A second of Baltimore's historic treasures on the Inner Harbor is in serious need of repair. Unlike the Constellation at the heart of the harbor, Fort McHenry at its mouth has the funds to correct its deterioration. And it can be fixed without disturbing the 600,000 tourists who visit the historic fort each year. The Constellation, unfortunately, will have to be placed in drydock for at least the most urgent repairs -- when, and if, the money to do the work is raised.
Thanks to the fact Fort McHenry is part of the National Park Service -- a national shrine as well as a national monument -- federal funds are available for the $3 million of work required to rebuild crumbling or eroded walls. The fort is not just the focal point of the Star Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key about the British assault on it in 1814. It is also is only surviving example of the star-shaped embankment fortification and one of the most dramatic battlements in this country.
It is reassuring that the fort will not have to be closed. But even suggesting that possibility, much like the prospect that the Constellation will be towed away from its berth for a year or more, underlines how vital these two historic monuments are to the metropolitan area. (Fittingly, the U.S.S. Constellation helped celebrate at Fort McHenry the 100th anniversary of the national anthem's composition.) Both of these treasures bring important periods in U.S. history alive for school children from throughout Maryland in a way no textbook or film strip ever could. Fort McHenry was still being strengthened in the 1870s and was not abandoned as a fort until 1912.
Beyond those considerations, the thousands of tourists who are drawn to Baltimore or who prolong their stays because of these attractions inject millions of dollars a year into the local economy. It's not for nothing that the American Automobile Association commemorates the fort on the cover of one of its Baltimore
Perched at the tip of the Locust Point peninsula, on the lesser known promontory called Whetstone Point, Fort McHenry is also a superb introduction to the working Baltimore harbor, as opposed to the recreational Inner Harbor. Some of the port's commercial activities can be seen from the Inner Harbor, but from Fort McHenry the full sweep of Maryland's maritime heart is visible, from the old Clinton Street piers to Seagirt, Dundalk Marine Terminal and Sparrows Point in the distance.
Once the restoration is complete, the fort will again look as it did 180 years ago in the dawn's early light.