000 miles of our planet.

There will be no shortage of celebrations in Baltimore during this bicentennial year. Among them will be the Baltimore Neighborhood Block Party on April 19 and 20, which will convert the Convention Center into Baltimore in miniature. The next big celebration will be the bicentennial birthday bash that will go on from June 26 to July 6. Picnics will be held at city parks during the summer and a weekend of birthday parties is scheduled for September.

Whatever else will happen next year, one thing is for sure: There will be lots of parties. Happy birthday, Baltimore!

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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