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WWI cannons dedicated at Fort Howard Park

Brig. Gen. Sean M. Casey, Director of the Joint Staff of the Maryland National Guard, and state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, Republican, District 6, are among those laying wreaths during the Defenders' Day at North Point dedication of restored WWI cannons at Fort Howard Park.
Brig. Gen. Sean M. Casey, Director of the Joint Staff of the Maryland National Guard, and state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, Republican, District 6, are among those laying wreaths during the Defenders' Day at North Point dedication of restored WWI cannons at Fort Howard Park. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Dozens gathered Saturday at Fort Howard Park in southeastern Baltimore County to dedicate two World War I cannons amid intensifying rain and wind.

Although they had not been used at Fort Howard, a military base from 1896 to 1940, the 100-year-old cannons are longtime park fixtures that had deteriorated over the years. A group of community members launched an effort in 2015 to restore them.

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The freshly painted cannons were dedicated to veterans at Fort Howard's annual Defenders' Day commemoration.The event honors the War of 1812, a battle in which local militia held the fort at the tip of North Point Peninsula, killing a British commander and critically weakening his troops before their attempt to take Baltimore.

"It means a lot to come see them here on display," said Les Ernest, a retired staff sergeant and 31-year veteran of the Army National Guard who helped initiate the restoration effort.

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Ernest, of Essex, said he noticed the deteriorating state of the cannons while on a walk at the park.

The cannons were worn from children climbing on them and were covered with trash. They even had names carved in them.

Built in 1918, the M1906 field artillery guns each measure about 20 feet long and weigh about 4 tons.

Ernest worked with the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society & Museum, the Fort Howard Community Association and the National Guard to get the cannons restored.

Scott Pappas, president of the Fort Howard association, estimated that about $100,000 worth of work was done restoring the cannons. The community association raised several thousand dollars to support the effort, but most of the work was done for free, he said. Sherwin-Williams donated the dark olive paint used on the cannons. Chesapeake Woodworking in Baltimore, which rebuilt the cannons' wheels, sent a bill for zero dollars, he said.

Now the group is raising $20,000 to add a stone memorial, signage and landscaping to the area around the cannons, Pappas said.

"I hope we can continue to preserve them," Ernest said. "Me being a history buff and from the military and a patriot, I can't stand to see our cannons and our war memorials not being taken care of."

The ceremony kicked off the Defenders' Day celebration, organized by the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society & Museum.

The Battle of North Point took place in 1814, after the British had taken Washington, D.C. The local militia was successful in preventing the British force from invading by land, forcing the Redcoats to turn back and resort to attack by sea. But the British warships failed to overcome Fort McHenry.

State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, who represents Baltimore County, called on attendees to remember the sacrifice and unity demonstrated by those who fought at North Point.

"More than anything we need to love," he said. "If it wasn't for love we wouldn't be here today. There was a sacrifice here a long time ago that was given by love."

The rest of the day's festivities, including craft demonstrations, a fife and drum performance and a re-enactment of the battle, were washed out by rain.

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But inclement weather did not deter those who gathered for the cannons' dedication, a ceremony that lasted about a half-hour.

Onlookers raised umbrellas when rain started to fall. As the storm intensified and wind gusted along the park's shore, some sought shelter under nearby trees.

"It's about the history," said Sarah Farmer of Bel Air.

Farmer and a friend brought their two teenage daughters, both of whom are members of the local chapter of the Children of the American Revolution, to see the ceremony.

Huddled together in soaking-wet sweatshirts, they were among at least three dozen people who stayed until a gun salute fired its final shot and a pastor concluded his benediction.

They held the fort.

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