Archive for December, 2009
Grace Turnbull was an artist of extraordinary perseverance, one of Baltimore’s treasures she lived until 95, producing a series of sculptures, paintings and writings throughout her life. Her former house, located at 223 Chancery Road was designed by her architect brother Bayard Turnbull and contains four large outer beams sculpted by Grace herself. Built in 1927, the house was once situated in rural Waverly. As the city expanded a community grew around the historic house, the estate forming the center of the north Baltimore neighborhood of Guilford.
Part of the realist generation of American artists, Turnbull (1880-1976) exemplified a fiery spirit, carving marble with a hammer and chisel until she was 90. Her Reese Monument sits on a grassy knoll in front of the old Eastern High School building on 33rd street. The marble sculpture is directly across from the former site of Memorial Stadium. Turnbull also created the Naiad Statue near the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon.
The Wyman Estate Gatehouse is located at the corner of North Charles Street and Art Museum Drive next to the Baltimore Museum of Art. The gatehouse once marked the entrance to the Wyman Estate, a vast rural tract of land north of the city. Samuel Wyman purchased the elegant property from Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s great-grandson, John Lee Carroll, in 1839.
William Wyman, son of Samuel, hired architect Richard Upjohn to design a mansion on the property around the time of the Civil War. Homewood Villa was razed in 1954 by the university, but the gatehouse remains. The Wyman family owned the land until 1902 when they presented it to Johns Hopkins University. Part of the land was preserved as a city park named in their honor. In 1965 the Johns Hopkins News-Letter moved their headquarters into the gatehouse.
The Homewood House Museum is located at 3400 North Charles Street inside the east entrance to Johns Hopkins University. The building’s construction began in 1801 and continued during the decade that followed. The estate was a wedding gift from Charles Carroll of Carrollton to his son Charles Carroll, Jr. and his new bride. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the wealthiest men in America, Charles Carroll of Carrollton basically gave his son an unlimited budget to design and erect the stately manor. The five-part Federal style house was certainly elaborate for its time.
After passing through the Carroll line the property was sold to Samuel Wyman, a successful Baltimore businessman. Wyman’s family eventually gave the land and its constructs to Johns Hopkins University. Restoration began on the mansion house in 1929 and was later completed in the 1980s. Once the headquarters of the College, today the historic building is a period museum open to the public.
9 North Front Street was the former residence of Thorowgood Smith, a successful merchant and Baltimore’s second mayor. Built around 1790, the Federal style residence served as Smith’s home between 1802 and 1804. During the 19th and 20th centuries the building was used as a hotel, an auto-parts shop and a restaurant. Purchased in 1971 by Baltimore City as part of the Shot Tower Park complex, the Women’s Civic League stepped in to sponsor the property’s restoration. The house apparently serves as the organization’s headquarters.
Smith also owned a mansion in the Union Square neighborhood named Willow Brook. When Willow Brook was torn down in the 1960′s, the city rescued its stunning Oval Room and its contents. The room was recreated at the Baltimore Museum of Art several times.
The City Life Museums was a series of historically significant buildings and exhibits once maintained by the Baltimore municipality. In 1997, Mayor Kurt Schmoke shut them down due to poor attendance and funding issues. The Maryland Historical Society was able to acquire the significant contents of the museums after they were closed.
The MDHS is the big winner in the liquidation of the Baltimore City Life Museums, which was forced to padlock its doors June 21, 1997. It will add to the society’s collection 58 paintings by members of the Rembrandt Peale family, thus becoming the biggest repository of Peale art anywhere. The historical society will also acquire and display in its Mount Vernon buildings the rest of the City Life memorabilia. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the future of various City Life buildings is uncertain.
Independent companies have stepped in to keep some of the historic sites open. Carroll Museums, Inc. is running the Carroll Mansion complex and the Phoenix Shot Tower, offering tours on weekend afternoons for as low as five dollars. However, the Peale Museum and H. L. Mencken House are still closed, two important buildings that deserve being rescued. The Friends of the H. L. Mencken House is working to save the Union Square home that Mencken lived his entire life in. On December 13, 2009 the rowhouse was open as part of the neighborhood’s annual Christmas Cookie Tour.
The Peale Museum’s future is still uncertain. I’ve heard rumors that Baltimore may use the facility as a conference center for City Hall employees, but for now the building is vacant. Opened just months before the Bombardment of Fort McHenry, the Peale Museum is one of the city’s most significant historical artifacts.
The list below comprises the former City Life Museums:
- Baltimore’s Peale Museum
- Phoenix Shot Tower
- Carroll Mansion
- H. L. Mencken House
- Fava Fruit Building or Morton K. Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center
- Brewer’s Park (across from Carroll Mansion)
- Center for Urban Archaeology
- John Hutchinson House (1840s House)
Baltimore City Hall was dedicated on October 25, 1875. It replaced the Peale Museum, the forty-six year temporary home for city employees, and was an important step in Baltimore’s development as a prominent American city. Located at 100 North Holliday Street, the French Revival style structure was designed by the twenty-one year old George A. Frederick. Frederick also designed the Druid Hill’s Moorish Tower, Saint Thomas Aquinas Church and Cylburn Mansion during his long and successful career. The Wendel Bollman designed iron dome was fabricated by the Bartlett-Hayward Company of Baltimore.
At the behest of then Mayor William Donald Schaefer, the building’s interior was remodeled in 1976 after signs of dangerous deterioration were noticed. Baltimore’s City Hall is the only building of its kind in America that was renovated to continue as a city hall. In 2009 city government voted to restore and clean the exterior marble of the structure. A half a million dollars was allocated for the project.
On the second floor several statues are on display. Two Hans Schuler pieces, the Centennial Eagle and William Pinkney Whyte statue, along with Edward Berge’s likeness of Thomas Gordon Hayes, dominate the bronze exhibits.
Thorowgood Smith (1744-1810) was a merchant-shipper that established himself in Baltimore during the 18th century. He owned 26 acres of land in what is now known as the Union Square neighborhood. In 1799 Smith’s stately manor, Willow Brook, was completed making it one of the finest abodes in the city. Financial hardships occurred when Smith’s shipping investments went south and he was forced to sell the mansion. Around 1802 Smith moved into a small home on the edge of town that still stands today. Situated in Shot Tower park, the House at 9 North Front Street is maintained by the Women’s Civic League. Smith was the city’s second mayor, holding the post from 1804 to 1808. When he died in 1810, his estate was left to his wife and then nephew, John Donnell. Donnell began dividing the property into lots for sale as the harbor and adjoining communities began to thrive.
Smith wore personally designed eyeglasses attached by a ribbon that wrapped around the top of his head. This distinctive look was used by Smith to avoid pinching the bridge of his nose. The portrait is located in room 215 of City Hall. It once hung in the Peale Museum.
The Centre Market was established in 1787 as one of three public bazaars (including Fell’s Point and Lexington) aiming to provide food and goods to Baltimore’s growing population. With little or no public transportation available, these markets were essential to city life at the time.
Above one of the market’s original structureswas the Maryland Institute College of Art. The two story school was built on top of the building which covered an entire city block. It was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1904, was rebuilt and existed until 1959, when it was torn down to make way for the Jones Falls Expressway. Charm City’s first public bathroom was built on the property in 1907.
Centre Market, built after the fire of February, 1904, on the site of Marsh Market, which was destroyed, is a splendid modern structure. It cost $500,650 and extends from Baltimore to Pratt street, three blocks. There are two great halls over the northern (Baltimore street) end, which are used by the night classes of the Maryland Institute. Twelve hundred pupils may be comfortably accommodated here. There is also another large hall above the produce section, which will seat 2500 persons. The wholesale and retail fish market, connected with the Centre, has been pronounced the most complete in the world.
This marker is placed on the west outside wall of the old Fish Market building, and is near the Great Fire of 1904 Marker and Booth fountain. Port Discovery, an interactive museum for kids, occupies the building today.
At 10:48 am on February 7, 1904, Baltimore’s great fire started with an explosion at the Hurst company building on the western side of the city. Just over twenty-four hours later the flames were under control, but most of downtown was destroyed with few structures surviving the intense heat. The conditions were so extreme that entire city blocks were gutted, while others were spared as the fires swept over them. Remarkably, City Hall, the Courthouse and the Old Post Office were left untouched. Charm City rebuilt rapidly, using the opportunity to improve the town’s design. The Great Fire of 1904 marker is attached to the west side of the Port Discovery building. The Centre Market Tablet and General Booth Fountain are nearby.
I’ve been tracing the cause and path of Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904 and was thinking of mapping the area of the blaze, comparing pictures from then and now. This great website has already done all of this and much more, plotting the stages of the fire as it rolled north, east, and south through downtown. The event was apparently caused by an explosion at the Hurst Company building, the blast occurring at 10:48 am on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning. Due to extreme winds and very narrow streets the flames were able to jump entire city blocks, leaving some areas untouched amidst the devastation.
Several buildings survived the fire including the Union Trust Company (or Jefferson Building) at the corner of Charles and Fayette Streets. The structure’s windows had been blown out by nearby attempted preventative dynamiting, leaving the building vulnerable. The inside burned completely out but the steel frame survived and the building is still in use today. This picture shows the grand old post office, city hall and the courthouse just at the edge of the fire’s devastation zone. A last and sudden change in the direction of the wind towards the south saved the historic buildings from destruction.
Completed in 1907, construction of Baltimore’s U.S. Custom House was severely setback by the Great Fire of 1904. Several of the building’s granite blocks were split in the intense heat generated by the inferno. An excellent American example of Beaux-Arts architecture, it was conceived by the Washington DC team of John Rush Marshall and Joseph C. Hornblower. The structure served as the city’s custom house until 1953 when the U.S. government’s Selective Service System moved in. The facility replaced the Benjamin Henry Latrobe-Maximilian Godefroy designed Merchant’s Exchange.