Buried treasure Early railroad: Did track recently uncovered in city help carry Frederick Douglass to freedom?

March 31, 1998

WHEN weekend diggers recently unearthed 1830s railroad ties next to the former President Street Station, they thought they had hit pay dirt. Further excavations uncovered some of the earliest railroad tracks constructed in the United States, dating to the days of Frederick Douglass.

This is exciting news to railroad buffs and supporters of the Baltimore Civil War Museum, which occupies the restored station house at Eastern Avenue and President Street. But the discoveries ought to inspire far more people.

They indicate the wealth of history hidden under Maryland soil, just waiting to be discovered and interpreted.

Recent digs have been conducted at sites connected with Maryland's Indian past that had remained virtually untouched for 500 years.

At an Elkridge site in Patapsco Valley State Park, for example, rare relics dating to 300 B.C. were uncovered. More discoveries run the gamut from Colonial artifacts to discoveries at Civil War sites; more than 40 Northern military camps were established in occupied Baltimore.

Then there is Fells Point. Dennis Zembala of the Baltimore Museum of Industry calls it one of the city's "most fascinating case studies of constantly changing industrial neighborhoods," because so many commercial activities -- shipbuilding, foundries, canneries, bakeries -- have thrived there.

The Inner Harbor East area, near the proposed Wydham hotel site, is near some of the oldest sections of Baltimore. Trains have been running from there since 1835.

In 1838, Frederick Douglass, then a 21-year-old slave who had worked at a Fells Point shipyard, escaped north aboard one of those early trains. Could the track just discovered date to his times?

Perhaps.

Years later, the abolitionist returned to Baltimore to build five rowhouses (which were recently saved and restored) a few blocks from the tracks, at Dallas and Lancaster streets.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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