Federal Hill slides -- again

Inner Harbor: Eight years after $2 million reconstruction, city will try to rebuild overlook once more.

May 12, 1999

EIGHT YEARS after Baltimore taxpayers spent $2 million to reconstruct Federal Hill, the city is about to steady the crumbling Inner Harbor overlook once more.

"The dirt is no good," Public Work Director George G. Balog says. A $2 million project aims to replace the slope's soil and improve its drainage. "This is going to work."

Let's hope so. Because 140 years ago, Baltimoreans had a chance to get rid of the lookout altogether but didn't.

Dr. Thomas Buckler, who was a leading mover and shaker at the time, proposed that Federal Hill be leveled and its ground used to fill the malarial Inner Harbor basin. A huge controversy ensued. Property owners were aghast at the proposal's cost. Nevertheless, an engineering study was commissioned. But it mysteriously disappeared before City Council action.

In the end, Dr. Buckler got so upset he packed up and moved to Paris, describing Baltimoreans as "the most silly, unreflective, procrastinating, impracticable and perverse congregation of bipeds to be found anywhere under the sun."

Meanwhile, Federal Hill, the site of an observation tower to incoming signal ships, witnessed more history. During the Civil War, it was a Union encampment, with guns aimed at the rebellious city.

Over the years, Baltimoreans have wondered whether a honeycomb of tunnels underneath Federal Hill might be the cause of its deterioration. Mr. Balog does not think so. He speculates that the slope was made unstable when ash and debris from the Great Fire of 1904 were piled up in various parts of South Baltimore.

If this latest reconstruction, which will take six months, proves unsatisfactory, the least the city could do is to obligate the contractor to erect a statue to the visionary Dr. Thomas Buckler.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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