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Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, Inc. - View The Site

History of the Harbor

Historic photograph courtesy of Maryland Historical Society

The Baltimore Harbor has transformed Baltimore City from a small industrial town into a booming tourist destination. From 1706, when it was designated as an official Port of Entry for the Maryland tobacco trade, the Harbor has dominated the City economy and continues to do so today.

The idea for a town was born and brought to life by local citizens, who lobbied the colonial legislature for the creation of a town. In 1729, the Carroll family offered a tract of land now known as the Inner Harbor. They named the 3-street town Baltimore Town in honor of Cecil Calvert 2nd Baron of Baltimore, founder of the Maryland Colony, marking the start of what would become one of the nation's largest cities for two centuries.

In the 1790's, Maryland led the nation in shipbuilding, becoming the undisputed leader of this industry on the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore Clippers, which were built for speed, won the respect of the maritime nations of the world and helped establish the City's reputation as a center of commerce.

By the 1840s, oyster canning was an established industry in Baltimore. The oyster beds nearby, and the city's growing population of workers and rail connections, made Baltimore, especially the Jones Falls and Inner Harbor, the center of canning in the country. In the 1900's steel came to dominate the local economy and workers worldwide were attracted to the promise of high pay in a thriving industry.

Historic photograph courtesy of Maryland Historical Society

Thanks to the Harbor, the City's economy remained relatively untouched by the 1930s depression and Baltimore continued to flourish as a military supply center during World War II. However, after decades of hyper growth, Baltimore's population peaked in the 1950 census. Movement to the suburbs and the business activity that followed caused a decline in economic conditions. As early as the 1950s business and government began preparing plans for redeveloping the Harbor. In 1980 Harborplace and the National Aquarium opened, securing Baltimore's place as a center of tourism and a model for waterfront redevelopment around the world.

Click here to read Waterfront Partnership's full History of the Baltimore Harbor. (link leaves website)