200 years after the original Defender’s Day, we continue to remember the Battle of Baltimore

Today we are sharing the first in a new series of posts from local preservationist Auni Gelles as she works on our new Battle of Baltimore website and soon-to-be-launched app. Auni tells the story of the city’s first Defender’s Day celebration and shares how we are carrying on this legacy of commemoration and education two centuries later.

Since 1815, Baltimoreans have celebrated the bravery of those “Old Defenders” who guarded against the British at sea (at Fort McHenry) as well as on land (at North Point) during the September 1814 Battle of Baltimore. This battle, near the end of the War of 1812, had implications for defense, trade, and perhaps most significantly, the identity of our city and country. The Americans’ success in Baltimore inspired Maryland attorney Francis Scott Key to write “The Defence of Fort M’Henry”—which we know today as our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. Key’s lines, which gained near-instant popularity, transformed the flag from a straightforward military sign into a symbol of American patriotism. The event quickly became an integral part of the city’s understanding of itself in the new republic.

Photograph of the Old Defenders by W. Ashman, Druid Hill Park, c. 1876-1880. Maryland Historical Society, GPVF.
Photograph of the Old Defenders by W. Ashman, Druid Hill Park, c. 1876-1880. Maryland Historical Society, GPVF.

This September will mark 201st anniversary of the Battle and the the 200th anniversary of the city’s the first Defenders’ Day commemorations. Baltimore marked first anniversary of the battle with a ceremony that laid the cornerstone for the Battle Monument—a symbol has appeared on the city seal since its completion in 1825. Anniversaries of this major Battle presented an opportunity for Baltimoreans to recall their city’s moment of national importance. 19th century Baltimoreans celebrated Defenders’ Day annually with parades, artillery salutes, fireworks, speeches, banquets, performances, and, until the last veteran passed away in 1894, reunions of the Old Defenders. President Benjamin Harrison was in attendance for the 75th anniversary in 1889 and witnessed a 15,000-person parade, battle reenactments, and a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner performed by a 415-piece band and a chorus 500 voices strong. The week-long centennial celebration in 1914 featured an “auto parade,” a carnival of electric lights, a military ball, an outdoor concert, fireworks over Fort McHenry, a display of visiting ships in the harbor, and schoolchildren forming form a human flag (sound familiar?).

A crowd gathers at the Battle Monument as part of the Star-Spangled Spectacular, the bicentennial commemoration of the defense of Baltimore, in 2014.
A crowd gathers at the Battle Monument as part of the Star-Spangled Spectacular, the bicentennial commemoration of the defense of Baltimore, in 2014.

The team at Baltimore Heritage is developing a new platform for exploring the Battle of Baltimore and its legacy, thanks to a grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority. A new website and smart phone app will share short place-based stories related to the battle and its revered place in the city’s history. Like Explore Baltimore Heritage, the Battle of Baltimore website will use the Curatescape platform to plot these sites on a map and integrate individual stories into thematic tours. Some of the buildings integral to city life in and around 1814 are no longer extant, but we will seek to tell those stories with period illustrations and excerpts from 19th century publications.

As a graduate student in public history at UMBC, I will assisting with researching, writing, editing/formatting and publishing these stories for my thesis. I will also create blog posts as well as activities for engagement with this content, such as quizzes, lists, and shareable graphics.

Do you have questions about the project? Suggestions for sites to highlight? We’d love to hear your feedback!

Be sure to check out Auni’s 2014 post for the National Museum of American History with the story behind a modest piece of charred timber set on fire by British troops in 1814. You can also follow Auni on Twitter @aunigelles and share your comments on this post in the Bmore Historic Facebook group.

Friends of Fort McHenry, 2014 September 9
Friends of Fort McHenry, 2014 September 9
Photograph by Peter Fitzgerald, 2008 June 2. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (CC SA).

New Sunday tours of the restored Washington Monument and Mount Vernon Place

With the reopening of Baltimore’s Washington Monument on July 4, Baltimore Heritage is pleased to start offering tours of the monument and surrounding historic squares beginning on Sunday July 19 and every third Sunday of the month through November. After extensive renovations, the 200-year-old monument looks great and visitors are again allowed inside.

Join us and our partner, the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy, on a tour to hear the stories behind the monument and see some of the landmarks of Baltimore’s grandest historic neighborhood. If your legs are strong, climb the monument’s stairs for a birds-eye view of central Baltimore! Learn more and register today.

We hope you can also join us on some of our other Sunday morning Monumental City Tours. Each tour in the series begins at 9:30 a.m. and lasts about an hour.


Photograph of shipyard workers watching a launching ceremony, Arthur S. Siegel, 1943 May. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-fsa-8d28414.

Call for Papers: Baltimore Revisited – Social History for the Twenty-First Century City

Baltimore Revisited: Social History for the Twenty-First Century City will draw from a wide range of researchers inside and outside of the academy to tell the stories of how and why Baltimore looks and functions as it does today. We are specifically looking for heavily researched pieces written in an accessible voice that can offer new perspectives on the city’s social history grounded in the specific places, neighborhoods, and communities in Baltimore. Each chapter could stand alone, but together, they will offer a newer vision of local history from the ground up to complicate our view of the past, as well as the present.

Read more

2015 Historic Preservation Awards

Join us to celebrate preservation in Baltimore at our Awards Celebration this Thursday

If you haven’t purchased tickets yet for our 2015 Preservation Awards celebration this Thursday June 18, now is the time! We are celebrating the year’s best preservation and adaptive reuse projects and the people behind them. We are also excited to give the Douglas Gordon Award for exceptional leadership in local preservation to Mr. Martin Azola. Read on for the full list of award winning projects!

In addition to being in the wonderfully transformed Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater, we’ll get a tour of the historic Merchant’s Club building next door that the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company plans to expand into. And of course there will be plenty of food, drinks, and good cheer.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater is located at 7 South Calvert Street, at the corner of Redwood Street. Parking is available one block away at the Arrow parking garage on Water Street. Garage entrances are located on Water Street and Lombard Street. Find more details or go ahead and register today!

I hope you can join us on Thursday evening. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me at 410-332-9992 or email me at hopkins@baltimoreheritage.org.

2015 Preservation Award Recipients

Restoration & Rehabilitation

Frazier Residence
424 South Dallas Street

Rita Church Community Center
2101 Saint Lo Drive

Interior view of the Welch Medical Library, Johns Hopkins University.
Interior view of the Welch Medical Library, Johns Hopkins University.

Welch Medical Library
1900 East Monument Street

939 South Clinton Street

1226 North Calvert Street

1418 Madison Avenue

Adaptive Reuse & Compatible Design

Interview view of The Algonquin, 11 East Chase Street.
Interview view of The Algonquin, 11 East Chase Street.

The Algonquin
11 East Chase Street

Bolton Hill Nursery School
204 West Lanvale Street

Exterior view of the Bolton Hill Nursery School.
Exterior view of the Bolton Hill Nursery School.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Theater
7 South Calvert Street

Columbus School Apartments
2000 East North Avenue

Front view of the Columbus School. Courtesy Cho Benn Holback.
Front view of the Columbus School. Courtesy Cho Benn Holback.

Exterior view of the Fallsway Spring building.

Exterior view of the Fallsway Spring building.

Fallsway Spring
415 South Central Avenue

Police Station at Fells Point Station
1621 Bank Street

The Lenore
114 East Lexington Street

300 Cathedral Street Apartments
300 Cathedral Street

520 Park
520 Park Avenue

1001 Cathedral
1001 Cathedral Street

1801 Falls Road

Heritage Preservation Awards

Downtown Baltimore Landmark Designation Initiative

Elaine Eff and the Painted Screens of Baltimore

Historic Baltimore Neighborhoods Awards

Gateway Homeownership Development Project

Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance: Self-Guided Walking Tour of Hampden-Woodberry

Douglas Gordon Award

Mr. Martin Azola – for over 40 years of service and leadership in historic preservation.

Bmore Historic 2015

Join us for Bmore Historic—Baltimore’s preservation and public history unconference

Bmore Historic — Baltimore’s annual unconference on preservation, public history and cultural heritage—is returning to the Maryland Historical Society this fall on Friday, September 25.

Bmore Historic isn’t like most historic preservation workshops or trainings. Bmore Historic is an unconference—a gathering that emphasizes the important contributions that each and every participant brings into a full day of discussion sessions, workshops and conversations. We invite neighborhood activists, history teachers, graduate students, museum professionals and preservationists to share their knowledge about how preservation and public history can make Baltimore a better place to live, work and learn.

Each year we love to bring together a diverse community of history nerds who want to network with neighbors and improve our shared efforts to turn historic places and cultural heritage into a vital resource for our community. Over the past four years, hundreds of participants have led or participated in sessions on everything from modernist architecture to records management to deindustrialization and historic preservation to finding an 21st century audience for historic sites!

Sounds interesting? Learn more about Bmore Historic and check out our tips and tricks for unconferences. If you’re sold already, you are welcome to go ahead and register to join us this fall. If you have questions or ideas, please comment here, get in touch at 301-204-3337 or share your thoughts on the Bmore Historic Facebook Group.