In 1810 the General Assembly of Maryland authorized a $100,000lottery to build a monument to George Washington. Robert Mills of Charleston, South Carolina, America’s first professional architect, won a design contest with a vision of Washington in classic Roman garb riding in a horse-drawn chariot with the requisite column. Mills won $500 for his efforts.
The monument was planned for Baltimore’s old Court House that was being torn down on Calvert Street between Fayette and Lexington streets. The owners of surrounding houses immediately howled in protest, convinced such a large stone column was bound to fall or them or at the very least inundate the neighborhood in lightning. Colonel John Eager Howard, Baltimore’s walking, breathing Revolutionary War hero, ended the debate by giving a chunk of his enormous estate, Belvedere, for the placement of the monument honoring his former Commander-in-Chief. The donated site, then called Howard’s Woods, was a hill well north of the Baltimore town of 1815, where a falling statue would hit the ground without casualties.
Colonel Howard died in 1827, and his heirs laid out the four park squares surrounding the Monument in the form of a Greek Cross. The squares running north and south from the Monument are named Washington Place, and those laid out to the east and west are named Mount Vernon Place. Over the years, “Mount Vernon Place” has come to refer to not only the entire square, but also the surrounding neighborhood.
During the 1830s and 1840s, the town of Baltimore, presumably cured of its trepidation over tumbling obelisks, steadily grew out to the Monument, and the area began to boast the most elegant townhouses in the city. Mount Vernon Place has wandered in and out of fashion through the decades but it has always been what Baltimoreans consider “the heart of the city.” The neighborhood retains its grand homes and monumental cultural institutions and out walking tour will start at the Washington Monument that started it all...
Mount Vernon Place and Washington Place
Robert Mills designed two Washington Monuments, the iconic one in the nation’s capital and this one, the first architectural monument intended to honor the first President. Construction of the Monument began in 1815 and continued for nearly 15 years, by which time the first memorial to the “Father of Our Country” was erected near the summit of South Mountain’s Monument Knob near Boonsboro, Maryland. This didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for Baltimore’s efforts, which had been scaled back considerably when costs soared to twice the $100,000 appropriated. Naval officer James D. Woodside was recruited from the Washington Naval Yard to devise a system of pulleys, levers and braces to hoist the statue to the top of the 178-foot shaft of Beaver Dam marble from Baltimore County. Dedication took place in 1829.
WALK EAST ON MOUNT VERNON PLACE.
The Peabody Institute and George Peabody Library
East Mount Vernon Place, on the right when traveling east
Massachusetts-born entrepreneur and philanthropist George Peabody founded the Institute in 1857 as a cultural center for the city’s residents in appreciation of their “kindness and hospitality.” Baltimore architect Edmund G. Lind designed the main building of the conservatory, which was completed in 1866. It is America’s second-oldest conservatory in continuous operation. Lind also provided the elegant Italian Renaissance design in 1878 for the Peabody Library “which is to be maintained for the free use of all persons who desire to consult it.” Peabody funded the Institute to the tune of $300,000 - at a time when a good working wage was a dollar a day. Both the Institute and the library are now divisions of the Johns Hopkins University.
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church
East Mount Vernon Place, on the left when traveling east
Conceived as a “Cathedral of Methodism,” the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church was completed on November 12, 1872 on the site of the mansion of Charles Howard, son-in-law of Francis Scott Key. Baltimore architects Thomas Dixon and Charles Carson drew up the High Victorian Gothic plans, executed in six different types of stone, including green serpentine stone, brownstone and red and buff sandstone trim. The price tag for the landmark house of worship was $400,000.
10 East Mount Vernon Place
This three-story rowhouse is typical of the stylish upscale home that populated Mount Vernon Place in the 1850s; today it is owned by the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.
22-32 East Mount Vernon Place
Mount Vernon Place was so hot in the 1850s that houses were sold before they could be finished. One of the busiest speculators was Richard E. France who gobbled up six building lots and put up brownstone townhouses from designs by Louis L. Long. This is the only souvenir of France’s efforts remaining in Baltimore.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS AND RETURN TO THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT AND TURN RIGHT ON NORTH CHARLES STREET.
Tiffany-Fisher House/Mount Vernon Club
8 West Mount Vernon Place
William Tiffany, a big-time commission merchant, built this Greek Revival tour-de-force mansion in 1842. Today it is the oldest house standing on the Square, purchased in 1941 purchased by the Mount Vernon Club. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed here when they visited Baltimore in 1959. The Duchess, formerly Wallis Warfield, was named for her uncle, Severn Teackle Wallis, whose statue stands in East Mount Vernon Place.
716 North Charles Street
Residents were none too happy when this ten-story hotel went up in 1894, dwarfing its fellow Mount Vernon residents. With its exuberant Beaux Arts exterior of yellow brick and terra-cotta, the Stafford was promoted as the grandest guest house in town. It was the kind of place power brokers and celebrities signed the guest register. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at the hotel in the 1930s while his wife, Zelda was being treated at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Stafford closed as a hotel in 1970 and was converted to 96 apartments for low-income residents.
718 Washington Place, southwest corner of Washington Place and Madison Street
What would a French castle look like if it was squeezed into a Mount Vernon corner? George Brown Hughes, the leader of a family of investment bankers, commissioned the house from local architect George Archer in 1888. The confection is dressed in white marble and boasts classical detailing like an Ionic-columned granite portico and roof balustrade.
TURN LEFT ON WEST READ STREET.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
811 Cathedral Street at southeast corner of Cathedral and Read
The first Episcopalian services were held here on October 15, 1854 with a breakaway congregation from Christ Church. Architects John Rudolph Niernsee and James Crawford Neilson, who did most of the early work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, contributed an Italianate-flavored design that was given a Flemish Gothic makeover in the 1920s.
TURN LEFT ON CATHEDRAL STREET AND RIGHT ON MADISON STREET.
First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
210 West Madison Street
This is the fourth home for Baltimore’s oldest Presbyterian congregation, founded in 1761. A long way from the original log meetinghouse, the 273-foot church tower is the city’s highest. Designed by Norris G. Starkweather, the church was constructed over more than two decades from 1854 to 1875.
TURN LEFT ON TYSON STREET AND LEFT ON MONUMENT STREET.
Enoch Pratt House
201 West Monument Street, southwest corner of Park Avenue and Monument Street
Massachusetts-born Enoch Pratt moved to Baltimore in 1831 with $150 to enter the hardware trade. By 1851 he was well invested in western Maryland coal mines and Baltimore iron foundries as he became the president of the National Farmers’ and Planters’ Bank of Baltimore. Pratt built this handsome brick townhome in 1845; he would die childless at the age of 88 in 1896 a a million dollars of his money would endow the city’s free public library system. Today this is the home of the Maryland Historical Society, the state’s oldest continuously operating cultural institution. Founded in 1844, it was first located in the Athenaeum at St. Paul and Saratoga Streets. In 1919 it moved here.
Grace and St. Peter’s Church
707 Park Avenue, northeast corner of Park Avenue and Monument Street
When architect James Crawford Neilson designed this Gothic Revival meetinghouse for Grace Church in 1852 he pioneered the use of Connecticut brownstone in Baltimore. St. Peter’s Church, founded in 1802, and Grace Church, founded in 1850, were united in 1912.
105 West Monument Street
Louis Long designed this grand five-bay wide brownstone mansion, highlighted by stone balustraded balconies, in 1859; the client was Augustus H. Albert. The house was so expansive that when it was converted to a hotel in 1867 it could handle 75 guests a night. The hotel closed in 1902 and spent the 20th century as a private residence again, headquarters for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, a private club and offices.
TURN RIGHT ON CATHEDRAL STREET.
Hamilton Street Rowhouses
Hamilton Street between Cathedral Street and Charles Street
Robert Cary Long was born in Baltimore around 1770 and began his working life as a carpenter, teaching himself architecture to become the town’s first native-born building designer. His son Robert Cary Long, Jr. studied the craft at St. Mary’s College in Baltimore and apprenticed in New York City as the town’s first native-born professionally trained architect. This is an early row of Baltimore houses by Long the Younger who also lived here; Numbers 12 and 16 and 18 are unaltered Federal-style.
Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
northwest corner of Franklin Street and Cathedral Street
For this historic Presbyterian church in 1847, architect Robert Cary Long tapped the influence of the finest English Tudor Gothic buildings with an eye to thrift. The congregation organized only three years prior when members of the First Presbyterian Church felt it was time to follow the population migration northwards.
Enoch Pratt Free Library
on Cathedral Street, between Franklin Street and Mulberry Street
The public library system in Baltimore got underway in 1882 with a million-dollar gift from banker -philanthropist Enoch Pratt to endow a central library and four branches. Charles Carson designed a Romanesque structure here to hold the main collection which started checking out books in 1886. After almost a half-century of service that building was demolished in 1931 to clear room for this three-story Beaux Arts book depository, designed by Clyde and Nelson Fritz under the supervision of the Library Director Joseph Wheeler. Unlike many similar public temples Wheeler made sure the library possessed a human scale by giving the building a street-level entrance rather than a monumental staircase.
Baltimore Basilica of the Assumption
Cathedral Street between Franklin Street and Mulberry Street
This is Baltimore’s greatest work of architecture, from the pen of America’s first professionally trained architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe. The historic Baltimore Basilica was constructed between 1806 and 1821 under the direction of America’s first Bishop, John Carroll, cousin of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. As the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in the United States, it became known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For the better part of 200 years, more priests were ordained here than in any other church in the United States.
TURN LEFT ON MULBERRY STREET.
John H. B. Latrobe House
11 West Mulberry Street
On an evening in October, 1833, three of Baltimore’s most distinguished men of arts and letters were gathered around a table in the back parlor of this house. Fortified with “some old wine and some good cigars,” John Pendleton Kennedy, James H. Miller and John H.B. Latrobe poured over manuscripts submitted in a literary contest sponsored by the Baltimore Sunday Visiter. Their unanimous choice for best prose tale was “MS. Found in a Bottle,” a curious and haunting tale of annihilation. The fifty dollar prize was awarded to the story’s unknown, penniless author―Edgar Allan Poe.
Old Cathedral School
7-9 West Mulberry Street
This red brick building with a bowfront was constructed in the 1830s by Eaton R. Partridge, a Baltimore businessman. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese purchased the property in 1892 for a school, adding classrooms, an auditorium, a chapel and living quarters and reconfiguring the entrance with Romanesque arches.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH CHARLES STREET.
408 North Charles Street
The original Greek Revival house was built in 1829 by William F. Small to house the Archbishop of Baltimore. Much enlarged over the years, the original house was the central section.
The First Unitarian Church of Baltimore
northwest corner of North Charles Street and Franklin Street
This classically ornamented cube was constructed in 1818 as the first building in North America built to be used continuously as a Unitarian church. French-American architect Maximilian Godefroy infused his design with elements of French Romantic Classicism.
Walters Art Museum
Washington Place, northwest corner ofcorner of Centre Street
William Thompson Walters made his fortune in the liquor trade and in East Coast railroads while putting together an impressive collection of 19th century European painting and Asian art. When William died, he passed along the business interests and the art collecting bug to his son Henry, who commissioned an Italian palazzo art gallery to house the collection. When Walters died in 1931 he gave one of America’s finest private collections with more than 22,000 works and the gallery, plus a couple of million dollars for maintenance, to the city and people of Baltimore.
601-607 Washington Place
Look up at this double town house from the 1850s to see cast-iron balconies.
609 Washington Place
Here is another house from the 1850s with a handsome two-story cast-iron balcony.
TURN LEFT ON WEST MOUNT VERNON PLACE.
1 West Mount Vernon Place
Architect John Rudolph Niernsee designed this Greek Revival mansion for John Hanson Thomas, a physician, in 1848. Thomas entertained the town’s most distinguished guests in Mount Vernon Place’s “most elegant house,” people such as the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, and General Kossuth, the Hungarian freedom fighter. In the 1980s the stately white home went to the Walters Art Museum which used it to present some 1,000 works of Asian art to the public.
11 West Mount Vernon Place
This imposing mansion began life as the home of Samuel George in 1853. In 1872 John Work Garrett, the president of the town’s signature company, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, bought the house for his son, Robert, as a wedding gift. During his tenure as president of the B & O, Robert Garrett retained Stanford White, the Gilded Age’s architect most in demand, to spruce up the place a bit, beginning a process that would make this Baltimore’s most expensive house. White’s Italian Renaissance design was fashioned from rose-colored sandstone (the western two-thirds of the facade). Robert Garrett died in 1896 and after his wife remarried Henry Barton Jacobs in 1902 she retained classical architect John Russell Pope to keep building. The house grew to 40 rooms and the price tag was tickling two million dollars after the house next door was demolished for a garden and to allow light to shine on the interior Tiffany glass windows. Family ownership ended in 1939 and the Engineering Society of Baltimore took over the property in 1962.
RETURN TO THE START OF THE TOUR AT THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT.