Baltimore - the colorful, diverse city that is Maryland's largest city and economic hub, is known for its beautiful harbor; quirky, distinct neighborhoods; unique museums and the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital to the east and the University of Maryland Medical Center to the west. With the rich history the city boasts however, it's amazing that Baltimore hasn't been deemed one of America's greatest historical destinations.
Named for Lord Baltimore (Cecilius Calvert) in the Irish House of Lords, Baltimore settled in the early 17th century. The waterfront, surrounded with shops, restaurants and attractions that lure tourists and residents today, made Baltimore a hub for tobacco trade with England in its earliest days. By the 18th century, Baltimore had also become a granary for sugar-producing colonies in the Caribbean.
As a major seafaring and trading community, Baltimore played a key role in events that shaped the nation's history, including the American Revolution. Suffering from taxes and commerce regulations that the British attempted to impose, outraged merchants signed agreements not to trade with Britain. Leaders moved to the city to join the resistance, causing sizeable losses for British merchants, which fueled growth in Baltimore. The population doubled between 1776 and 1790, and again by 1800. Baltimore was once the second leading port of entry for European immigrants. The Revolutionary War also expanded the number of black residents as the British offered freedom to escaped slaves who remained in the city after the war. Although slavery was legal in Baltimore, the city had more free persons of color than any other southern city.
Baltimore found enormous profit in overseas trade. When the British tried to cripple America's efforts to become ruler of the seas, America responded by declaring war in 1812. The British attacked the city in the summer of 1814. During the Battle of Baltimore, Maryland lawyer Francis Scott Key was aboard a British ship negotiating for the release of a prisoner. Key recounted the bombardment by writing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the poem that would ultimately be set to music and become the country's national anthem. Historic Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, where troops successfully defended Baltimore's beloved harbor, remains a popular attraction.
The city experienced phenomenal growth after the war. Vigorous foreign trade resumed, especially in flour. By 1825, there were dozens of flour mills. The National Road (currently U.S. Route 40) now linked Baltimore to major markets in the Midwest by land. When New York completed the Erie Canal, threatening the city's hold on trans-Allegheny traffic, Baltimore businessmen responded with verve. They established the first common carrier railroad in the nation, the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad, making Baltimore a major shipping and manufacturing center, and the second largest municipality in the country.
Growing rapidly, Baltimore's skyline began to take shape, peppered with churches and monuments. President John Quincy Adams called Baltimore "Monument City" after a visit in 1827. The collapse of the south's economy at the end of the Civil War began to reverse the tide, causing suffering. The city gradually recovered however, helped by tremendous amounts of grain transported by the B&O trains and the canning industry - which became important when, for the first time, jewels of the Chesapeake Bay were preserved and shipped to other parts of the country. All the while, people fleeing the Deep South continued to fuel growth. Harriet Tubman passed through many times on her journeys to free slaves on the Underground Railroad.
Catastrophe struck Baltimore in 1904 when fire consumed most of downtown, destroying over 1,500 buildings in 30 hours. This enabled the emergence of a better planned city. Two years later, the Baltimore American newspaper reported that "one of the greatest disasters of modern time had been converted into a blessing."
Baltimore served as an important shipbuilding and supply-shipping center during World Wars I and II. "Suburban flight" led to rapid decay in the 1960s and 70s however. The city lost so much in population and business it became as financially depressed as it had been during the Depression.
Resilient Baltimore came back strong, beginning in 1979, with urban renewal efforts that rank among the most ambitious in the United States. Downtown and many other neighborhoods have been revitalized, with special attention given to the city's greatest asset - the harbor. Hotels, office buildings and entertainment facilities like Harborplace, the Maryland Science Center and National Aquarium (Maryland's largest tourist attraction) replaced dilapidated wharves and warehouses. State-of-the-art stadiums have been constructed nearby for the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens. A few miles away, billion dollar biotechnology parks attract the world's leading scientists. The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum, American Visionary Art Museum, B&O Railroad Museum and Frederick Douglass - Isaac Myers Maritime Park (among others) entertain and educate. (Frederick Douglass worked the docks in Fell's Point, Baltimore as a young man.)
Historically a working-class port town, focused on steel processing, shipping, auto manufacturing and transportation, Baltimore now has a modern service economy, led by high-tech, biotech, medicine and tourism. Distinctive restaurants, bars, businesses and shops can be found throughout. The new "Inner Harbor" - so important in the city's first days - has become the model for cities around the world. Several Fortune 1,000 companies like Constellation Energy, Legg Mason, T. Rowe Price, and Black and Decker call Baltimore home.
With hundreds of identified districts, Baltimore has sometimes been dubbed "a city of neighborhoods," but is more commonly known as "Charm City." The talents of writers Edgar Allan Poe and H.L. Mencken, musician James Hubert "Eubie" Blake, and singer Billie Holiday influenced it; each called Baltimore "home." Baltimoreans take pride in their city, boasting one of the most remarkable transformations in history. Yet, they continue to welcome and amaze visitors with "down to earth, small town" spirit and hospitality.