1829 roof found nearly intact on building at Fort McHenry

Restoration workers make discovery in removing tin

January 25, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

They sure don't make roofs like this one anymore.

Restoration workers at Fort McHenry have peeled a layer of roofing tin from a 91-foot barracks porch and uncovered a shake-shingle roof that has survived nearly intact since it was built in 1829.

Scott S. Sheads, the National Park Service historian at the fort, called the roof over the second-floor porch of Barracks 1 "the earliest intact roof on a military building that we know of."

Sheads said yesterday that the same roof shaded Baltimore Mayor George Brown, 31 members of the state legislature, and Baltimore newspaper editor Francis Key Howard - the grandson of Francis Scott Key - after they were jailed at the fort in 1861.

They were Southern sympathizers at the start of the Civil War, and President Abraham Lincoln was struggling to prevent Maryland's secession from the Union.

"It was known as `Hotel McHenry,'" Sheads said. "They were allowed to sit out on the balcony and receive visitors."

Howard wrote of the "odd and not pleasant coincidence" of being imprisoned at the fort whose defense 47 years earlier, during the War of 1812, was immortalized by his grandfather in "The Star-Spangled Banner." "The flag which he had then so proudly hailed, I saw waving at the same place over the victims of as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed," Howard said.

The Army held civilian prisoners at the fort until March 1862, freeing them only after Maryland elected a pro-Union legislature.

Military records indicate the 1829 porch roof on Barracks 1 was built with $56 worth of Long Island pine shingles and $15.75 worth of iron cut nails. The design of the nails enabled historians this week to confirm the roof's age. In 1837, the shingles were covered with "tin" - actually rolled sheet iron.

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