This is one of Baltimore’s most popular neighborhoods, which dates back over 300 years, and it took me less than 30 minutes to drive there. The Baltimore Inner Harbor is occupied by 235 residents who are situated amidst Baltimore City's premier tourist attraction and one of the city's crown jewels. Additionally, the name "Inner Harbor" is used not just for the water, but for the surrounding area of the city. The approximate street boundaries are: President Street to the east, Lombard Street to the north, Greene Street to the west, and Key Highway to the south.
Baltimore's Inner Harbor is one of the United States’ oldest seaports. It is a popular tourist attraction and a National landmark, as well. For over a number of decades, the Inner Harbor has undergone a serious facelift. It is hard to remember now that this same Inner Harbor is the focal point of an old “Rustbelt” city that was once considered D.O.A. by travel agents, and was the source of a collective inferiority complex shared by almost 1 million mostly blue-collar citizens.
So, in 1963, the city began to redevelop the area. Corporate headquarters and hotels were built around the shoreline of the Inner Harbor, in addition to a public park and promenade for leisure activity and community gatherings.
In 1976, following the rendezvous of Tall Ships in New York for the U.S. Bicentennial, eight ships from other nations visited Baltimore where they attracted a huge number of tourists. This interest helped spur the development of other tourist attractions – including the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center, and the Harborplace Festival Marketplace, which opened in 1980.
Interestingly enough, when it comes to the more specific Baltimore Inner Harbor history, it is important to note that this harbor was the second leading port of entry for European immigrants after New York City's Ellis Island. Close to 2,000,000 immigrants arrived in Baltimore between the 19th and 20th centuries.
I was anxious to begin my visit when I arrived to this bustling neighborhood, but did not wish to frequent the local tourist haunts. So, I researched the area to find out if any of the current day structures may have replaced something from “back in the day”. I was surprised to discover a couple of the popular attractions were actually constructed over, around, and/or next to the Inner Harbor’s old Finger Piers. You are probably asking yourself (and me), what are Finger Piers? In short, Finger Piers are piers built at ports having small tidal ranges, such as the Baltimore Inner Harbor. The principal advantage of these piers was to give a greater available dock length for ships (merchant, clipper, steamers) to berth against. The Baltimore Inner Harbor used to house six of these piers, but currently only five remain.
So, I decided I would “peer” into the history of the Baltimore Inner Harbor piers……how was that play on words? Once I crossed Pratt Street onto the promenade, I began my pier search.
As I navigated through a small crowd of people and walked over to where I thought Pier 1 would be located, I looked up to see the USS Constellation looking back at me in all her glory.
Jackpot! I realized I was standing at Pier 1. For those of you who do not know about this beautiful frigate, the USS Constellation is the last sail-only warship designed and built by the United States Navy. She was constructed and launched in 1854 (in Baltimore) and is the second United States Navy ship to carry the name. She has been docked in Baltimore at Pier 1 since 1955. The ship is open to the public and has a museum.
I walked over to where, decidedly, Pier 2 should be located. There is no longer a pier and I could not find anything during my research as to what may have happened to it.
Pier 3 now houses the National Aquarium. However, from 1840-1962, Pier 3 was the dock for “The Baltimore Steam Packet Company”, also known as the “Old Bay Line”. This was an American steamship line which provided overnight service on the Chesapeake Bay, primarily between Baltimore, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia. The trip would take approximately 12 hours and a one-way ticket would cost $3.00. It was the last surviving overnight steamship passenger service in the United States. The classic Old Bay seasoning is named after this steamship line, as well.
The Inner Harbor’s renovation brought the National Aquarium to Pier 3 (actually it “is” Pier 3). Honestly, this is a gem of the Inner Harbor and of Maryland, and one of the best aquariums in the Nation. The aquarium not only provides fun/educational material for kids of all ages, but it also assists the State by advocating for things like sustainable fisheries and incorporating more wetlands. It is famous for its tropical rain forest exhibit, its efforts to saving marine mammals, and its large shark tanks. This aquarium has an annual attendance of 1.5 million people, holds more than 2,200,000 gallons of water, and has more than 17,000 specimens representing over 750 species.
On to Pier 4……the Pratt Street Power Plant.Built between 1900 and 1909, this historic former power plant held such names as: Pier Four Power Plant, the Power Plant, and Pratt Street Station. The structure is made up of three buildings and is one of only 11 buildings to survive the Baltimore Fire of 1904. It once served as the main source of power for the United Railways and Electric Company, and later served as a central steam plant for the Consolidated Gas, Electric Light and Power Company - a predecessor of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BG&E). BG&E finally ceased use of the building in 1973.
After the electric plant was retired from service, the building was vacant for several years. It was eventually acquired by the city of Baltimore in the mid-late 1980s. It has since been redeveloped and has received tenants, such as: the first ESPN Zone (in the country), Phillips Seafood, Hard Rock Café, Barnes & Noble, Gold's Gym, and loft offices. Maryland Art Place, a contemporary art gallery for Maryland artists, is located in the northwest corner. It also lends its name to the nearby Power Plant Live! night life complex.
A crossing of a little bridge brought me to Pier 5. Happily, I found two structures with historical significance. The first was the U.S.C.G.C. Taney. This is a famed Coast Guard cutter built in the mid-1930s and is notable for being the last ship floating that fought in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The ship is named for Roger B. Taney, who served as: U.S. Attorney General, Secretary of the Treasury, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during his lifetime. The ship itself served during World War II and the Vietnam War and now acts as a memorial and museum. The beautiful walkway in front of the cutter was built with hundreds of bricks imprinted with the names of U.S Coast Guard men and women who dedicated their lives in the service of our country.
The second treasure located at Pier 5 is the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse – a round, raised building painted bright red. It is located at the very end of end of the pier and situated in the middle of a brick walkway, making it easy to take lots of pictures. The lighthouse is the last of its kind in Maryland. It was constructed in the "screw-pile" style, meaning it sits on piles that are meant to be screwed into sandy or muddy sea or river bottoms rather than on a foundation.
Originally installed on a shallow shoal at the mouth of the Patapsco River, the isolated lighthouse was manned by three keepers at a time and marked the river entrance for over 130 years before being decommissioned in 1987 and transported to the Inner Harbor. Now it is a museum and is free to all visitors.
A hop, skip, and a jump from Pier 5 and I had arrived at Pier 6. Oh, if only it were summertime! As I looked over at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion (which is actually the entire pier), I remembered the many outdoor concerts I attended at this venue.
The Pavilion opened in 1981 and has featured a wide variety of music acts ranging from rock to jazz. Its location allows for excellent views of Baltimore's skyline. Also, it is the perfect way to enjoy a nice summer night with people who are in the mood for a good time. As it is on the other side from all the activity in the Inner Harbor, it is a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of thousands of people swarming about. You really do feel secluded. Pier 6 was a nice trip down memory lane.
I looked at the time and decided I would head over to Miss Shirley’s Café (founded in 2005) for lunch. I have to say…..I have lived in Maryland since 1989 and have never eaten there. Additionally, everyone I know who has eaten there has given Miss Shirley’s a stellar review.
When I arrived, I saw there was a line. Pffffhhttt……what’s a little line, right? Oh, how about an hour long wait! Wow! It MUST be good! So, I decided to stay and wait. I was given a menu to read while I waited. What to have…..what to have……so many choices!!! Roughly an hour later, I was finally called (well, buzzed - they give you a remote buzzer good for 2 blocks if you choose to walk around or shop nearby). I was seated and my order was taken a few minutes later. You have absolutely zero excuse for not ordering right away – you had a menu earlier that you got to read and re-read for an hour, right? I settled on half a salad and half a sandwich. About 20 minutes later I was served.
As I was driving home, I reflected on the day’s events. It was nice to do something a little bit different from what I normally do when I visit the beautiful Baltimore Inner Harbor. I enjoyed going back in time and trying to imagine what the Inner Harbor was like operating primarily as a seaport. In looking at the piers, I was glad to see they were improved upon, and not simply removed as the city was reconstructed. Could it be the piers were left to remind the city of its over 300 year history, and how far it has come with regards to urban development? Or could it be the city just needed the pier space to build upon?
I hope it’s not the latter…..