Built in 1891-1892 by local contractor Cornelius Sheehan, the Patterson Park Observatory was the brainchild of designer Charles H. Latrobe. This beloved structure is known to most locals simply as “The Pagoda.”
The four-story tower stands 60 feet tall and is constructed of iron, glass, and wood. It stands on Hampstead Hill, a key battlement during the Battle for Baltimore in 1814.
The uppermost deck offers breathtaking views in all directions, including the downtown skyline and inner harbor, the Patapsco River, Sparrows Point, the Key Bridge, Fort Carroll, and Fort McHenry.
The observatory fell into disrepair due to a lack of funds for maintenance and was closed in 1951. Partial renovations were made over the years, but the structure was in serious trouble by 1990 and was almost demolished.
Efforts by community members, along with the city council led to a major redevelopment effort in 1998 that ran through early 2002 and set the stage for the adoption of The Pagoda by the community as an iconic symbol of perseverance, which is now maintained by the local organization “Friends of Patterson Park.”
The observatory is octagonal and features a spiral staircase that leads to each of its levels. While it bears some physical resemblance to a pagoda, it is not a true pagoda.
That term is derived from the stupas of ancient Nepal and is traditionally used to describe a reliquary used for religious purposes for Buddhists and other Asian cultures.
There is a movement to restore the name of the structure to “The Observatory” to more accurately describe its intended purpose. Time will tell if locals, who have always known it by its more familiar appellation, will adopt and use its real name instead.
Know Before You Go
Patterson Park Observatory was designated a city landmark in 1982.