Across the South, the crumbling brick facades of warehouses and factories are being painstakingly stitched back together with the careful hands of devoted restorers. New life pushed gently through gaping seams and broken windows, breathed through cracks with the gentleness of a Southern summer breeze. Every city, large and small, has come together in force for redevelopment, from the riverside depots of Memphis to the mills of small-town Georgia. Each town can boast of its own restoration project, factory-turned-brewery or theater-turned-gallery. One of the South’s earliest success stories in redevelopment began along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
In 2009 the Urban Land Institute described Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the world.” That’s quite the accolade, especially considering the condition of the harbor a mere fifty years earlier.
The 1700’s were a time of bustle and boom for Baltimore. With connections to the Capital and the sea, the port town was naturally positioned for success. Baltimore led the nation’s shipbuilding industry throughout the century and established itself as a front-runner in the nation’s budding shipping industry. In the nineteenth century, the Inner Harbor served as a shelter and base for Baltimore Clippers, fast-moving schooners that quickly traded goods between Baltimore and her surrounding neighborhoods and the Caribbean (as well as illegally obtained plunder from privateering during the War of 1812).
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the port had embraced a new spirit of industrialism, in part because of the new canning industry that came about with the tin-can patent. The harbor was first home to massive oyster-canning operations, followed by other industries as mass-producing and factory-production became the regularity of American life. The Inner Harbor remained a thriving shipping center for another century.
But by the mid-twentieth-century, the entire landscape of American industrialism and shipping was changing, abandoning boomtowns of old in its wake. Baltimore fell victim to those changes early on. After World War II, when the shipping industry moved more and more to container shipping, old, shallow harbors like Baltimore were abandoned in favor of new means. Warehouses and factories lay abandoned, their structures slowly fading and returning to the elements. Cities like Baltimore were left grasping for new industries and floundering in crumbling visages. Without a plan, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor—and potentially the entire city—would fall victim to the decline of the century.
Instead, the community and her leaders pushed forward. The process of restoration began in 1958, when the thirty-three-acre Charles Center first opened its doors. The decaying warehouses and piers were dismantled or restored, making way for office buildings, hotels, and shops situated along the now-picturesque waterfront. In 1963, Mayor Theodore McKeldin expanded the project to include another 240 acres surrounding Inner Harbor. Award-winning parks and recreational areas, grassy knolls and manicured lawns replaced the grimy, gritty, and crumbling industrial buildings. With miraculous swiftness, the Inner Harbor transformed itself from a port hailed by visitors from afar for business to a harbor still hailed by visitors from afar—for pleasure.
On July 4, 1976—the bicentennial anniversary of the country’s founding—tall ships from around the world once again sailed into the placid waters of Inner Harbor. The celebration brought a slew of visitors to the area, a stream of tourism that would never end. The event spurred further investment in the harbor, from the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center, to the Harborplace festival marketplace. Today, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor serves as the heart of the city. Visitors flock to its attractions and views, and locals invest in the historical buildings, drawn in by the exposed brick walls and patinaed stairwells. In an age when revitalization is trendy and vintage is pricier than new, Baltimore is already reveling in its refurbished glory.
See Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Photos Here