Phoenix Shot Tower

Coordinates: 39°17′26.6″N 76°36′19.7″W / 39.290722°N 76.605472°W / 39.290722; -76.605472
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Shot Tower
Phoenix Shot Tower 02.jpg
Phoenix Shot Tower
Phoenix Shot Tower is located in Baltimore
Phoenix Shot Tower
Phoenix Shot Tower is located in Maryland
Phoenix Shot Tower
Phoenix Shot Tower is located in the United States
Phoenix Shot Tower
LocationBaltimore, Maryland
Coordinates39°17′26.6″N 76°36′19.7″W / 39.290722°N 76.605472°W / 39.290722; -76.605472
NRHP reference No.69000373[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 1, 1969
Designated NHLNovember 11, 1971[2]
Designated BCL1975

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".[3] It is the only surviving shot tower among four that existed in Baltimore.[4] The structure was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 11, 1971 and as a local Baltimore City Landmark on October 14, 1975.[2][5]

The Shot Tower lends its name to the nearby Shot Tower/Market Place station on the Baltimore Metro subway system's northeast line. Additionally, the original Baltimore Bullets were named in honor of its role in producing shot, as was the team that is now known as the Washington Wizards.[6]


The tower was built by Jacob Wolfe[7] using bricks manufactured by the Burns and Russell Company of Baltimore. Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Roman Catholic lay leader, wealthiest man in America at that time and the only surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid its cornerstone on 4 July 1828.[8] It was completed the same year.

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.[7][9]


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[3] to produce "drop shot" for muskets. When hardened, dried, and polished, the shot was sorted into 25-pound bags. The annual production was about 100,000 bags of shot,[10] with the capability of doubling that in case of high demand.[3]

The tower stopped producing shot in 1892,[7] 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.[11]


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.

Interior of the tower, looking down

The shot tower was originally owned by the Merchants' Shot Tower Company which closed in 1898.[12]

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.[7]

Plaques at the Phoenix Shot Tower, formerly the Merchants Shot Tower, in Baltimore's Jonestown neighborhood

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.[11]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Phoenix Shot Tower". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on March 9, 2009. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c "Shot Tower", National Park Service, accessed May 6, 2007
  4. ^ "Baltimore City and County Mills A-C" (PDF). Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  5. ^ "Baltimore City's Designated Landmark List" (PDF). Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation Department of Planning. July 2012. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
  6. ^ Vecsey, George (November 12, 1995). "Sports of The Times;Say Goodbye To 'Bullets' As Nickname". The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d "An Engineer's Guide to Baltimore: Phoenix Shot Tower", accessed May 6, 2007 Archived March 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Baltimore Travel Itinerary-- Shot Tower". Archived from the original on September 17, 2007.
  9. ^ Morton, W. Brown III (July 30, 1971). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination: Baltimore Shot Tower". National Park Service. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  10. ^ Statement of Significance Archived 2009-03-09 at the Wayback Machine at the National Park Service's National Historic Landmark Program website, accessed May 6, 2007
  11. ^ a b Phoenix Shot Tower Archived June 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Carroll Museums, accessed May 6, 2007
  12. ^ "Baltimore (Phoenix) Shot Tower", National Park Service, accessed May 6, 2007

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