History for sale in Inner Harbor

Civil War Museum site set to be sold

December 28, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

The little red building is dwarfed by the looming hotels and restaurants filling Inner Harbor East.

Once home to the little-known Baltimore Civil War Museum, the former President Street train station will soon be on the auction block.

Owned by the city, the Baltimore Development Corp. will put out a request for proposals to buy or lease the building this spring, said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section gave an incorrect date for the Pratt Street riot, when Massachusetts troops clashed with angry crowds near Camden Station, leaving several soldiers and others dead. The riot occurred in April 1861.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Supporters of the museum say they fear that it will be gobbled up by the same development forces that have transformed much of this waterfront community.

"It's extremely important to the history of Baltimore, in particular because of its Civil War, and its railroad and its Underground Railroad connections," said Ralph Vincent, 68, of the Friends of the President Street Station.

"Those are the stories that the museum has been telling."

Vincent said he had heard that John Paterakis Sr., the H&S Bakery magnate behind much of the Harbor East development, was interested in the building.

Paterakis did not return calls for comment.

Clifford said he does not know if Paterakis is interested. "He may be; if he is, we'll get a proposal from him in the spring," he said.

The museum has suffered its share of setbacks in its 10-year history.

Set in the old President Street train station at President and Fleet streets, the circa-1850, two-story building had one functioning floor, about 925-square feet. Without a stairwell, there was no access to the second floor.

Friends of the President Street Station had raised about $6,000 to build a small building on the back of the station to house a joint utility room/office and a restroom.

The museum -- which charged $4 for admission -- had just 12,000 visitors last year, according to the Maryland Historical Society.

The historical society ran the museum until November, when it was closed. "It was operating at a loss," said Robert Rogers, executive director of the society.

Rogers said some of the museum's exhibits, along with material from the Fells Point Maritime Museum, which also closed in November, will be incorporated into the historical society's main campus in Mount Vernon.

Together, the museums had a budget of about $100,000 but lost about $50,000 last year.

Courtney Wilson, director of the B&O Railroad Museum, had expressed interest in taking over the museum. He said the group had made a proposal to the city, requesting funding because the museum was in need of renovations.

"They basically said that wasn't going to work," Wilson said.

"Under the right set of circumstances, it's a good fit for the B&O Railroad Museum because it's a train station and because it gives us an opportunity to talk about railroads in Baltimore during the Civil War."

For supporters, the potential loss of the building to commercial development is akin to a tragedy.

Vincent, whose group travels to conferences and other states to promote the museum, said the site's historical significance can't be understated.

The site was part of the Underground Railroad used by slaves escaping from the South prior to the building of the station.

Also, in April 1862, Massachusetts troops were greeted by angry crowds at President Street and Camden Station. Several soldiers and residents were killed.

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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