Just a few days after Fort Sumter fell in April 1861, a Union regiment from Massachusetts made the daylong journey down the length of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad’s main line. Disembarking at President Street Station in harborside Baltimore, the troops boarded trolley cars bound for the Baltimore & Ohio station, where they aimed to continue their journey south. Instead, they were attacked by a pro-Confederate mob, and 16 Union soldiers became the first casualties of the Civil War.
Completed in 1850, President Street Station served as the PW&B’s southern terminal for a quarter-century, and continued to welcome branch-line passengers until 1911. Decades of decline followed, and in 1979 the vacant station building was slated for demolition. But local activists and history buffs mounted a campaign to save and restore the historic station, and for a decade, it operated as the Baltimore Civil War Museum.
“The twin ‘bookends’ of the April 19 brawl, the President Street Station and the Camden Street Station, have been preserved,” the Baltimore Sun wrote in a 2011 article headlined “The Dying Began in Baltimore.” “The street grid and the names that existed in 1861 are largely unchanged. But with the exception of the Shot Tower and St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, which would have been visible to the Massachusetts men over the heads of the rioters along President Street, no signs of the cityscape that existed along that route in 1861 remain recognizable today.”
Today, the museum is open only sporadically, and the building’s future is uncertain; the state’s U.S. senators are trying to get the National Park Service to take it over. In the meantime, the station remains, like the Newkirk Monument, a beautiful and neglected artifact of the PW&B.