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Happy birthday, Baltemore!

(Note to readers: Before sending an email to the editor of this page complaining that I or the editors don't know how to spell the name of our fair city, please know that the spelling "Baltemore," with an "e" instead of an "i," is intentional … read on to learn why.)

I recently noticed that some local websites were announcing that July 30 was Baltimore's 284th birthday. Baltimore town was founded on July 30, 1729 — so they say.

As a local historian, this came as news to me; I was unaware that July 30 was celebrated as Baltimore's birthday. I hadn't received an invitation to the birthday party, so I conducted a little research into the matter.

In 1729, the General Assembly of Maryland passed an act "for erecting a Town on the North Side of Patapsco in Baltemore County" and that the town "be called by the Name of Baltemore Town." I was surprised that Baltimore was spelled with an "e," not an "i" — another mystery to explore.

Upon further research, I learned that on July 14, 1729 the legislature considered a petition from residents of Baltimore County to create the town. The act was passed on July 30, 1729 and approved by Gov. Benedict Leonard Calvert on Aug. 8, 1729. Since laws passed by the General Assembly have no effect until approved by the governor, I believe Baltimore's real birthday is today — Aug. 8, not July 30.

The act created a commission to purchase 60 acres of land, survey the property, lay out 60 equal lots divided by convenient streets and lanes, and sell the lots to inhabitants of the county. The purchasers of lots were required to build a house of at least 400 square feet within 18 months (potential Superblock developers, please note the deadline!). I was not able to determine whether tax increment financing was used to pay for the public improvements, but that's another story.

It wasn't until Jan. 12, 1730, that surveyors laid out the town, and by Jan. 14, the first eight lots were purchased. So, development of Baltimore did not really begin until 1730. To further confuse matters, Baltimore City was not incorporated until Dec. 31, 1796, but the official Baltimore City Seal uses the date 1797, when the mayor and city council form of government went into effect.

So take you pick for Baltimore's birthday: The town was founded on July 30, 1729 — or was it Aug. 8, 1729, or sometime in 1730? — but incorporated on Dec. 31, 1796 and did not become effective until 1797.

Regardless of the date, if the town was established as Baltemore with an "e," why is it now known as Baltimore with an "i"? Did someone say, "There is no 'i' in team, and there shouldn't be one in Baltimore?" (although in 1729, a team was probably something attached to a plow, not something that played a West Coast offense).

From what I can determine, Baltemore appears to be an earlier spelling for both the town, the county and the Lords Baltemore from which the name derived. By the 1740s, it appears that this archaic spelling ran out of favor, and it has since become largely forgotten. After all, "art mobile" and "labor time" are great anagrams for "Baltimore," but I'm not sure what can be done with "Baltemore."

I think it would be great fun to hold an annual Baltemore Town Birthday bash each Aug. 8 on the site of the original 60-acre town. The party would not take place at the Inner Harbor (which was under water in 1729) but north of the bend along Water Street just east of Light Street. Why does Water Street have a bend — and why, despite its name, is it so far from the waterfront? Well, that is another story.

So mark your calendars for Aug. 8, 2014. The party would be a precursor to the great War of 1812 bicentennial celebration that will take place next September. After all, the War of 1812 was fought in Baltimore in 1814 — and yes, that too is another story.

Fred Shoken is a local Baltimore historian. His email is fred.shoken@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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