An Interactive View of 1812-era Baltimore:

BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815

Created by UMBC's Imaging Research Center, this touch-screen installation will be displayed in the Maryland Historical Society's 1812 exhibit


Contact: Laura Rodini [email protected] 410-685-3750 Ext. 322 

A rendering of the General Wayne Inn by the UMBC Imaging Research Center.

BALTIMORE, June 17, 2014 -- Step back in time to 1815 Baltimore, a lively city with all classes of society: merchants and sailors, tradesmen and women, free men and slaves, the very rich and the penniless poor. Researchers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Imaging Research Center have created an interactive 3-D representation of this dynamic point in American history. Combining historical research with cutting-edge effects technology, the Bird's Eye Annotated Representational Image/Navigable Gigapixel Scene (BEARINGS) of Baltimore, Circa 1815 provides a detailed rendition of the burgeoning city and conveys Baltimore's prominence as a seaport and a commercial hub for the young country. Beginning June 19, 2014, the installation will be on view at the In Full Glory: Maryland during the War of 1812 exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society (201 W. Monument Street, Baltimore, MD 21201).  


Visitors to the Maryland Historical Society can enjoy BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 simply by placing their hand over the screen. By hovering over a particular spot, they can zoom in on historically accurate city streets. Or, they can select one of the interactive "Hotspots," that, for the very first time, allows visitors to see significant buildings as they would have appeared in 1815. These arresting visual images are supplemented with primary source material from the Maryland Historical Society's collection.


Burt Kummerow, Maryland Historical Society President and CEO, said, "This is a perfect combination of cutting edge technology and the amazing historic resources from our library and museum. We eagerly look forward to more interpretive projects with UMBC's Imaging Research Center."


How'd They Do It?


Researchers at UMBC's Imaging Research Center studied early maps of downtown Baltimore, historical newspapers, first-hand accounts, insurance policies, legal code, and topographical images to recreate in painstaking detail an image of Baltimore as it looked shortly after the bombardment of Fort McHenry.  


"Researching and discovering facets of early Baltimore has, in and of itself, been fascinating, but being able to take that information to recreate an entire city from the past is truly remarkable," says Tamara Peters, Primary Researcher and Project Lead. "This is the closest we can get to a time machine to 'see' how Baltimore looked 200 years ago. That's very satisfying for the Imaging Research Center team."


Baltimore was the third-largest city in 1815 America. As the birthplace of the speedy Baltimore Clipper ships, the city's commercial ties to the West Indies brought great wealth to local merchants. The city's protected harbor, a hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean, also gave it a strategic advantage, enabling trade with inland America as well as the Chesapeake Bay and the world beyond.


Fresh from their victory at the Battle of Baltimore, Fort McHenry's defenders were renowned by citizens for their heroism and immortalized in song by Francis Scott Key. Early Baltimore was such a dynamic and successful city that it inspired many new Americans to call it home and the British to dub it a 'nest of pirates.'


BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 depicts all aspects of early Baltimore: The city had a wealthy, genteel society but, as a rough port city, it was infamously called Mobtown. On the very same block where a ball would take place at the Fountain Inn, rowdy patrons tipped their glasses at Kaminsky's Tavern and sober sensibilities attended services at the Light Street Methodist Meeting House. There were at least 30 churches, innumerable taverns and two criminal lockups: a jail and a penitentiary - which are included in the BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 installation.


It Begins With the Land


The Research Map created by UMBC's Center for Urban Environmental Research (CUERE)

Rolling hills and marshy wetlands characterize the coastal lowlands of Baltimore. To accurately lay out the city, researchers digitized historic topographic maps to deduce how the early landscapes of Baltimore and nearby watersheds appeared.


Next was added an accurate outline of the city in 1815. Warner & Hanna's Plan of the City and Environs of Baltimore, and the Poppleton Plan of the City of Baltimore were scrutinized. Researchers traced every listing in the Baltimore Directory of 1815 to determine street names of the time and the exact areas of development to map out appropriate buildings.


In 1815, Baltimore was a city on the rise. It was originally settled as three separate towns, 1) Baltimore Town, which comprised an area west of the Jones Falls River and the Inner Harbor; 2) Old Town, previously known as Jonestown, east of the Jones Falls River, and 3) Fell's Point, a boot-shaped peninsula southeast of the city. By 1815 these three areas were merged, along with Federal Hill, Gallow's Hill, and the Eastern and Western Precincts.  


One City, Many People


Baltimore had a large percentage of Catholic and German immigrants as well as the country's largest population of free blacks. A brick-and-mortar reflection of Baltimore's diverse population can be found in its many churches, from the German Reformed Church on Second Street to the Sharp Street African Meeting House.  


Researchers created 3D models of Baltimore row houses and other buildings that made up the early Baltimore scene. No detail was overlooked: In designing the General Wayne Hotel (pictured), located on the corner of Paca and Baltimore (also known as Market) Streets, researchers consulted the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, which listed the building's construction materials. The hotel as it appeared in early photographs was also carefully reviewed. Using a library of authentic textures, its 3D brick exterior was created. A historically accurate paint scheme was used for the shutters. Notice how the shutters were louvered on the upper floors - their purpose was for ventilation from the hot, dusty street below. On the first floor, the shutters were paneled, for privacy from passersby. A hand-painted sign, a replica of what hung outside the hotel, was the final touch.


The Building Blocks of a City


BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 is comprised of over 2.5 billion pixels and nearly 50,000 tiles that are generated from a 3D model of the city. The model itself contains millions of individual elements, including structures like buildings and boats which are individually placed by hand, and vegetation that is randomly generated across portions of the terrain.


The clickable "Hotspots" in BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 were chosen for their historical significance to the city. Selected sites related to the War of 1812 include the Hampstead Hill Entrenchments - these earthen fortifications were the result of a call to citizens and slaves to build trenches and protect the city from British invaders. 


Other "Hotspots" include:


* The Pickersgill House and adjacent Brewery - the site where the Star-Spangled Banner was sewn, in the summer of 1813.
* The Hospital, which was partially built on the site of present-day Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was a reflection of the disparity between Baltimore's rich and poor.
* The Shipyards, in Eastern Fell's Point, served as the city's hub for building topmast schooners known as Baltimore Clippers. These speedy vessels famously circumvented the British Blockade during the War of 1812 and made Baltimore a force to be reckoned with.
* Fort McHenry, as it existed in 1815. Miraculously, a direct hit to its powder magazine during the Battle of Baltimore did not result in catastrophe. After the War of 1812, engineers fortified the Fort's magazine with a large brick cover, effectively rendering it 'bomb proof'.
* Signal House, the Federal Hill Observatory, which was the watch post for arriving ships. Worth noting is the difference in the geography of Federal Hill. In 1815, the sides of the Hill had a steeper pitch; it was more cliff-like. In the 1930's a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program redeveloped Federal Hill into steeply sided park as we know it today.


You can also see Holliday Street, a cultural hub, featuring Peale's Museum and the Assembly Rooms, consisting of both a ballroom and a library. The Holliday Street Theatre was the site where the "Star-Spangled Banner" was first performed officially; the rowdy tavern next door was where it was first unofficially sung (to cheers and great huzzahs, no doubt).


Nearby is one of the country's first circuses used by Pépin and Breschard. This wooden structure featured horse acts, a riding school, and acrobatics.


BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 also includes accurate representations of the area's vegetation, including plants that have since become scarce and even extinct. The American Chestnut Tree, for instance, was prevalent in 1815 Maryland before being wiped out by blight between the late 1800s and the mid 1950's.


Supplementing the outstanding digital imagery are primary source materials from the Maryland Historical Society's collection. By clicking on the "Hotspot" of the Indian Queen Hotel, the site where Francis Scott Key likely penned the "Star-Spangled Banner" after the Battle of Baltimore, you can see actual handwritten receipts of a tavern bill in 1813.


Technical Considerations


BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 is so large that it could not be displayed by a regular computer; in fact, if you wanted to view the whole image at once without shrinking it, you would need about 1,200 HDTVs.


The installation includes two screens: 46" HD touch screen and a 75" HD screen for projection. The super-fine quality resolution is HD (1920x1080). Its infrared technologies allow you to move to a point on the image without actually touching the screen.


A second phase of the project, containing more buildings and "Hotspots," is set to launch in September, 2014.


BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815 will be unveiled on June 19, 2014 to the general public. It will serve as the gateway to the Maryland Historical Society's exhibit In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland During the War of 1812 and will be on view indefinitely.


The Maryland Historical Society wishes to thank Project Director Dan Bailey, Researcher and Artist Tamara Peters, Technical Director Ryan Zuber, CUERE Environmental Data manager Joshua Cole and the students at the Imaging Research Center for their outstanding work. The Maryland Historical Society also thanks the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission and the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation for their funding support.


About The Maryland Historical Society


Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine" and a semi-annual MdHS Newsletter. Visit


For more details, contact Marketing Director Laura Rodini at [email protected] or by phone: 410-685-3750 ext. 322.