Baltimore County Now
Teri Rising, Historic Preservation Planner
Department of Planning
Fall is a great time to get out and explore Baltimore County’s history. Why not take some time to visit some of the well known and lesser known places that are a just a small part of the diverse network of sites administered and supported by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior, which was established in 1916. These sites, trails and programs represent various historic themes from the Chesapeake Bay to General George Washington. Together, they share national significance and provide opportunities for visitors to learn about Baltimore County’s role in our nation’s history.
Baltimore County is home to one of the most interesting National Park sites in the region. Hampton National Historic Site on Hampton Lane just north of Towson is also a partner site on the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail. The park comprises a well preserved collection of structures, including the grand Georgian mansion facing Hampton Lane, that tells the story of the Ridgely family and the people, both free and enslaved, that helped contribute to Baltimore County’s domestic, agricultural and industrial history. Tours are available of the buildings and gardens.
A number of National Historic Trails are located in Baltimore County for visitors to explore. The Underground Railroad refers to the effort of enslaved African Americans to gain their freedom by escaping bondage. The Network to Freedom National Historic Trail was established as part of the National Park Service to expand and support local efforts to coordinate education and preservation of sites that demonstrate the significance of the Underground Railroad not only in the eradication of slavery, but as a cornerstone of our national civil rights movement. The privately owned “Gorsuch Tavern” on York Road in Sparks joins Hampton National Historic Site as part of The Network to Freedom National Historic Trail. The tavern is connected to the trail by the theme of slaves, escape from slavery, and the effort of the owner to recapture his slaves by force, resulting in a celebrated trial that inflamed the tensions already existing between north and south after the compromise of 1850.
Known as “The Route to Victory”, the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail runs from Rhode Island to Virginia. It traces the route of American and French troops, led by General Washington and General Rochambeau who united against the British Army during the Yorktown Campaign. The route follows the historic Philadelphia Road in Baltimore County, which was one of the original post roads in the area and an important route for travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network is a collection of National Historic Trails and partner sites that help visitors learn about the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and how they influenced where and how people lived in its watershed. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the first National Historic Water Trail, lets visitors experience and learn about the Chesapeake Bay through the routes and places associated with Smith’s explorations. In Baltimore County, the trail includes the Gunpowder Falls State Park.
Also part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is a 560-mile land and water route that tells the story of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake Bay region. It connects historic sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia and commemorates the events leading up to the Battle for Baltimore, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write our National Anthem. The trail includes several sites in Baltimore County including Todd’s Inheritance, Fort Howard Park, and Battle Acre Park. The Chesapeake Explorer App is a great tool which can help assist visitors with their exploration of these important places.
The Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is also part of the Baltimore National Heritage Area, a collection of places in the Baltimore region that form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. Led by the Baltimore Heritage Area Association, this national heritage area is dedicated to educating visitors about the people and places that helped make Baltimore such an important American city.
Another important component of the Baltimore National Heritage Area is the Charles Street National Scenic Byway, which is one of only four National Scenic Byways located in an urban area. The byway follows Charles Street north from Baltimore City into Baltimore County where it features wooded natural beauty and several important historic sites like the Sheppard Pratt Gatehouse, one of only two National Historic Landmarks in Baltimore County. Following the byway to its northern end will lead visitors to the Lutherville National Historic District, a village founded in 1852 by Lutheran ministers that is known for its excellent collection of Victorian homes.
Fronda Cohen, Director, Baltimore County Commission on Arts & Sciences
How do you honor a war 200 years after it ended? Our buildings, museums and parks are filled with monuments, historic markers and remembrances of battles won and battles valiantly fought and lost. What ties these commemorations together is a desire to honor our soldiers and the families and communities that supported their service.
How do you create a remembrance that speaks to history and also engages people today?
The Baltimore County Commission on Arts & Sciences took on the challenge of finding a way to use public art to honor Baltimore County’s role in the War of 1812. They saw the battlefield at North Point as the centerpiece. Here, a crucial military engagement stalled British land forces so American troops could fortify Ft. McHenry and save Baltimore from capture.
Battle Acre Park on North Point Road in Dundalk is an earlier commemoration of that important battle. Today, overlooking a newly renovated park, is new public art mural that captures not only the history and leaders of the battle, but the fighting spirit of its citizen soldiers and the pride residents took in their service.
The “Home of the Brave” mural features the battle engagement, with American troops holding formation, blocking British troops from advancing. This panel is flanked by portraits of the battle’s military leaders, U.S. General John Stricker and British General Robert Ross. Another panel highlights the historic Todd’s Inheritance homestead, showing rural life in eastern Baltimore County during the early 1800s. A final scene shows a celebration ceremony held in 1839, just 25 years after the Battle of North Point was waged on the site.
After the fireworks are over, the “Home of the Brave” mural will remain to remind us of the bravery and commitment of America’s citizen soldiers. Visit Baltimore County’s Battle Acre Park and remember a legacy of service that lives on today.
The “Home of the Brave” mural was designed and painted by artist Marshall Adams and is a project of the Baltimore County Commission on Arts & Sciences in partnership with the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation. Funding was provided through grants from The Citizens of Baltimore County and the Maryland State Arts Council.
Department of Planning
It was a day of reckoning, a day to face the ultimate test. The heat was bearable, but enough to put sweat on the brows of the men in their cotton-wool uniforms. In the afternoon sun astride North Point Road in southeast Baltimore County, the American militia faced the British host.
It was 2 p.m. on Monday, September 12, 1814.
The redcoats had landed in the twilight hours some ten hours earlier, bringing 4,200 veterans of the Napoleonic wars onshore at the tip of the North Point peninsula via all manner of ship, craft and skiff. After barreling through the brush and woods, they marched past one of Baltimore County’s earliest homesteads,Todd’s Inheritance. They were bound for Baltimore, eager to give it a severe lashing. This was the British land operation. Just five miles away as the crow flies, the king’s ships were gearing up to rain bombs down on Fort McHenry.
The American scouts posted at the Todd house had detected the British force and raced north to warn American Brigadier Gen. John Stricker. Stricker sent out a small detachment from his force of 3,200 to probe the British movements. This led to a skirmish and some major consequences before the main battle.
September 12, 1814, is the crux of Baltimore County’s story in the War of 1812. While by no means the whole story, it is the main event. The Battle of North Point unfolded a day before the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our National Anthem.
Maryland and other states are now in the midst of a bicentennial commemoration of the War. Baltimore County is pleased to report that key historic sites associated with the Battle of North Point will be getting some much-needed attention. The county has secured funding to make improvements from a variety of sources. Our main goals are to strengthen public access to our top-priority sites, to improve their educational value and visitor appeal, and to advance historic preservation. Our top-priority sites are not only central to the County’s 1812 story, they are destinations on the newly designated Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. They are not just historical artifacts. They are visible, well-known properties woven into the fabric of active communities. Their condition and viability influences the quality of life of the communities in which they reside.
In April, the Department of Planning learned that it will receive a $100,000 grant award to improve Battle Acre Park. The funding from the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission will be matched with $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds put forward by the Department. Battle Acre Park preserves one acre of the land upon which the Battle of North Point was fought. It was donated in 1839 by a local landowner to serve as a commemorative space in which the public can reflect upon the event and remember the soldiers who fought, including 24 Americans who died.
The concept plan for Battle Acre recommends establishing a new pedestrian walkway and plaza area that is needed to provide safe pedestrian access to the site along North Point Road. Sections of the park’s wrought iron fence, which dates to 1914, would be restored and repaired. The park’s granite pillars would be cleaned and improved. A drainage problem would be resolved.
Another preserved piece of the battlefield that lies only 300 feet from Battle Acre, called North Point State Battlefield, is slated for improvement. The recently approved Maryland capital budget includes $500,000 for improving this parcel. The County’s pursuit of this funding was a continuation of County Executive Kevin Kamentz’s request for War of 1812 project funding made last year. This year’s success involved a collaborative, team effort. The county executive and county staff advocated for and supported the request. Delegate John Olszewski, Jr., chairman of the county’s Annapolis delegation, was instrumental in securing the funds, as was Delegate Adrienne Jones and Senator Edward Kasemeyer.
The state and the National Park Service are now collaborating on a final design plan for North Point State Battlefield. Improvements are likely to include a parking area, a loop trail, vegetative screening, interpretive landscaping and other interpretive elements.
Even more good news came when County Executive Kamenetz released his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The County Executive seeks to invest $175,000 in making improvements to Todd’s Inheritance (mentioned above), a signature waterfront gem that was first settled by the Todd family in 1664. April has been a fantastic month the county’s War of 1812 Bicentennial program. We hope to keep the momentum going.