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Baltimore Civil War Museum

The Maryland Historical Society (MHS) has taken over control of the Baltimore Civil War Museum-President Street Station, Inc. and is now the new administrator of the museum. The museum will continue its regular operations under the new leadership.

"The people of Baltimore City and its visitors will benefit from this new relationship and the MHS is delighted to have an Inner Harbor presence," said MHS Board President Stanard T. Klinefelter.

"Baltimore City and the State of Maryland are more vibrant now that the Station and the Baltimore Civil War Museum have a bright and robust future," said Baltimore City Councilman John Cain, who is a member of both the Station and MHS groups.

The 1849 train station, one of the oldest in the nation, houses a permanent exhibition focused on Baltimore during the Civil War and the role of the President Street Station in the era. It also features exhibits focused on Maryland's railroad history and the building's role in the transportation of slaves escaping to the North.

On April 19, 1861, as Northern troops were passing through the city between rail stations on their way to defend Washington, D.C., the first blood was shed. The so-called "Baltimore Riots" left four men in the 6th Massachusetts Infantry and some civilians dead and many injured.

Ralph Vincent, the director of the Friends of President Street Station, said he was pleased with the new arrangement.
"The Historical Society's involvement will secure the Civil War Museum's future and the Friends group looks forward to remaining involved - as volunteers and as advisors - under the new leadership," Vincent said.

Under the terms of the agreement, which was announced Nov. 2, the Historical Society has assumed the museum's 20-year lease from the City of Baltimore. When the lease expires in 2017, the MHS will have the option to renew it for another 20 years. The society would, some day, like to own the station

"The MHS's new leadership of the Baltimore Civil War Museum is truly a win-win situation for both institutions," said MHS Director Dennis Fiori. "We can provide the administrative and financial backing the museum needs while we acquire a new space in which to exhibit our outstanding collection related to Maryland's role in the Civil War and in the abolition of slavery. The MHS has one of the country's best Civil War collections. Its strength lies in its vastness and in the fact that it represents both sides of the war due to Maryland's divided loyalties during that era."

Many of the items on display in the President Street Station facility are on loan from the MHS, Fiori said.

"We have had a relationship with the museum since it opened and have always been supportive of their mission," Fiori said. "The addition of MHS's staff and services … will strengthen the museum and its ability to operate in a competitive market."

According to a recent column published in The Sun, the Baltimore Civil War Museum is the victim of inconsiderate surrounding growth and architectural design which has made the President Street Station "virtually unapproachable."

Three years of construction in the Inner Harbor area has more than halved its first year admissions of some 18,000 visitors, according to columnist Dan Rodericks.

He said the construction of hotels and a parking garage in the immediate vicinity of the station has squashed it.

"Overshadowed by those imposing buildings in Inner Harbor East, it's going to need all the help it can get," Rodericks wrote.

Shawn Cunningham, the director of the BCWM, agrees that the historical society's leadership will be beneficial to both institutions.

"I have been involved with the President Street Station since the 1980s when it was in miserable shape," Cunningham said. "Our new relationship with the MHS will provide the Civil War museum with a strong base during the inevitable ups and downs that take place at museum within any year.

Cunningham said that visitors often say they wish there were more items on display. The additional space in the Civil War museum will offer more exhibition space for the historical society's use.

"We will proceed carefully before making any changes," said Fiori, noting that the Civil War Museum will allow the society to expand its educational offerings and serve new audiences in the Inner Harbor section of Baltimore.

Since opening in 1997, the Baltimore Civil War Museum has operated with one full-time and one part-time staff member and a corps of approximately 75 volunteers who serve the museum under the auspices of the Friends of Presidents Street Station.

The non-profit organization formed in 1987 and has provided occasional funding as well as staff, programming and promotion for the museum. The friends group worked for years to save the bulding and had it included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Maryland Historical Society was founded in 1844 and is the state's oldest cultural institution. The MHS includes a museum, library, press, extensive educational programs and collects, preserves and interprets objects and materials reflecting Maryland's heritage.

The Baltimore Civil War Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 to 5 with a $2 admission.

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