|"Henry Fite House" (later Tavern/Hotel)|
"Congress Hall""Old Congress Hall"
Southwest corner, West Baltimore (then Market) Street,and Liberty - South Sharp Streets, Hopkins Place
(current site): Baltimore Civic Center ,(now Royal Farms Arena)
|Town or city||Baltimore Town, seat of Baltimore County,|
|Current tenants||burned by fire|
|Destroyed||Sunday/Monday, February 7-8, 1904|
Henry Fite, (1722-1789),later: daughter, Elizabeth Fite Reinicker
|Other dimensions||92 ft. X 50/55 ft.|
|Floor count||3 plus attic and cellar|
The "Henry Fite House", located on West Baltimore Street (then known as Market Street), between South Sharp and North Liberty Streets (also later known as Hopkins Place), in Baltimore, Maryland, was the meeting site of the Second Continental Congress from December 20, 1776 until February 22, 1777. Built as a tavern in 1770 by Henry Fite (1722-1789), the building became known as "Congress Hall" during its brief use by Congress, and later in local history as "Old Congress Hall". It was tragically destroyed by the Great Baltimore Fire on Sunday and Monday, February 7-8, 1904, which started a block to the southwest at North Liberty (east of North Howard) and German (later West Redwood) Streets at the John E. Hurst Company building (dry goods) and swept north to Fayette Street and finally to the east to the Jones Falls, burning most of the downtown central business district and waterfront, of which only a few modern "fire-proof" skyscrapers, though burned, had enough structural support left to save, rebuild and restore later.
The Second Continental Congress moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore in the winter of 1776 to avoid capture by British forces, who were advancing on Philadelphia, the new American capital city, after having sailed up the Chesapeake Bay from newly conquered New York City making a feint towards, but bypassing Maryland's newest large town, and landing to the northeast at the "Head of Elk". As the largest building then in forty-seven-year-old Baltimore Town, Henry Fite's tavern provided a comfortable location of sufficient size for Congress to meet; its site at the western edge of town was beyond easy reach of the British Royal Navy's ships should they try to sail up the Harbor and the Patapsco River to shell the town. A visitor described the tavern as a "three-story and attic brick house, of about 92 feet front on Market Street, by about 50 or 55 feet depth on the side streets, with cellar under the whole; having 14 rooms, exclusive of kitchen, wash-house and other out-buildings, including a stable for 30 horses."
Thus, Baltimore became the nation's capital for a two-month period. While meeting here in Maryland on December 27, 1776, the Continental Congress conferred upon General George Washington, (1732-1799), "extraordinary powers for the conduct of the Revolutionary War," a stirring vote of confidence, now a year and-a-half after having commissioned him as head of the Continental Army, following a series of defeats and retreats since June 1775, when the Army surrounded the British in a siege at Boston.
In her 1907 biography of the Fite family, descendent Elizabeth Fite corrected earlier historians who mistakenly reported Jacob Fite as the owner of the house. She explained that while Henry's son, Jacob, lived in the house, he was a child when the building was occupied by Congress and never actually owned the building. After Henry died on October 25, 1789, his estate was distributed among his seven surviving children; the "Henry Fite House" became the property of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, George Reinicker.
Philanthropist and international financier George Peabody (1795-1869), of South Danvers (later Peabody), Massachusetts and New York City, moved to Baltimore in 1816. The "Henry Fite House" served as his home and office during the next 20 years, where he directed his wide-ranging business, financial and investment empire, which by mid-century had made him the richest man in America. He later endowed the Peabody Institute in 1857, which opened nine years later with the adjoining Library in 1878. Along with the additional educational, cultural and civic programs in the mid-1860s, the Institute and Conservatory were to be built across from the Washington Monument on the Circle at North Charles and East Monument Streets (also known as Washington Place and Mount Vernon Place in the northern city neighborhood of Mount Vernon-Belvedere).
Peabody left Baltimore for New York City and later London in 1837, as more and more of his international financial and business affairs consumed his time. He returned to the city in 1866 to address the large crowd of Baltimore City Public School children gathered on the front steps of his new Institute when it was finally dedicated in an elaborate ceremony after a long interval, interrupted by the Civil War.
The former location of the "Henry Fite House" is currently occupied by the Royal Farms Arena, originally known as the Baltimore Civic Center and from 2003-2013 1st Mariner Arena. Built in 1961-62 in the western downtown area, with a civic auditorium, arena, convention hall and exhibition galleries, the building became a center of Baltimore's sports and entertainment life. It covers the city block bounded by West Baltimore Street (north), Hopkins Place (east), Howard Street (west) and West Lombard Street (south).
The Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution placed a large, elaborate, polished bronze memorial tablet in front of the "Henry Fite House" on February 22, 1894, describing the building's brief service to the nation. An inscription on the tablet proclaimed to visitors: "On this site stood Old Congress Hall, in which the Continental Congress met". Ten years later, only the memorial tablet remained on the corner of the smoking ruins after the Great Fire on February 7-8, 1904, which devastated most of downtown Baltimore and the waterfront.
When the Civic Center (now the 1st Mariner Arena) was built on the site, the bronze tablet of 1894 was preserved and moved into the glass-walled lobby and ticket booth area in the northeast corner of the building.