Baltimore — bustling seaport, center of industry, agricultural way station ― offers myriad opportunities to commemorate the working men and women of this country this Labor Day. From 18th-century gristmills to 20th-century shipyards to 21st-century video-game design, the work we and our ancestors have performed, sometimes unwillingly, is protected, preserved and presented at museums and other showplaces throughout the city and surrounding region.
Looking to pay honor to the labors that made Labor Day a thing, we offer eight locations that will fill the bill. They include factories and farms, ships and locomotives, homes and cemeteries — places where work happened, where people labored to create the world their descendants now call home. All are open this weekend, although not all on Labor Day itself; hey, even museum staffs deserve time off.
Baltimore Museum of Industry
1415 Key Hwy.
If you’re looking to pay tribute to the history of labor in Baltimore, this is the place to go. Located in an old oyster cannery dating to the 1860s, the BMI harks back to the days when Charm City was not only a major port, but also a center of industry to rival anything on the East Coast. Your journey back to those gritty blue-collar days begins the moment you pull into the parking lot; among the first things you see is a massive 104-foot crane, once part of the Bethlehem Steel shipyard that was the jewel of Baltimore’s industrial base and played a key role in the massive shipbuilding effort that helped the Allies win World War II. Maybe you’ll be moved to contribute to the “Save the Crane” effort underway, to restore, preserve and paint the 77-year-old artifact?
Step inside the museum, and you’re surrounded by relics of Baltimore’s industrial past: a replica 1910 pharmacy and 1929 garment loft, a restored 1937 flying boat bomber, even the world’s first cordless electric drill. Be sure to check out the temporary exhibits “Shuttered: Images from the Fall of Bethlehem Steel,” “The 20th-Century Woman at Work” and “Video Game Wizards — Transforming Science and Art Into Games.” Rarely have the fruits of labor been more fascinating. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, $7-$12, free for kids 6 and under. thebmi.org.
Carroll County Farm Museum
500 S. Center St., Westminster
This Carroll County gem replicates much of what a working 19th-century farm would have looked and felt like. Housed in the former county Almshouse, built in 1852, the museum features one of the region’s largest collections of farm artifacts and machinery, with living history exhibits that’ll do everything short of take your vegetables and livestock to market. Learn about spinning, weaving, tinsmithing, chair caning, broom making, blacksmithing — all manner of skills in short supply today, but key to rural life in the days of our great-great grandparents. Of course, there are farm animals, too — it’s not only people who have to work on a farm — including a pair of red Devon oxen. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Monday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $4-$5, $10 per family, free for kids under 9 with paying adult. carrollcountyfarmmuseum.org.
Irish Railroad Workers Museum
920 Lemmon St.
For decades, Baltimore was known as a railroad hub, thanks largely to the B&O Railroad, the nation’s first passenger railway and for years among the city’s biggest employers. Many of those workers were Irish immigrants, and this museum, encompassing five tiny and lovingly preserved alley houses, provides a hint of what life was like for them in the 1840s. Docents are on hand to answer questions. Use a visit here as the launching point for a 19th-century neighborhood tour that includes the B&O Railroad Museum (a civic treasure that recalls the days when the iron horse ruled the land; the noble engines and train cars preserved here never fail to impress) at 901 W. Pratt St., St. Peter the Apostle Church, 1546 N. Fremont Ave., and the 20-acre St. Peter the Apostle Cemetery, at Moreland Avenue and Bentalou Street. The Irish museum is open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Free. irishshrine.org.
Take a visit back to the 18th century, when riverside milling sites like this dotted the state, grinding grain and often serving as the centerpiece of a growing community. Lee’s Merchant Mill opened on the banks of the Little Gunpowder Falls in 1772, with a small Quaker village growing up around it. Today’s village includes both the gristmill and a blacksmith shop, once-thriving centerpieces of American labor rarely seen today. Visitors get to experience a range of what life was like in these parts, from when the mill opened to the 1930s, when Samuel O. McCourtney ran a general store on Jerusalem Road. On Sundays, living history craftspeople demonstrate woodworking, hearth and open fire cooking, gardening, sewing and other activities. Open for living history demonstrations 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; grounds are open dawn to dusk daily. jerusalemmill.org.
535 Hampton Lane, Towson
A visit to Hampton, once the center of a 25,000-acre agricultural and mercantile empire that included ironworks, grain crops, beef cattle, thoroughbred horses, coal mining, marble quarries and mills, offers more than a glimpse of how the rich lived and prospered in the 19th century (and make no mistake, business was very good for the Ridgely family in its day; for a time, Hampton was the largest private residence in the U.S.). For much of the Ridgely’s wealth and opulence was accomplished through slave labor; some 300 slaves were at Hampton at its peak, making it one of the largest slave plantations in Maryland, and the practice did not end there until 1864, when slavery became illegal in the state. The current Hampton National Historic Site includes some of the former slave quarters, offering the rare chance to see where enslaved labor both lived and toiled throughout much of U.S. history. Grounds are open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; the lower house, slave quarters and dairy are open 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Mansion tours are available at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Free. nps.gov/hamp.
Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park
1417 Thames St.
Housed in one of Baltimore’s oldest waterfront industrial buildings, this Fells Point museum honors both Douglass, perhaps the foremost abolitionist of 19th-century America, and Meyers, a pioneering African-American businessman, a founder of the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company. He was also a leader in the labor movement of the late 19th century, serving as first president of the Colored National Labor Union. The museum focuses on educating visitors about the key roles African-Americans played in Baltimore’s maritime history. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday and Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $2-$5, free for kids under 6. livingclassrooms.org.
Green Mount Cemetery
1501 Greenmount Ave.
Baltimore’s premier cemetery since its dedication in 1839, Green Mount’s 60 acres are the final resting place for many titans of Baltimore industry, including Enoch Pratt, Johns Hopkins, merchant and financier Alexander Brown, Bromo-Seltzer baron Isaac Emerson, banker and Olympic athlete Robert Garrett and Baltimore Sun founder A.S. Abell. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday (office closes at noon Saturday). Free. greenmountcemetery.com.
During World War II, Liberty ships — many of them built at Baltimore’s Bethlehem Steel Shipyards ― were the workhorses of the Allied war effort, transporting tons of material and thousands of service personnel overseas. Named for a prominent labor leader who worked with both the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the United Mine Workers, the John W. Brown is one of only two fully operational Liberty ships remaining. Open for tours 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Free; $10 donation requested. ssjohnwbrown.org.