Phoenix Shot Tower
|NRHP reference #||69000373|
|Added to NRHP||October 1, 1969|
|Designated NHL||November 11, 1971|
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.
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 "moulded 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.
The shot tower was originally owned by the Merchant's 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.
The tower was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and a bronze plaque was attached 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.