When North Point was invaded 200 years ago this September by about 4,500 British soldiers and marines during the War of 1812, the Toms and Jollies rowed ashore in small boats from their warships, anchored in Old Road Bay, just inside the mouth of the Patapsco River, and helped themselves wherever they could to food and drink as they made their way toward Baltimore. Ultimately, after being weakened by fierce resistance from the locals, they surveyed the impressive redoubt manned by militia atop Hampstead Hill, now part of Patterson Park, and decided to pull back to their ships with the futile hope that the simultaneous naval bombardment of Fort McHenry would succeed. Thanks in part to their arduous path through North Point, the Brits found Baltimore too hard to swallow.
North Point is soon to be invaded again, this time by history buffs taking bicentennial tours of the battle route. While such outings tend to be highbrow, sober affairs involving dry recitations of dates, facts, names, and numbers attached to landmarks and monuments, the British conduct on the North Point campaign suggests ways to liven things up: Paddle ashore where they did, then follow their route toward Baltimore, stopping to eat and drink what the now-welcoming locals have to offer along the way.
Essential for this undertaking is a copy of Ralph Eshelman’s 2011 book A Travel Guide to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake (The Johns Hopkins University Press), which is available at bookstores or online for about $25 and includes detailed descriptions for hitting all the historic hot spots from North Point to Baltimore. Obviously, too, one needs a portable, paddle-able craft. Those who own one can embark at North Point State Park (8400 North Point Road,  477-0757,dnr2.maryland.gov) or Fort Howard Park (9500 North Point Road,  887-7259,baltimorecountymd.gov). Those who don’t are in luck:Shallow Creek Kayaks (9300 North Point Road,  852-2477, shallowcreekkayaks.com) boasts 27 kayaks for rent according to owner James Wolf, who says he’ll set customers up on a sliding fee scale, with less cost per hour for larger parties and longer rentals, starting at $15 per person for one hour.
The British troops landed at the tip of the North Point peninsula, along where the bulkhead of the shuttered Fort Howard Veterans Hospital now stands, and paddlers have two options for recreating the experience by going ashore: a break in the sea wall where a jumble of rocks juts out, or a debris-strewn, derelict boat ramp. Getting there is where most of the fun is, though, affording opportunities to soak in the sights of nature and industry existing cheek by jowl, with woods giving way to salt-marsh grasses as the behemoths of the defunct Sparrows Point steelmaking facilities loom in the background. While gunkholing around the mouth of Shallow Creek, one can spot stretches of the peninsula’s remaining farmland—including a small cattle operation—adding to the land-use spectrum visible from the water.
Low tide exposes small, sandy shorelines here and there where short stopovers for beachcombing can yield weathered shards of sea glass and orphaned crab buoys as ospreys wheel and whistle overhead, and shore birds flit and forage at the water’s edge. Rounding the peninsula, in to view comes the striking red-and-white-painted bricks of the Craighill Channel Upper Range Front Light, a navigation aid built in the 1880s on the foundation of the old North Point light, which went up in the 1820s.
Once ashore on the hospital grounds, walk along its main road, Gettysburg Avenue, and see the “Fort Howard” roadside marker on the waterfront and, further inland just before the entrance gate, the “North Point Beachhead” marker. The information on these two signs, along with that on a plaque on the main hospital building, includes numerous inaccuracies, which Eshelman corrects in his book.
Now it’s time to paddle back and start the pub-crawl portion of the North Point tour—a relevant exercise, since strong spirits and local grub were a recurring factor in the Brits’ North Point invasion. Not only was the body of their commander, Major General Robert Ross, preserved in a hogshead of rum after he was killed by sniper fire early in the campaign, but the Brits seemingly partook of tall waters at every turn, including at Trotten Farmhouse (where they also borrowed a horse and cart to carry Ross’ body), at the Joseph Sterrett House near Armistead Gardens, and at two other places near Baltimore—Murray’s Tavern and Furley Hall—where, as Eshelman puts it, in headline fashion: “British Troops Rest Near Tavern While Officers Drink Wine.” On the culinary front, meanwhile, soldiers ate pickles and preserves courtesy of the Trottens, Eshelman explains, and Ross’ last meal likely was breakfast at the Gorsuch Farmhouse near the intersection of North Point Boulevard and Wise Avenue, where he reportedly announced: “I’ll sup in Baltimore tonight—or in hell.”
The first stop—after a drive-by of Todd’s Inheritance (9000 North Point Road,  803-0517), a house that was rebuilt after the British burned it down and which is currently fenced off from the public as it undergoes restorations—is Bay Shore Bar and Grille (8214 North Point Road,  477-1646). While tossing horseshoes out back, one can nuzzle oversized bottles of beer and nosh on softshell-crab sandwiches and fries topped with lump-laden cream of crab soup.
Almost within spitting distance of Bay Shore are two War of 1812 landmarks: one, the only remaining dwelling on the North Point peninsula whose construction predates the war, the Shaw-Bauer House, an abandoned white stucco house at the end of Bauers Farm Road, where Baltimore developer Mark Sapperstein has planned a new residential development called Shaw’s Discovery; and the other, the Shaw House site and graveyard near the intersection of Millers Island Road and Foulkes Farm Road. Ross’ party took over Shaw House for a spell, Eshelman explains, when one of his officers legendarily tried to kiss young Eleanor Shaw, who ran off and jumped out a window. Visiting the fenced graveyard is kosher, but the Shaw-Bauer House is on private property marked “No Trespassing.”
Heading inland on North Point Road from Bay Shore brings visitors to Edgemere, the peninsula’s center of commerce, where a roadside marker in front of Sparrows Point High School succinctly explains that “British forces passed here en route to Baltimore.” A few blocks north is Donovan Lounge (6900 North Point Rd.,  477-9755), a place where a 12-ounce draft of very cold Budweiser costs a buck and the accoutrements—an ancient electric clock from the long-gone Leon Levi jewelers on Lexington Street in downtown Baltimore and what may be the oldest working beer refrigerator in the metropolitan area—scream old-school tavern culture. Deb Squatrito, the bartender during a recent visit, explains it’s in its third generation of family ownership, with the fourth coming down the pike, and points out a row of aloe plants she says are 50 years old. Two patrons, Mike Poremski and Bob Clarke, are hip to the War of 1812 history of the area: “Two redneck squirrel hunters got him,” Clarke says of the sharpshooters who felled Major General Ross.
Edgemere sits at the top of the North Point peninsula, and from here to Baltimore the landmarks start to tell the story of British losses. A sign in front of DAP Products (4630 North Point Blvd.) marks the spot where Ross died of his wounds, and less than a half-mile north is where Ross made his empty boasts at the Gorsuch Farmhouse—nearPop’s Tavern (4343 North Point Blvd.,  477-0270), a spacious, fifth-generation establishment that prides itself on live music on weekends and where, for $6.50, one can sit down for a serviceable cheeseburger with chips and pickles and a cold can of Budweiser.
Heading northwest from Pop’s, North Point Road splits off to the right and runs parallel to North Point Boulevard. The Aquila Randall Monument (near 3970 North Point Road) sits on private property on the right side of the road, just past where it intersects with Old Battle Grove Road. This commemorates the felling of Ross in a skirmish that also took the life of Randall, a private who is credited by some with wounding Ross; others believe two other privates—Daniel Wells and Harry McComas, sharpshooters who also both died in the fighting—did the deed. Parking can be a problem here, but not if you take a pit stop next door at Dreamer’s Female Revue (4000 North Point Road,  477-1774).
Dreamer’s manager/bartender Carol Gorschboth says she’s proud of the fact that dancers here tend to be “more mature” than at other strip clubs, and they “sit and talk with the customers”—including about War of 1812 history. “We have a guy who comes in here, a reenactor who’s really into that,” she explains. “He talks all about history, war, battlefields, and all with his favorite dancer.”
Next up, a few blocks past of where North Point Road crosses back over North Point Boulevard, is the Battle Acre Monument (3100 block of North Point Road ), a grassy lot whose centerpiece is a granite block with a cannon mounted atop. Right next to the small park is Penny’s Bar and Carryout (3209 North Point Road,  282-6375, dineatpennys.com), whose co-owner George Koutsantonis notes that his business, located at the end of Charlesmont Shopping Center that abuts the small park, “is about as close as you can get” to the monument. He says a mural is planned for the outside wall of the strip mall facing the park, and that “the whole side of the building will be a battle scene.” Bartender/cook Jennifer Wetzel adds that, when planned streetscape renovations are done, “this whole area is supposed to look like the Avenue at White Marsh.”
Across the street and a block north from Penny’s is North Point State Battlefield (Trappe and North Point roads,  477-0757), a fenced-off, undeveloped 9-acre field owned by the State of Maryland. This is the campaign’s main killing field, where, by Eshelman’s count, nearly 400 British troops were killed, wounded, or went missing, compared to a little more than 200 Americans who were killed, wounded, or captured. Just north of the battlefield is the Gray Manor Inn (2816 North Point Road,  284-9702), a spacious, well-patronized tavern with plenty of parking. During a recent visit, vivacious bartender Crystal Kellner boasts, “I can name every bar between here and Fort Howard” when told of the War of 1812 pub-crawl idea—which is right down her line in terms of history too, since she says “I did a report in high school about the Shaw House graveyard.”
After inflicting heavier casualties than they suffered on the battlefield, the Americans withdrew and the British rested, resuming their march to Baltimore the following day. As they scouted out the strength of Baltimore’s defenses, the Brits hung out and partied at three places in the Herring Run vicinity: the Joseph Sterett House at 4901 Wilbur Ave.; Furley Hall, near the intersection of Bowleys Lane and Plainfield Avenue; and Murray’s Tavern, near the intersection of Haven Street and Pulaski Highway.
At the Sterett House, soldiers broke into the wine cellar, where they quenched their thirst with great abandon, according to an account in the War of 1812 blog by Scott Sheads, a National Park Service ranger who lives in Baltimore: Having gained entrance to the cellar, the Brits discovered “bottles of all shapes and dimensions,” and “in less than a quarter of a hour, not a single pint, either of wine or spirits, remained.”
The Sterett House still stands in Armistead Gardens, though Eshelman writes that it bears little resemblance to its wartime appearance. During a recent visit, a next-door neighbor explained that it is occasionally rented out as an event hall. Just down the block is the Corner Crab House (4600 Erdman Ave.,  485-7442,cornercrabhouse.com), a tiny joint that boasts a flexible supply line intended to keep it flush with the best hard-shells available, seasoned with house-mixed spices.
At Furley Hall, Eshelman writes, “British officers reportedly helped themselves to [owner] William Bowley’s wine.” The Furley Hall historical marker stands where Brehms Lane crosses Herring Run, and the long-gone mansion sat up the hill, near Bowleys Lane. No tavern or restaurant is nearby, but a venerable neighborhood institution—Hobbit’s Inc., an all-purpose deli, grocery, and liquor store—is an excellent place to stock up on snacks or six-packs, pay red-light tickets, or order a sub.
The final stop on this War of 1812 pub crawl is the venerable Haven Place Gentlemen’s Tavern (400 N. Haven St.,  276-9420), which won City Paper Best of Baltimore awards for “Best Strip Joint (No Cover Charge)” in 2011, “Best Jukebox” in 2007, and “Best Strip Bar You Can Bring Your Wife To” in 2012. Somewhere quite near here, by Eshelman’s reckoning, British soldiers hung out at Murray’s Tavern, the closest they got to the Americans dug in at Hampstead Hill as they awaited orders to attack Baltimore or retreat to their ships at Old Road Bay.
The Brits wisely retreated—as War of 1812 paddling pub-crawlers will likely do, to their beds, after such a full day of eating and drinking in history.
> Email Van Smith