Exploring Hidden Historic Baltimore

Written by Kurt Jacobson

April 15, 2022
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Baltimore, Maryland offers an intriguing history of wars, civil rights, inventions, and the arts. Wander with a local to explore hidden historic Baltimore.

Baltimore, Maryland, has some of the most interesting history anywhere in the US. Whether it’s the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, famous inventions, civil rights, or the arts, Baltimore has hundreds of years of important events. I enjoyed uncovering the local history and am eager to share what I found. Here is my list of must-see spots when exploring hidden historic Baltimore.

Uncovering Baltimore History

I already knew some of the best-kept secrets in historic Baltimore. However, when COVID struck, I was holed up at home like many others. So, during that time, I searched the internet for historical places to visit in the area.

Then I found out about the Five Minute Histories videos produced by Baltimore Heritage. Johns Hopkins, the executive director of Baltimore Heritage, was also stranded at home during the early stages of the pandemic. Johns decided right away he and his crew were going to share Baltimore’s history online.

With a small team that included his associate, Molly, and Johns’ teenage daughter, Leah, they started posting Youtube videos called Five Minute Histories.

Note: You can also find these videos, by going to the YouTube site for Baltimore Heritage. Search for the name of each site in YouTube.

The team covered monuments, parks, businesses, mansions, neighborhoods, a brewery, and many other interesting people and places. With over 200 of these historical videos, you may enjoy my list, or find your own favorites to visit next time you’re in Baltimore.

A Different Vision of Art

The American Visionary Art Museum features some of the most impressive art I’ve ever seen. Self-taught artists have the world’s largest venue dedicated to showing a style of art seldom seen. What was once The Baltimore Copper Paint Company building is now one of historic Baltimore’s most unique attractions.

Exploring Hidden Historic Baltimore

The American Visionary Art Museum. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

From the moment you arrive, art jumps out at you. From exterior walls decorated in mosaics to a bigger-than-life bluebird and a curious windmill mobile, there’s plenty of interesting art to discover. Be sure to view exhibits like Esther and the Dream of One Loving Family, A Visionary Spirit for Invention, and The Science and Mystery of Sleep.

One of my favorite artists is Gerald Hawkes, who made matchstick sculptures to calm his anger after a mugging left him permanently disabled. The museum’s gift store is a must-visit as their wares are funny, odd, interesting, or beautiful.

Local’s tip: Be sure and climb Federal Hill, located next to the museum, and get one of the best views of downtown Baltimore.

An Industrious Museum

The Museum of Industry is located on the Inner Harbor in the old Platt & Company Oyster warehouse. There used to be over 70 canneries, processing and sending out famous Chesapeake Bay oysters in Baltimore before the oyster beds were tapped out.

Look for the tall green crane to know you’ve arrived at the museum. Parking is free, but visitors pay a modest fee to enter. Some famous Baltimore-based inventions on display include the modern printing press, bottle caps, canning equipment, and gas street lights.

Exploring Hidden Historic Baltimore Museum of Industry

The Museum of Industry in an old oyster warehouse in historic Baltimore. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Where would bottled beverages be without inexpensive caps? Bottles used to have the somewhat cumbersome crank-style caps that you still might see on kombucha or trendy craft beers nowadays. See the Crown Cork & Seal story at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and think about that next time you open a bottle that has a metal cap.

Local’s tip: Don’t miss the Women of Steel exhibit telling the story of women who dared to work in a man’s world of industry.

A Church Becomes a Brewery

It’s not often you see a historic church turned into a brewery. Thanks to the Five Minute Histories, I learned about St. Michaels Roman Catholic Church and other breweries in former churches across the US. Baltimore’s Ministry of Brewing won an award in 2020 for the restoration work of St. Michaels. And it’s one of the most unique, hidden gems in historic Baltimore.

Exploring Hidden Historic Baltimore Ministry of Brewing

Ministry of Brewing sits in what was once a church. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Enter this historical space and see the painted ceiling, elaborate light fixtures, and of course, the bar. The brewery’s logo features a stained glass pattern emblem to remind customers they are in a different kind of brewpub.

Exploring Hidden Historic Baltimore Ministry of Brewing

Ministry of Brewing is inside the old St. Michaels Roman Catholic Church. Photo courtesy Ministry of Brewing

Parking can be a bit tricky as it’s on-street, parallel parking but worth the effort to see this gorgeous brewery in historic Baltimore.

Keep the Boats Afloat

Baltimore Heritage created a Five Minute video on the Caulker’s Houses in Fells Point to honor African American history. These hard-working men were essential for the ships that plied the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.

The caulkers were mainly free black men who caulked and sealed the hulls of ships on the waterfront of downtown Baltimore. Two of these workers’ homes are still standing—quite a feat for a wooden home built around 1797. The Caulker’s Houses can be viewed at 612 and 614 Wolfe Street.

Exploring Hidden Historic Baltimore

After checking out the Caluker’s Houses, head two streets over to see the shops along Thames Street. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

Frederick Douglass spent time as a caulker in Baltimore, making him probably the most famous African American ship repairman of that era. Baltimore Heritage Society has other African American-based videos to view. For example, there is one on the Union Baptist Church if you want to dive deeper into this part of historic Baltimore.

Local’s tip: Just two streets towards the harbor from the Caulker’s Houses, take a right turn on Thames Street for one of the area’s best-preserved places. Find excellent restaurants, bars, and the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore Hotel.

Historic Baltimore’s Love of Glass Houses

If you’ve never been to a glass conservatory, the Rawlings Conservatory in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park is a great place to start. London’s Royal Botanic Gardens inspired the Rawlings Conservatory, back when Baltimore was one of the most prosperous cities in the US.

Exploring Hidden Historic Baltimore

Rawlings Conservatory. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

The city’s planners envisioned a place where residents and visitors could see tropical plants year-round. Even if you aren’t a fan of gardens, the Rawlings Conservatory is worth visiting. It is one of just a few glass conservatories of its age still functioning.

You can best enjoy this free attraction from November through March when you will appreciate the warmth inside. While you’re in the area, check out the zoo, the Rogers Mansion, the William Wallace statue, and Druid Hill Park.

Ships that Won the War

Today, few people know of the ugly ducklings that helped win World War ΙΙ. Liberty ships such as the SS John W. Brown transported millions of tons of cargo, thus providing critical supplies to support US allies during the war.

SS John W. Brown WW II Liberty Ship Baltimore

SS John W. Brown is one of the famous World War II Liberty ships. Photo by Kurt Jacobson

The goods shipped by liberty ships were as varied as Sherman tanks, fighter planes, ammunition, food, clothing, and just about whatever our troops or allies needed to defeat Hitler.

One of the most impressive aspects of the liberty ships was how quickly they were constructed. During the war, 2,700 of these humble craft were built and launched in ports such as Baltimore. Maybe that’s why one of the few surviving liberty ships is docked in the Charm City and available to tour.

The John W. Brown is one of only two Liberty ships left from the war that’s still fully operational. Currently, the ship operates as a living museum. It provides educational programs for Boy Scouts of America, Sea Scouts, and Girl Scouts, as well as internship programs and other events posted on its website.

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When You Explore Hidden Historic Baltimore

Whether you visit these sites for their historical value or just out of curiosity, hidden historic Baltimore is fascinating to explore. I recommend visiting from April to June before the hot and humid summer sets in. Likewise, the fall foliage is gorgeous and the weather is comfortable, making it another optimal time to visit. Be sure to check out Wander for more to see when you visit Maryland, along with suggestions for other historic towns we recommend.

Written by Kurt Jacobson

Kurt Jacobson is a former chef and current freelance travel writer. His writing covers restaurants, destinations, hotel features, farms, and wine. When not hanging out at home Kurt loves exploring the Mid-Atlantic area with his wife and dog Sophie. Kurt's published articles can be found at Trip101.com, GoNOMAD.com, Mother Earth News Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, tasteoftravel2.com, and 40+ publications worldwide. Find Kurt online on Twitter at @KurtTravels2 and follow his website http://tasteoftravel2.com/.