From the Patterson Park pagoda’s observation porch, it’s not hard to envision Baltimore in September 1814, when British troops were advancing on the city. The rise at the northwest corner of the park, near Patterson Park Avenue and Baltimore Street, was then known as Rodgers Bastion, a grass position fortified to keep the enemy away. There are, amazingly, still a few large bumps in the lawn where the military earthworks once stood.
This part of Baltimore was then recognized as Hampstead Hill. Thousands of militia were stationed here, with 100 cannon in place. The earthworks extended from Canton northward toward Belair Road.
In advance of this summer’s observances of the bicentennial of Baltimore’s role in the War of 1812, two groups, the Friends of Patterson Park and Baltimore Heritage, have put out a call for volunteers to step forward as tour guides. Their jurisdiction will be the landmark pagoda and the park, which does not immediately come to mind as a War of 1812 battleground — or as a Civil War military hospital.
“We stopped the British at Ellwood Avenue,” said Jennifer Arndt Robinson, who lives near that thoroughfare and is the director of the Friends of Patterson Park.
The idea is to get a handful of people who will staff the pagoda later this year so that visitors can learn about the British plan to invade Baltimore from North Point, in eastern Baltimore County. Baltimore, then a fast-growing city, was not held in high esteem by the British, who famously called us and our privateers “a nest of pirates.”
The anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore allows Butchers Hill, Upper Fells Point, Highlandtown, Baltimore-Linwood and other neighborhoods around the park to celebrate their greensward and history.
If you have never viewed Baltimore from the lovely pagoda, you have denied yourself an amazing experience. Its cast-iron spiral staircase is an easy climb.
It’s higher here than you realize; as hilly as Baltimore can be, it is also a city of little valleys or bowls. Even on a foul February afternoon, I found myself picking out Fort McHenry, the Patapsco River and what seemed like a whole inventory of new structures dotting the Canton-Brewers Hill landscape. Church steeples and towers? Plenty here.
The 1889 pagoda is a whimsical observatory and example of park architecture beautifully restored about a decade ago. And the park itself, surrounded by its array of comeback neighborhoods, is now cleaner and better maintained than in the past. Walk around the park, and it is obvious that someone cares and is watching. Don’t stop here. Walk along the streets adjacent to the park and experience a magnificent stretch of classic Baltimore rowhouses.
Generations of East Baltimore children had their own name for the pagoda and its surrounding turf. They called it Cannon Hill and realized its gentle downgrade was a safe place for their sleds.
There are in fact a handful of memorial cannon left, and they are well maintained. It turns out these old artillery pieces are real. Robinson said that the cast-iron relics arranged around the Patterson Park Pagoda are military antiques. One, which has its own cast-iron cradle, is aimed in the direction of Canton and was recently identified as being of Revolutionary War vintage.
If you are interested in becoming a docent at Cannon Hill and learning more about Patterson Park, contact Lesley Gardiner: firstname.lastname@example.org.