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Civil War Archeology in Lafayette Square

The markings of Baltimore’s Civil War heritage are all around us, from downtown landmarks like President Street Station, to military buttons, ceramic ware, and bits of metal of every variety that lie literally under our feet. To help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War this year, please join Baltimore Heritage and the Friends of West Baltimore Squares on July 9 as we dig into the history of Civil War-era Baltimore with an archeological investigation in Lafayette Square. We’re not sure what we’ll find under the topsoil, but we do know that the Square was the site of Lafayette Barracks during the civil war, a military camp and hospital that housed 1000 people strong. With support from the Archaeological Society of Maryland, the Maryland Historical Trust, and the local community, we are conducting an archaeological investigation of Lafayette Barracks, the military camp and hospital located in the park during the Civil War. Please stop by to talk to the archeologists, learn about urban archeology, and West Baltimore’s Civil War history. Throughout the afternoon, we will be offering walking tours, exhibits on the architectural history of the Square, and even grilled hotdogs!

Civil War Archeology in Lafayette Square

Saturday, July 9, 2011
Lafayette Square Park (West Lafayette Avenue & North Arlington Street)
11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Tours, talks, and exhibits throughout the day and hotdogs at noon. On-street parking available. to look up directions, use 1100 W. Lafayette Avenue, Baltimore 21217.
RSVP Today!

From 1861 through 1865, as the United States were split by civil war, Lafayette Square in West Baltimore became a bustling military encampment and a rich scene of Baltimore’s Civil War life. Originally known as Camp Hoffman–named for Henry W. Hoffman, collector for the Port of Baltimore–the camp housed at least five Maryland Union regiments as well as troops from New York and other northern states. The Camp, including a hospital, sutler’s store, kitchen and parade grounds, served as a rendezvous point for Maryland and Delaware Union troops with as many as to 1,000 soldiers preparing for active duty at a time. In the blocks around the camp, one could find military bands marching down to Jarvis Hospital on Baltimore Street, drunken brawls at local bars between soldiers and civilians, deserters escaping through Druid Hill Park shot down by cavalrymen, and escaped slaves from the Eastern Shore taking refuge with Union troops before seeking freedom to the north. John Scharf, Baltimore’s foremost historian during the late 19th century, described Lafayette Square in 1865 as “filled with ugly wooden sheds, swarming with rough troops, while not one of the elegant mansions now surrounding it had been reared.”

Our archaeological investigation, led by archeologists Brandon Bies, MAA and Dr. David Gadsby, seeks to learn more about people who lived and worked at Lafayette Barracks during the Civil War by searching for any artifacts or surviving physical evidence that they left behind. With a dozen trained volunteers, our team will use metal detectors to search out metal artifacts, such as buttons or bullets, and open up a small area of excavation to search for the remains of Camp Hoffman. Stop by on July 9 to learn more about West Baltimore’s Civil War history and the process of historical archeology. We’ll be leading short walking tours every hour, sharing exhibits on the history and community of Lafayette Square, and hosting the Baltimore Civil War Museum with exhibits on archeology at President Street Station. Please RSVP if you’re planning to join us! Questions? Contact Eli Pousson at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org or 301-204-3337.

West Baltimore Walks at the 2011 ROOTS Festival

This weekend the 2011 ROOTS Festival comes to the Highway to Nowhere in West Baltimore, and we are leading neighborhood walking tours as part of it. Please join us if you can. The festival is a series of music, arts and community events, some outdoor and some indoor, starting at Franklin and North Gilmor Streets (just west of Martin Luther King Boulevard). As part of our continuing work with the Friends of West Baltimore Squares partnership, we’ll be at the festival both Saturday & Sunday, June 25-26, sharing information on upcoming programs and offering a series of West Baltimore Walks through the historic parks and innovative new gardens to the north and south of the Highway to Nowhere.

Baltimore Heritage at the Alternate ROOTS Festival

Saturday & Sunday, June 25-26
West Baltimore Walks at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, & 3:00 pm
FREE!
RSVP today!

Meet at the corner of Franklin and Carey Streets at the festival.

The one-hour walking tours, led by Baltimore Heritage’s Eli Pousson, start from the “Community Bridge” at the corner of Franklin & Carey Streets. They will go through Harlem Park & Lafayette Square exploring schoolyard gardens and soaring historic churches, and through Franklin Square & Union Square stopping by the H.L. Mencken House and innovative vacant lot projects on Brice and Carey Streets.

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New Partnerships for West Baltimore’s Green Spaces

The Friends of West Baltimore Squares is a new partnership-driven initiative connecting historic preservation, urban greening and neighborhood revitalization through the celebration of West Baltimore’s unique historic squares and parks. Working as a Partner in the Field promoting neighborhood revitalization in African American communities, I often discover parks, gardens, and vacant lots, some well loved and cared for and others not, just next door or across the street from the historic buildings that we’re fighting to save at Baltimore Heritage. The aspirations of gardeners in West Baltimore have much in common with our efforts to reuse buildings – like the Sellers Mansion on the southeast corner of Lafayette Square – and return activity to a neighborhood that struggles with disinvestment and concentrated poverty. The Friends of West Baltimore Squares reflects these common goals of supporting more livable and vital neighborhoods through a partnership between Baltimore Heritage, the Parks & People Foundation, and neighborhood residents around five historic parks to organize events, conduct outreach to residents and visitors, and advocate for the long-term vitality of West Baltimore’s parks and neighborhoods.

We launched this new effort in February 2011 working with neighborhood leaders in Franklin Square, Harlem Park, Lafayette Square, Perkins Square, and Union Square. These five parks are used by over a dozen West Baltimore neighborhoods which include many more pocket parks and community gardens. While these neighborhoods are distinct and diverse, they also share many common challenges – vacant and abandoned properties, and illegal dumping all come to mind – but also share common assets such as handsome historic rowhouses, generous green space, and the potential for transit-oriented community development around the new Red Line light rail route proposed to connect West & East Baltimore through downtown. We decided to focus initially on organizing public events to engage a broad cross-section of neighborhood residents and begin growing a network of contacts across the area. Our first event, the West Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration, at the end of April. The walk connected over 60 residents from the area to four of the major squares, and ended with a community BBQ at Lafayette Square.

We’re promoting our programs through neighborhood meetings, a growing e-mail list, as well as FacebookTwitter, and Flickr. This range of outreach efforts is essential to connect with the many young people and families who often do not participate in neighborhood organizations and also offers an opportunity to recognize the neighborhoods many real assets like the new Harlem Park School Community Garden. We’re launching a new tour program in early June at the West Baltimore Farmer’s Market that mixes interpretation of the area’s Civil War history in the 1860s, struggles with urban renewal in the 1960s, and innovative new approaches to urban forestry and sustainable stormwater management.

This is a new effort for Baltimore Heritage and we are excited about the opportunities to reach out and engage, not only with people who love old buildings but also with those who are working hard to create more sustainable historic neighborhoods through supporting parks and gardens. Through building up community around a shared commitment to sustainable and unique historic neighborhoods and connecting our efforts to the transit-oriented development, we see a bright future for the residents and neighborhoods around West Baltimore Squares.

Thanks to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for publishing this post on the PreservationNation blog.