Mayor, leaders unveil path for a historic stroll through city

Heritage Walk is designed to illustrate Baltimore history

July 16, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The tale of Mary Pickersgill, the hardworking Baltimore seamstress who made the Star-Spangled Banner in 1814, will soon be told in signs outside her East Pratt Street house in 17 different languages.

Following in Boston's Freedom Trail footsteps, Mayor Martin O'Malley unveiled a new Heritage Walk yesterday on the Inner Harbor promenade, near the trailhead of a 5-kilometer Baltimore history lesson that will be installed over the summer.

O'Malley said the path would enable city dwellers and visitors to connect dots in a tapestry of time spanning four centuries. He also framed the trail as an exercise in building civic self-esteem.

"We have unique historic charm in our city and now, in our city, we can walk in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass," O'Malley said to a gathering outside the new Visitor Center. "People will follow a story of American history as told by the city of Baltimore."

In a nod to Baltimore's place as a waterfront immigrant destination second only to New York a century ago, the signs and narratives will be translated into 17 languages, including Yiddish, Polish, Yoruba and Gaelic.

"This was a gateway for a nation," O'Malley said, noting the early 20th-century immigration explosion. The city's resulting ethnic enclaves are one of several "significant stories" presented in the Heritage Walk, he said.

City officials said the long-planned path, which will be marked with cast-bronze trail disks, leads away from the harbor and National Aquarium to lure walkers to less-visited city sites.

Among the trail stops are the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the new Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, and the Flag House, home of the Star-Spangled Banner Museum. The 20 chosen sites also include a 1771 Society of Friends meetinghouse, the Baltimore Civil War Museum, the white St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church and the gold-domed City Hall, completed in 1875.

Tyler Gearhart, executive director for the nonprofit Preservation Maryland, said at yesterday's unveiling that Baltimore deserves a comprehensive explanation and understanding of its history. Those who walk the trail will learn, for example, how the Civil War's first skirmish happened on the streets of Baltimore.

"This will give Boston's Freedom Trail a run for its money," Gearhart said. "I think it's long overdue."

He added that Baltimore has more registered historic buildings than any other city in the nation.

Deborah Weiner, research historian for the Jewish Museum of Maryland, said museum officials are thrilled with the prospect of more visibility on the trail to attract first-time visitors.

The estimated cost of the Heritage Walk is $400,000, said Bill Pencek, director of the Baltimore City heritage area, whom O'Malley charged with the task of establishing the trail in collaboration with Historic Jonestown Inc.

A key element for public enjoyment, Pencek said, is having 10 city park rangers, already on the job at the Visitor Center, give a guided walking tour, which takes three hours. The cost is $7.50, he said.

Pencek said his ultimate goal is to appeal to the National Park Service to form a city-federal partnership in administering the trail, similar to Boston's Freedom Trail model.

The trailhead, to be placed near the Visitor Center, will be styled to resemble a sculpture and be illuminated at night, he said. "We need to start someplace," Pencek said. "Heritage Walk can be a great thing as a campaign to elevate Baltimore's national heritage stories. We know Boston tells us they have 700,000 visitors annually to the Freedom Trail."

Kirby Fowler, president of the nonprofit Downtown Partnership, said he expects the trail, which threads through streets near the Little Italy district, to improve commerce as well as culture.

"Along the way, people will stop at retail establishments and restaurants," Fowler said.

From his comments at yesterday's ceremony, O'Malley's personal favorite on the history trail seemed to be the defense of Baltimore from the British bombardment of 1814, when prisoner of war Francis Scott Key wrote the poem -- about Pickersgill's flag -- that became the national anthem.

"A lot of people don't fully appreciate what a pivotal role this city played in saving the nation," O'Malley said. "It was this close. And it shows how integrated [the city] has always been. One- fifth of the defenders were free blacks and most were immigrants. They were diverse. The lesson is, we're all in this together."

Heritage Walk Star Attractions

1. U.S.S. Constellation museum

2. World Trade Center - Top of the World

3. Baltimore Maritime Museum

4. Baltimore Public Works Museum

5. Baltimore Civil War Museum

6. Flag House & Star Spangled Banner Museum

7. Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland

8. Carroll Mansion

9. Jewish Museum of Maryland

10. McKim Free School

11. Friends Meeting house

12. Nine North Front Street

13. Phoenix Shoot Tower

14. St. Vincent de Paul Church

15. War Memorial

16. Zion Lutheran Church

17. Peale Museum

18. City Hall

19. Battle Monument

20. Alex. Brown Building

Discover Story signs

A. Baltimore: Four Centuries of Change

B. Industrial Revolution

C. Little Italy: A Taste of the Past

D. Jonestown: An Epic Story of Change

E. Historic Jonestown: Stories of Freedom

F. Historic Jonestown: A Place of a New Start

G. Holiday Street: A Stage for Culture, Politics and Worship

H. Baltimore: The Monumental City

I. Baltimore's Changing Skyline

J. Baltimore: Rebuilt from Ashes

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