Snowfall muffles museum's 160th anniversary

President Street Station closed for damage inspection

  • The Baltimore Streetcar Museum was undamaged and is back in operation, but with curtailed rides because of electricity poles and wires felled by snow-laden trees.
The Baltimore Streetcar Museum was undamaged and is back in… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
February 22, 2010|By Edward Gunts |

Last Thursday was the 160th anniversary of the opening of the historic President Street train station, home of Baltimore's Civil War Museum, but nobody did much celebrating.

The small brick structure at 601 President St. was condemned by the city Feb. 12. It is just one of several historic buildings, including the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, damaged by the back-to-back storms that dumped about 40 inches of snow in Central Maryland.

The museum typically opens on weekends in February because it's Black History Month, and the train station was a stop on the Underground Railroad route that some slaves took to escape to freedom. "It's a shame we weren't able to open. It really put in a crimp in our plans, because February is a big month for the museum," said Ralph Vincent, treasurer of The Friends of President Street Station, a nonprofit group that runs the museum.

President Street Station is a landmark and one of the oldest structures in the Harbor East renewal area. It was a key terminal in the city's early railroad network, and is associated with some of the first casualties of the Civil War. On April 19, 1861, troops from the 6th Massachusetts Regiment marching from President Street to Camden Station were attacked by Southern sympathizers, resulting in the deaths of four soldiers and 12 civilians.

Margaret B. Martin, chief of the design and construction division of Baltimore's Department of General Services, said city representatives inspected the station's interior after the second February snowstorm and determined it shouldn't be entered until the exterior can be inspected from a lift.

The building apparently is not in imminent danger of collapsing. "There are no structural concerns with the roof or building," Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank said in an e-mail. "We closed the building out of concern that a water leak would damage the electrical system. We have a contractor scheduled for early next week to further assess the situation and develop a timeline for the repairs."

The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a nonprofit group that also had its headquarters in the restored train station, has moved to the 1000 block of Lancaster St. in a space donated by H&S Properties Development Corp. "We're very grateful for their help," said Laurie Schwartz, executive director.

Vincent hopes the problems will be fixed in time for the museum to reopen "by the end of this month or early March."

At the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, at 1901 Falls Road, trees weighted with snow fell onto wires that supplied electricity to the streetcars, and brought down three poles along the route.

"Our big problem wasn't the snow. It was the trees," said John O'Neill, museum president.

Though the buildings weren't damaged, the museum was closed for two weekends. On Saturday, the day before yesterday's reopening, volunteers worked to set up a temporary wiring network so streetcars could run at least part of the route.

On Sunday, the museum had a steady stream of visitors, though they could take only half-mile round-trip rides on vintage streetcars, compared to the usual one-and-a-half-mile rides.

The museum needs to get new poles in the ground to rehang the wires and is seeking help from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., but that can't happen until the ground thaws.

"We're trying to stay open and give people some semblance of a ride," public affairs director Andrew Blumberg said. "We're making the best of a tough situation."

At other historic buildings, the snow damage was less severe:

•Baltimore's City Hall lost snow guards and some of the slate shingles from its roof, according to Martin of the general services department.

•Members of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church moved their services to the neighboring Tremont Grand meeting facility Feb. 14 after members discovered water damage in the sanctuary, but returned to the church Sunday.

•In Western Maryland, part of the shed roof was damaged on the 1873 Point of Rocks train station, designed by the noted architect Francis Baldwin, but the station has remained open for MARC train service.

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