From the Field

Soak It All In on Federal Hill


At the top of Federal Hill, there’s a cannon overlooking the skyline of Baltimore. I heard that visitors love to take pictures of themselves there as part of their tourism experience. So, naturally, I took a selfie too, with Bella Bison--one of our mascots on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

But every part of my Federal Hill visit seemed photogenic.  At the foot of the stairs leading to the top, a lovely cherry tree was in full bloom, leaving a trail of pink petals wherever the wind blew them. I passed a family on their way back down the steps, laughing and taking pictures, with the top of the park as their background. At the top, even more trees with blossoms reminded me of a lush spring postcard. After spending the morning walking the downtown streets of Baltimore, an escape from the built environment into this shady greenspace was just what I needed.

The hill itself is best known for its use as a lookout and security measure during the War of 1812, but also as a place for gathering and celebration. In 1788, citizens first held a celebration in honor of Maryland’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution. A few years later, in 1795, an observatory was erected to signal to downtown merchants which vessels were approaching. Later, the hill was fortified to help protect Baltimore and its harbor during the War of 1812 and from Civil War demonstrations. Finally, in 1880 it was designated as a public park and today is home to many organized festivals and celebrations.

I sat directly across from a lone remaining cannon looking out across the harbor and cityscape and marveled at the view. There was no mystery behind its previous name of “Signal Hill” and use as a lookout. From my perch, I could see the business district of Baltimore, the Inner Harbor, and the entrance of boats from the Patapsco River. I tried to imagine how the view must have changed over the years, yet this place still remained intact. After my walking heritage tour of downtown Baltimore, Federal Hill was a perfect resting spot where I felt I could soak it all in.

Margaret Markham

Margaret Markham is a former program fellow in the National Park Service office focused on geographic information systems and policy issues. She is a Finger Lakes, NY native and fosters a passion for conservation and environmental stewardship.

July 13, 2015

Main image: Cannon at the top of Federal Hill park in Baltimore (Image courtesy: Flickr)
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