The History of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

Settlers, Steamboats and Sailing Ships. The Birth of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.


The Early Days

It was almost twenty-five years after John Smith had made his historic landing at Baltimore in 1608, when the first English settlers started arriving.

These intrepid early immigrants, were intent on building a new home for themselves in the lush, green and fertile countryside that awaited them, but the climate was an eye-opener. The hot humid summers lasting several months of the year, were completely unfamiliar, contrasting sharply with the rainy cold weather they had left behind in England.

Far from family and friends, and confronted with the fierce looking Native American tribes that were their new neighbors, those early years could not have been easy for them, but they persevered, and the small settlement grew by leaps and bound.


Travel and Communication

As was the way of life in centuries gone by, ocean going ships were the only feasible method for long distance communication and trade. Where suitable rivers and waterways were found, they quickly became the natural conduit for travel into the newly settled territories. As a result, the route up the Chesapeake Bay, charted by John Smith years before, increasingly saw sailing vessels arriving from far and near, bringing the much needed supplies, as well as new settlers, to the thriving new town that was early Baltimore.


Letters from Home

These old-time ships, also served as the regular mail carriers for letters from loved ones and friends. With no other means of communication possible in those days, it was a vital and indispensable service for those lonely settlers isolated in distant lands. The role of the mail ship. is now virtually forgotten, but it was a priority without equal in centuries gone by.


The Steamship Revolution

When steam replaced sail, both local and international steamship lines quickly became established, linking cities, and countries from one side of the world to the other.

It was only a matter of time before it was realized that work was needed to deepen the Baltimore harbor basin to accommodate these larger ocean going steamships. With a much larger draft than the old sailing ships that had once plied these waters, these new vessels needed a modern harbor basin to be dredged, and this gave birth to the Inner Harbor that we know today.

Companies soon sprang up providing a regular daily steamship schedule linking cities up and down the coast, and in 1840, the Baltimore Steam Packet Company, was established providing this vital service between Maryland and the states to the south. For over 120 years it faithfully served these needs, until with the advent of faster, more efficient and economical methods of transport, it finally closed down in 1962, bringing an end to the era of steamship travel. Interestingly, it was the last such overnight service to continue operations in the USA.


The Arrival of Container Ships

In common with many ports, world-wide, the development of container ships in the second half of the 20th century, saw a decline in the importance of Baltimore harbor. It was now possible, and indeed became the norm, for the highly adaptable and efficient container ships to offload their cargo at major hub ports. From there the containers were transported by road, air or rail directly to their specific destinations. The result was that the use of smaller harbors became less and less necessary, and they rapidly declined in economic importance.


The End of One Road and the Beginning of Another

While this was a blow to the infra-structure and industry that had grown up around Baltimore harbor, there were those who began to realize, that with some creative endeavor, the harbor areas and their surroundings, could be turned to other uses.

In 1950, Baltimore’s Port Commission set about demolishing the old, now unused storage sheds and warehouses that had abounded in the harbor environs. Unnecessary piers were dismantled and ground was cleared, and planted with grass and parks, to facilitate the development of the new areas that would become the modern Inner Harbor with which we are familiar today.


Innovation and Growth Downtown

In the early 1950’s interested civic groups started pushing for a plan to halt the decline of the central downtown Baltimore area. A movement of interested parties, strongly supported by industrial and civic officials, resulted in the formation of the Greater Baltimore Committee. Plans were drawn and the area around the waterfront was progressively transformed. Parks and open plazas were laid out. Modern skyscrapers housing offices and hotels were built, and attractive leisure areas were designed. The result was to turn the central downtown area around and bring awards and accolades from many cities around the globe, eager to follow in Baltimore’s footsteps.

This thriving and bustling site has become the place of choice for more and more people attracted to city center living, with its manifold amenities. As a result, new housing options such as the 1201 South Charles Street Apartments have become eagerly sought after, making it a destination for people who already live in Baltimore City, and new-comers to the Federal Hill Neighborhood.


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