War of 1812 & Bicentennial Trail

A few weeks ago Better Baltimore County had the opportunity to speak with Fran Taylor about his work and efforts to preserve the heritage of Baltimore County.  He is just one of many who has contributed countless hours to keep history alive in the community.  To obtain more information or to see photos from the Baltimore County Star-Spangled Banner and War of 1812 Bicentennial committee please visit their FaceBook Page.  Below is the transcript of our interview.  

Q:  How did you get involved with the preservation efforts?

A:  Back in 2004, the North Point Peninsula Council, of which I am now President, took a survey of residents and an overwhelming majority of respondents expressed an interest in preserving the historical landmarks and open space found on the Peninsula. They also wanted to create safe trails and bikeways. We formed a committee of community members and Agency folks and the North Point Heritage Greenway Trail concept plan was created. The goal of that plan is to connect the many community, recreational and historic sites. As Chair of that committee, I met many people who already were working on various preservation efforts. Then in 2010, I was asked by then County Executive Jim Smith to Chair the Baltimore County War of 1812 Bicentennial Advisory Committee. I accepted and my interest took off from there.

Q:  Why is it important to preserve the history of 1812?

A:  From a National perspective, the War of 1812 helped define our struggling your young nation and solidify it’s place in the world. From a local perspective, there are not many communities in this Country who can claim being invaded by a foreign army. Citizens from every social class and race banded together to thwart the enemy advance on Baltimore. Thus the Battle of North Point, while not stopping the British, inflicted dire casualties and delayed the advance as it was intended to do.  We are still today a diverse community who will band together in crisis and this was evident back in 1812.

Q:  What are some of the things that have enabled you do be successful in your work?

A:  The reason that the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration was successful was the enthusiastic support and participation of the Governor, County Executive, and other elected officials. Federal, State and local agencies came together with citizens to collaborate, plan and execute the various Capital projects and events. Schools, in particular, got students involved with historical field trips, lesson planning, and events . And I can’t stress enough the value that local volunteers played in all aspects of the Bicentennial.

Q:  What have been some of the challenges?

A:  At first the challenge was just to get people involved. As with myself early on, most knew that there was a park in their neighborhood, or an old house along the road, or an empty field that had been neglected for years. But not many knew of the significance of these sites in relation to the War of 1812. Through community outreach at local neighborhood associations and input meetings in the communities, more and more people became involved.  The next biggest challenge was funding these projects. Thanks to the U.S. Mint War of 1812 coin sales, Federal, State, and local grants, and countless business and private donations, we were able to create a battlefield park called the North Point State Battlefield. We also rehabilitated the Battle Acre Park and created a wall mural depicting the lifestyle and events of 1812.

Q:  What are your hopes and aspirations that will come of this work?

A:  My hope is that, with continued education and improvements, neighbors of these sites will take ownership and responsibility for their safe keeping and that the legacy of the bicentennial will continue.

Q:  What has this meant for the community?

A:  My personal favorite event of the bicentennial was the National Guard march from Patterson Park in Baltimore City to Battle Acre Park at North Point in commemoration of the “Old Defenders” marching to meet the British in September 1814. Baltimore County Government had just refurbished Battle Acre Park with a new pedestrian plaza, refurbished a cannon and a nearly 200 year old fence that surrounds the site. They also added new curbs and roadway improvements along this historical route. So many neighbors came out of their houses, took pictures, cheered, and just beamed with pride that this was their home hosting the event. School kids smiling and waving flags lined the fence. I will never forget thinking “ This is what its all about”.

Q:  How does preservation of the past improve the future?

A:  I think that we all value legacy,  whether in family, business or community. We must learn from the past and use these circumstances to build for the future. Unfortunately, as new folks move into communities not knowing the historical richness of the area, there tends to be more crime, litter and general social issues. Having these sites and learning the reasons that they are there should make all residents appreciate and value their neighborhood. Citizens must take ownership of their community’s future.

Q:  What have the cost of revitalization efforts been?

A:  Public investment into the historic sites and events in Baltimore County was quite substantial for the War of 1812 Bicentennial. A new historic battlefield park was created and a 175 year old commemorative park was refurbished and updated to meet modern standards and requirements. However, from a purely economic standpoint, that public investment was justified many times over. From a social standpoint, these improvements contributed to the quality of life for Baltimore County residents and reinforced the proud heritage of the region.

Q:  How many volunteers have helped in the process?

A:  I cannot even attempt to answer this with any accuracy but I will venture to say hundreds of people have participated throughout the multi year celebration. These include re-enactors, historians, historical society members, educators, soldiers, community association members, volunteer cleanup groups, and countless individuals.

Q:  What advice do you have for others that may be working on similar efforts?

A:  Education and outreach are your most valuable tools. Advocating for your project from Elected Officials to the volunteer litter pickers and everyone in between is vital to getting people on board with your project.

Q:  Is there anything else you want to share?

A:  The War of 1812 Bicentennial  commemoration was a great example of people from all walks of life contributing their piece of the pie with the result being the outstanding celebration we all enjoyed. Working on this project was most challenging and often frustrating. But in the end it was one of the most rewarding efforts in which I  have participated.