Gambling on history

NOTES AND COMMENTS

May 30, 2000|By Antero Pietila

FORT CARROLL, four miles downstream from Fort McHenry, is one of Baltimore's best-kept secrets.

The 150-year-old privately owned hexagonal stronghold is still in relatively good shape -- even though it has been abandoned for decades.

Most Baltimoreans have never seen the 3.45-acre artificial island, which lies underneath the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge. Nor is any interest encouraged. "We would prefer no publicity," says Alan Eisenberg, one of the Patapsco River fort's owners.

His father, the late Benjamin N. Eisenberg, bought the fort for $10,000 in 1958. He wanted to turn it into a gambling casino.

No luck. The tax court ruled the island was not in Anne Arundel, which allowed slot machines at the time, but in more restrictive Baltimore County. For nearly four decades, the fort has been deserted. Its only permanent residents are seagulls and rats.

When it was built in 1849, Fort Carroll was designed to enhance Baltimore's coastal defenses. But rapid advances in military technology quickly rendered it useless.

This does not detract from its history. It is a replica of Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., where the Civil War began.

Robert E. Lee, who was a federal colonel at the time, spent several years overseeing the construction. The Lees lived on Madison Street, near Biddle.

But at the beginning of each work week, a boat with two oarsmen would take the future Confederate hero to Sollers Point, where he stayed with a farming family, visiting the unfinished fort in the daytime.

After decades of uncertainty, there may finally be some movement on Fort Carroll. Alan Eisenberg is tight-lipped, saying only, "We have something in mind."

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