If you go to downtown Baltimore today, you’ll notice a few things. The Roush Company’s Harborplace “festival marketplaces” still limp along at the waterfront, but their integral role in pulling Baltimore through the 1980s is respected. There are several business towers resulting from the 1960s and 70s urban redevelopment that walloped cities of all sizes. But if you enter any of the surrounding neighborhoods of Fell’s Point, Federal Hill, West Baltimore, you’ll realize that back downtown, there are no buildings pre-dating 1904.
I found this compelling image of the Baltimore Fire of 1904 by an unknown artist on the Maryland Historical Society website. Whatever circumstances led to the sketch being made and preserved, it captures the energy of galloping horses, spraying water, billowing smoke, and running men (provenance online please!). One of the legacies of the Baltimore Fire is the standardization of hydrant couplings and firefighting equipment in the United States. Though responders came from Washington, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, it was quickly discovered that different cities used different hydrant couplings, hindering the ability of the additional responders to assist.
In the mid-1990s, I was interning at the Walter’s Art Gallery (now Museum) and attended an architectural lecture series by Charlie Duff of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. The shaping force of the 1904 fire was so great that an entire lecture was dedicated to it. Read more about the fire at the Maryland Historical Society’s Digital Cultural Heritage Site.