Phoenix Shot Tower

Monday, 27 May 2013 09:54 Written by  Published in Neutrality Read 5726 times
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The Shot Tower at the corner of Front and Fayette Street was built in 1828, and it said to be the finest early specimen of brickwork on this continent. It raises 220 feet above the pavement and has a foundation 17 feet in depth, resting upon solid rock.

Phoenix Shot Tower

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4 October 1908

The Shot Tower at the corner of Front and Fayette Street was built in 1828, and it said to be the finest early specimen of brickwork on this continent. It raises 220 feet above the pavement and has a foundation 17 feet in depth, resting upon solid rock. This makes the tower free from vibration, except during very heavy gales of wind. The walls are 6 feet thick at the base, tapering off to 18 inches at the top. The circumference at the base is 129 feet. The top is reached by a spiral staircase. There have been other shot towers in the city, but the one on Front Street has held its rank from the start as the finest and most important one. Construction on this tower began on 2 June 1828 and was complete on 25 Nov 1828 - It was built without the use of scaffolding

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BPD old and shot tower with logo

The Phoenix Shot Tower, also known as the Old Baltimore Shot Tower, is a red brick shot tower, 234.25 feet (71.40 m) tall, located near the downtown, Jonestown (also known later as Old Town), and Little Italy communities of East Baltimore, in Maryland. When it was completed in 1828 it was the tallest structure in the United States.

The tower was originally known as the "Phoenix Shot Tower", then the "Merchants' Shot Tower", and now is also sometimes called the "Old Baltimore Shot Tower". It is the only surviving shot tower among three that existed in Baltimore, and was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 11, 1971. It was designated as a local Baltimore City Landmark on October 14, 1975.

The Shot Tower lends its name to the nearby Shot Tower/Market Place station on the Baltimore Metro subway system's northeast line. Additionally, the original Baltimore Bullets were named in honor of its role in producing shot.

The tower was built by Jacob Wolfe using bricks manufactured by the Burns and Russell Company of Baltimore. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, a Roman Catholic lay leader and wealthiest man in America at that time, laid its cornerstone.

The circular brick structure's walls are 4.5 feet (1.4 m) thick from the bottom to about 50 feet (15 m) up; then they narrow in stages of 4 inches (10 cm) each, until reaching a thickness of 21 inches (53 cm) at the top.

Molten lead was dropped from a platform at the top of the tower, through a sieve-like device, into a vat of cold water at the bottom of the tower to produce both "drop shot" for pistols and rifles and "molted shot" for larger weapons such as cannons. When hardened, dried, and polished, the shot was sorted into 25-pound bags. The annual production was about 100,000 bags of shot a year, with the capability of doubling that in case of war or other high demand.

The tower stopped producing shot in 1892, when a new method of making shot made the tower obsolete. It re-opened for a brief period of production at the beginning of the twentieth century, and then closed for good.

The tower remained the tallest structure in the United States until 1846, when Trinity Church, New York on Wall Street was erected, and the tallest in Baltimore until the completion of the spire of the First Presbyterian Church at West Madison Street and Park Avenue in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood in 1875.

BPD old and shot tower with logo
The Shot Tower was originally owned by the Merchants' Shot Tower Company which closed in 1898. 

In 1921 the tower was purchased for $14,500 by the Union Oil Company, which planned to tear it down and put a gas station in its place. After strong objections by the community, by 1928 enough money had been raised to purchase the tower and present it to the City of Baltimore as one of its first preserved local historic landmarks.

Plaques at the Phoenix Shot Tower, formerly the Merchants Shot Tower, in Baltimore's Jonestown neighborhood 

The tower was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and a bronze plaque was 220px Phoenix Shot Tower 04attached to the tower's brick wall at the base. In the early 1980s, the management, exhibits, and tours were combined with those of the former Peale Museum. In 1985, other historic sites and homes were added to the newly created Baltimore City Life Museums system. The BCLM was closed in 1997, and in 2002 Carroll Museums, Inc was created to manage both the Carroll Mansion and the Shot Tower.

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In 1828, the cornerstone of the Phoenix Shot Tower was laid by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last survivor of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The landmark, also known as the Old Baltimore Shot Tower, still stands today on Fayette Street at the base of the Jones Falls Expressway. (A. Aubrey Bodine, Baltimore Sun photo, 1935)

1851: Maine became the first state to prohibit the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages.

1886: President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom in a White House ceremony. (He remains the only president to marry in the Executive Mansion while in office.)

1924: Congress granted citizenship to all American Indians.

1946: Italy abolished the monarchy.

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Shot Tower 1

Reported to be a "Drip Mold" from the Phoenix Shot Tower

shot tower 1

The seller claims to have purchased it at an estate sale where the former owner said he picked it up at a sale in 1965 from the city while they were trying to sell Property around the shot tower, and find someone to take over restoration and upkeep of the Baltimore landmark. We checked and there were newspaper articles from 1965 confirming there were 500 compares approached about buying the property, and only 2 responses, neither making offers near what the city was looking for.

shot tower 4

The way these worked is described in the articles above. But essentially, they melted lead from the top of the shot tower poured it over these molds where it dripped out and formed near perfect spheres from the lead as it fell through the air to a pool of water below. By the time it hit the water on the lower level, it had already cooled, and hardened. The water was more to act like a catchers mitt, slowing the lead's fall before it hit the shot that had landed before it, and those that will follow from crushing each other on impact. The shot was often small bird, or buck shot, that was not perfectly round, or adjusted to a particular caliber of shot. For the old musket guns shooting shot, the shot made at the various shot towers wasn't perfect, but it was better than nails, pebbles, glass or bits of barbed wire cut up and jammed down the barrel of a musket. In the end no matter what it was being jammed down the muzzle of an old musket, it was going to hurt, maim, or kill whatever it was being fired at.  and fired into the enemy

shot tower 1

The seller claims to have purchased it at an estate sale where the former owner said he picked it up at a sale in 1965 from the city while they were trying to sell Property around the shot tower, and find someone to take over restoration and upkeep of the Baltimore landmark. We checked and there were newspaper articles from 1965 confirming there were 500 compares approached about buying the property, and only 2 responses, neither making offers near what the city was looking for.

shot tower 4

The way these worked is described in the articles above. But essentially, they melted lead from the top of the shot tower poured it over these molds where it dripped out and formed near perfect spheres from the lead as it fell through the air to a pool of water below. By the time it hit the water on the lower level, it had already cooled, and hardened. The water was more to act like a catchers mitt, slowing the lead's fall before it hit the shot that had landed before it, and those that will follow from crushing each other on impact. The shot was often small bird, or buck shot, that was not perfectly round, or adjusted to a particular caliber of shot. For the old musket guns shooting shot, the shot made at the various shot towers wasn't perfect, but it was better than nails, pebbles, glass or bits of barbed wire cut up and jammed down the barrel of a musket. In the end no matter what it was being jammed down the muzzle of an old musket, it was going to hurt, maim, or kill whatever it was being fired at.  and fired into the enemy

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Last modified on Tuesday, 21 July 2020 00:50
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