Waterfront project to showcase city's maritime history

National Historic Seaport plan calls for museum, tourist sites

April 15, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Boston has the Freedom Trail to walk tourists through its historic sites. Williamsburg has rebuilt a Colonial-era village to teach visitors about Virginia's heritage.

Starting April 29, Baltimore will try to lure a million history buffs a year to town by launching a marketing campaign touting the National Historic Seaport of Baltimore.

The Living Classrooms Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization based in the city, will coordinate water-taxi links to 15 historic sites ringing Baltimore harbor and offer tourists a $15.75 pass to see all of them.

The effort includes the planned conversion of a crumbling warehouse at the tip of Fells Point into the state's first museum honoring African-American contributions to sailing and shipbuilding.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is expected to announce the project during a news conference today.

"By linking these maritime attractions, we are creating Baltimore's own `Williamsburg on the Water,' " Schmoke said in a statement, referring to Virginia's popular historic site.

The marketing campaign is designed not only to boost tourism but also to lend a more historic image to the Inner Harbor, which has become a shopping draw and home to national chains such as Planet Hollywood.

Recent ads in the New York Times and other publications send the message that the harbor is home to three centuries of sailing and shipbuilding as well as the Hard Rock Cafe.

"Baltimore's history has been shaped by its connection to the maritime industry," said James Piper Bond, president of the Living Classrooms Foundation. "With the National Historic Seaport, we have the opportunity to market the region like never before and bring in more visitors, conventions and students."

The 14-year-old organization, based near the harbor, teaches students about history and other subjects by taking them aboard vintage sailing ships.

Much of what the foundation is doing with the National Historic Seaport project is simply coordinating the advertising for 15 historic sites. These include the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the Lightship Chesapeake, which marked the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay for nearly a half-century.

Admission card

Using a plastic card emblazoned with a Colonial-era eagle, people shopping at the Inner Harbor will also be able to explore the submarine USS Torsk, which sank the last Japanese warships in World War II. They will scramble aboard the pre-Civil War ship the Constellation after early July, when repairs to the vessel are expected to be complete. And they will hop a ferry to Fort McHenry, whose bombardment in 1814 inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The price of admission to the 15 sites will save a visitor about $8 off the current cost of buying separate tickets to all the ships and museums.

The Historic Seaport passes will last a year and allow a holder to visit each location once. Discounts will be available for children 12 and under.

About 20 guides wearing Indiana Jones-style hats with the gold-and-green logo of the Historic Seaport will escort visitors to the sites and give talks on history. Tourists will also be able to see a panorama of the harbor from atop the World Trade Center.

A key part of the project is the planned rebuilding of the abandoned B&O Railroad warehouse in Fells Point into the Frederick Douglass/Isaac Myers Maritime Park.

The complex, when completed by 2002, will include a working, 19th-century shipyard with a railway system to haul 100-ton boats out of the water, Bond said. Students will be able to watch and assist as craftsmen cut spars and beams for sailing ships.

The site will have computerized displays describing the life of Douglass, a slave who caulked ships in Fells Point before escaping to become one of the nation's leading abolitionists.

Visitors will also learn about Myers, a black businessman who, for two decades after the Civil War, ran the Chesapeake Maritime Railway and Drydock Co., which built and repaired ships.

The rebuilding of the warehouse is expected to cost $9 million. The foundation hopes to collect $3 million in private contributions and get the rest from the city and state, Bond said.

The organization seeks corporate sponsors to help pay the estimated $1 million annual cost of running the seaport program.

Ioanna T. Morfessis, president of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, said the marketing will try to change the image of the harbor.

"We have all these national chains coming to the Inner Harbor, like the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood. But, by emphasizing the history, we are saying there is a lot more to do here than the typical American cultural experience. We have the history of our nation here," said Morfessis.

It took years of politicking to persuade the four nonprofit groups that run the 14 historic sites to cooperate in the marketing. They had to link arms with the city and the U.S. National Park Service, which operates Fort McHenry.

Everyone is `on board'

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