A row of cannons in Patterson Park, as seen from an upper level… (Barbara Haddock Taylor…)
Today they endure climbing children and have bicycles chained to them, but the cannons that flank Patterson Park's Pagoda were used in wars as much as 350 years ago, park officials have found.
A cannon expert surveyed the seven historic weapons last fall and will soon undertake their restoration after finding they aren't just reproductions, as many had thought in the century since they were installed to commemorate the War of 1812 centennial.
Some were likely used in the Battle of Baltimore, on land or sea, and in the Revolutionary War — or earlier.
"We didn't really know what we had," said Jennifer Arndt Robinson, executive director of the Friends of Patterson Park. "They're kind of living history in the park."
Forrest Taylor, the Carroll County cannon expert who evaluated the artillery, is expected to begin removing the cannons from the park today. They will spend the spring and summer being cleaned of salt and corrosion and sealed with materials safer for human contact and better for preservation than the existing sealants.
To a layman, it's hard to see the historical significance of the cannons, though they appear worn from exposure to the elements. But Taylor, president of CannonsOnline.com in New Windsor, said his inspection shows they were used heavily in battle, and very likely were rounded up by Baltimoreans as they prepared to defend their city in the Sept. 14, 1814, battle that was a turning point in the War of 1812.
"Not only are they tactically correct, but they are historically of the correct period," Taylor, an artillery historian, said.
It's impossible to know exactly when or where they were used, he said. But in the 19th century, it's likely that Baltimoreans would have used whatever cannons they could find, many of them probably old relics that, at the time, were seen as little more than pieces of scrap metal, Taylor said.
His analysis shows one to be of Swedish origin, dating to around 1720, while another appears to have French roots back to 1740, and possibly used during the French and Indian War. At the end of the line of cannons, farthest from the Pagoda, is likely a rare British piece of artillery that could date to the English Civil War and the 1660s.
All of the cannons show wear to the insides of their barrels and to rear vents, suggesting they were used to fire many a "six-pounder," the common size cannonball each would have used, Taylor said.
The Friends of Patterson Park is using about $65,000 in grants, given through the state's Star-Spangled 200 Grant Program, on the restoration. The project will also including replacing the concrete pillars holding up several of the cannons with bases that are more historically accurate, and less damaging.
Concrete can hold a lot of moisture, so portions of the cannons touching the bases could be significantly worn, Taylor said.
Taylor plans to use various techniques, including one known as carbonic blasting and another using dry ice, to buff the cannons. Then, they will be coated in new sealants, replacing those that are flaking off, including some lead-based paint.
That will help protect both the future generations of climbing children and the cannons themselves.
"Children love the ability to touch cannons and pieces of history," Taylor said. "But hands have chemicals that are bad for [the cannons]."
The plan is to have the cannons reinstalled flanking the Pagoda by September, when a festival in the park will celebrate the battle's bicentennial. A separate archaeology project is looking for remnants of the militia camp and defenses dating to the Sept. 14, 1814, battle.
"Part of our mission is making sure we preserve things for future generations," Robinson said.