The Peale: A historic treasure at 200 years old and counting

We are nearing the 14th anniversary of the closing of the Peale Museum, when Baltimore became one of the few historic cities in the world without its own history center. Also lost to the public — although carefully preserved by the Maryland Historical Society — was the entire treasury of local history formerly displayed and accessible at the Peale, which was rightly regarded as "Baltimore's Smithsonian."

The good news is that MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakerecently announced that her administration intends to give greater recognition to Baltimore history as a critical element of its economic development and cultural enrichment strategy.

Baltimore doesn't lack nationally respected historical resources —Ft. McHenry, the Flag House, our Circuit courthouses and the Basilica, to name just a few.

Nor is it lacking creative ideas to celebrate Baltimore history, as evidenced during a recent gathering at Maryland Historical Society sponsored by Baltimore Heritage Inc., the Baltimore Community Foundation and others. Many thoughtful ideas were discussed, including the need for Baltimore history to have a home again — hopefully back at the Peale, which traces its roots to the War of 1812.

The Peale was our City Hall for nearly half a century, and an historic school for African-American students for more than a decade after that. It is historically unique in Baltimore and well suited to resume its role as a gathering place for Baltimore historians and historical groups.

An agreement with City Hall toward that end, supported by a strong state bond, was reached in 2009, but since then the effort has been stalled by the fiscal challenges facing the city. Yet that agreement can continue to serve as the agenda for future discussions intended to bring back the exciting narrative of Baltimore history. The many individual pearls of Baltimore history may yet be reunited once again on a single string at the Peale, which itself is now nearly 200 years old and counting.

John Carroll Byrnes, Baltimore

The writer is chairman emeritus of the Baltimore City Historical Society and former chairman of the Baltimore History Center at The Peale Inc.

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