Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine | PARK AT A GLANCE

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

PARK OVERVIEW

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is located at the mouth of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on the Patapsco River. From 1803 through 1912, Fort McHenry protected Baltimore from a naval attack. However, it is the events of September 13-14, 1814, two years into the War of 1812, for which the fort is best remembered. It is during this time that the British Navy bombarded the fort for twenty-five hours as part of a failed land and sea attack on the city.

Held temporarily by the British was lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key. Key had sailed out to the British ships a few days earlier to negotiate the release of a civilian doctor who had been taken prisoner. Because he arrived as attack plans were being made, he was not allowed to return for fear that he would warn the American soldiers stationed around Baltimore. After witnessing the bombardment and the subsequent British withdrawal, he set about writing the poem, The Defense of Fort McHenry. Within a week the poem was printed in the local newspapers with instructions to sing it to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven, a popular theme song for a British men’s social club. It was common in those days to take existing popular music and simply add new words, and To Anacreon in Heaven was already being used by various lyricists in America. A month later, a music store owner with a knack for promotion published the song under the name The Star-Spangled Banner.

The last active garrison of troops left Fort McHenry in 1912. Two years later it was turned into a Baltimore city park and used for the Star-Spangled Banner’s 100th anniversary celebration. However, the park status only lasted until World War I broke out. In 1917, the army reacquired the fort and converted it into one of the largest military hospitals in the country.

In 1925 the fort was declared a National Park, but it had to be restored to its mid-1800s appearance before it could open to the public. The restoration, which lasted until 1933, was done by the United States Army. Once completed, the fort was turned over to the National Park Service. The designation of Historic Shrine was added in 1939. Fort McHenry is the only National Park with this designation.

Today, a modern Visitor Center is home to a large museum that focuses on Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner, the Battle of Baltimore, and the War of 1812. For information on the fort, depart from the Visitor Center and walk the short path to Fort McHenry where the barracks and officers’ quarters now house exhibits on a variety of topics concerning the fort and its history. War of 1812- and Civil War-era cannon are also on display.

The highlight of a visit to Fort McHenry is attending either the morning or afternoon flag changing ceremony. Visitors are welcome to help park Rangers raise the flag. Rangers also give talks throughout the day about the Battle of Baltimore and the flag that inspired Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner. For those who want some exercise, there is a 1-mile trail that runs along the Patapsco River.


OPERATING HOURS

From Memorial Day through Labor Day the grounds (mainly the Sea Wall Trail) of Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine open daily at 7 AM and close at 6 PM. During the rest of the year, the grounds open at 9 AM and close at 5 PM. The grounds do not include the actual fort.

Regardless of season, the Visitor Center and the actual fort open at 9 AM. Both lose fifteen minutes earlier than the grounds (5:45 PM / 4:45 PM). The park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Times can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to visit Fort McHenry’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the latest schedule.


FEES

An entrance fee that is good for seven consecutive days is required to visit Fort McHenry National Monument. For those who come to the fort often, annual passes specifically for Fort McHenry can be purchased at the Visitor Center. National Park Passes are sold as well.

For the latest prices, see Fort McHenry’s official Fees and Passes web page.


SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

Visitor Center
allow 30 to 60 minutes

Fort Tour
allow 1.5 to 2.5 hours

Sea Wall Trail
allow 30 minutes

Ranger Programs
allow 30 minutes per program


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Last updated on April 15, 2024
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