Bob Downing

BALTIMORE: The British strongly disliked Fellís Point.

The Maryland port was home to 58 very successful privateer vessels during the War of 1812. American privateers captured or sank 1,700 British vessels ó 40 percent of those at the hands of the privateers that sailed from Fellís Point.

Fellís Point was nothing more than ďa nest of pirates,Ē according to the British. Privateers were privately owned vessels authorized by the American government to go after British ships.

The Chasseur, one of the most famous Fellís Point privateers, captured or sank 17 British vessels on one cruise. On its return, the ship was cheered by citizens and nicknamed ďthe Pride of Baltimore.Ē

Many of the privateers were fast, maneuverable ships called Baltimore schooners. A rebuilt schooner is on display in Baltimoreís Inner Harbor.

Privateers were one of the main reasons that the British attacked Baltimore in 1814. That effort failed, although the bombardment of Fort McHenry led Francis Scott Key to pen The Star Spangled Banner.

In the nine years leading up to the War of 1812, Britain had seized nearly 1,000 U.S. ships, including 92 from Baltimore. An estimated 10,000 Americans were forcefully taken to serve on British ships against their will.

That had a big impact on Fellís Point where 75 percent of residents were sailors, sea captains, sail makers, shipwrights, caulkers and rope makers. Another 20 percent were involved in the portís trade activities. It was a salty, working-class neighborhood on the north shore of Baltimoreís harbor and the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River.

Today Fellís Point is a very appealing neighborhood with a rich and colorful history, filled with restaurants, bars, boutiques and Belgian-block streets built with stone that arrived as shipsí ballast. It has morphed from one of the oldest colonial working waterfront communities into a touristy nightlife district.

Much of Fellís Point is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its 14-block historic district covers about 75 acres and is one of the oldest in the United States.

Those buildings were once boardinghouses, brothels and bars. Many have Formstone fronts, a type of fake stone, that were popular in Baltimore 60 years ago.

There are no big museums at Fellís Point, but there are 120 bars and pubs. Those, plus the restaurants and the waterfront promenade, are the biggest attractions. There are also galleries, theaters and music venues. There are ghost walks down darkened alleys and guided pub walks in the neighborhood. For information, go to www.fellspointmainstreet.org.

Fellís Point was founded in 1726 by Quaker shipbuilder William Fell from England. With its deep-water port, it became the main port for nearby Baltimore Town. The two towns later merged.

Fell served as the quartermaster of the Continental Navy.

Fellís Point welcomed waves of immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries. Both enslaved and freed African-Americans were key parts of the neighborhoodís population. They worked as household servants and in the maritime industries.

More than 800 ships were built in Fellís Point from 1784 to 1821. Fellís Point was an active tug boat harbor until 2010.

It is known for its colonial architecture, plus antebellum warehouses and some Victorian architecture. There are some gabled roofs and dormer windows. The street layout is largely unchanged from the 1760s, and it is home to some of the oldest frame and brick houses in Baltimore.

The biggest draw may be the Robert Long House and Colonial Garden. The house was built in 1765 on South Ann Street and is the oldest surviving urban residence in Baltimore. It is owned by the Preservation Society and is open for tours. Long was a merchant and entrepreneur from Pennsylvania who aided the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

Singer Billie Holiday came from Fellís Point. Her two former houses sit on South Durham Street.

Frederick Douglass lived and worked in Fellís Point. As a slave, he worked as a caulker in a shipyard point in 1837. With help, he escaped from Baltimore via train.

Learn about the importance of African-American shipbuilders at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum at Fellís Point. It is a re-creation of the first black-owned marine railway and shipyard in the United States. For information, call 410-685-0295 or go to www.douglassmyers.org.

After the Civil War, Fellís Point became a coffee hub with shipments from South America. In the late 1800s, the wharves in Baltimore became too small for steamships, and canning replaced the maritime industry.

In the 1960s, there were plans for a new highway through Fellís Point, but strong grass-roots opposition ended that plan. By the 1970s, the factories on the water were largely closed and the industry had all but disappeared.

The Fellís Point Visitor Center is at 1724 Thames St., 410-675-6570, Ext. 16, or www.preservationsociety.com. It also offers guided walks on the 4-mile Historic Fellís Point Trail.

The Baltimore National Heritage Area also offers guided walks in Fellís Point and other neighborhoods from April through October. Call 410-878-6411, Ext. 4, or go to http://explorebaltimore.org. You can also go to http://baltimoreheritage.org.

Fellís Point is reachable by bus, cab and car. It is about a 20-minute stroll from the Inner Harbor through booming East Harbor to Fellís Point. It is also easily accessible by Baltimoreís Water Taxis, which ply the harbor with designated drop-off spots. Fares are $8 one-way or $14 for an all-day pass.

You can hop on a portion of the 560-mile Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Go to www.starspangledtrail.net for more information.

There are plenty of other attractions in Baltimore. The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum is at 216 Emory St., about 10 blocks west of the Inner Harbor. It is where the New York Yankee star was born in 1895. It became a museum in 1974 and is very close to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The shrine is filled with Ruth artifacts and baseball gear, including a 1910 bat used by both Ruth and ďShoeless JoeĒ Jackson, and Ruthís 1914 rookie baseball card, which is worth about $700,000.

There is a signed baseball on which Ruth promised a sick child that he would hit a home run. He hit three that day in the 1926 World Series. You can also see the Catholic rosary Ruth carried most of his life and one of his bats from 1927, the year he hit 60 home runs. For information, call 410-727-1539 or go to www.BabeRuthMuseum.org.

Not far away is the B&O Railroad Museum at 901 W. Pratt St., about 10 blocks to the west. In 1828, American railroading was born in Baltimore with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and 100 acres of maintenance and repair shops.

The 123-foot-high roundhouse built in 1872 is the centerpiece of the museum, filled with rail cars. Visitors can enjoy a 20-minute train ride. For information, call 410-752-2490 or www.borail.org.

For Baltimore tourist information, call 1-877-225-8466 or go to www.baltimore.org.