Once the farmland of Johns Hopkins, Clifton Park is a tranquil 266 acre meadow situated in the eastern section of Baltimore City. Hopkins purchased the land in 1838 and proceeded to make a multitude of improvements including the installation of a lake and sculpture garden. Farmers grew and cared for crops, while businessmen and politicians hammered out deals amidst the agreeable settings. Before and during the Civil War strategic planning for the Union force took place at the camp. Hopkins was an abolitionist and staunch supporter of the North and friend Abraham Lincoln, running counter to Maryland’s political stance at the time.
“One of the first campaigns of the Civil War was planned at Johns Hopkins’ summer estate, Clifton, where he had earlier entertained many guests, among them the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. During the Civil War, Clifton became a frequent meeting place for local Union sympathizers, and federal officials.”
Mr. Hopkins was a fervent philanthropist and before he died he willed seven million dollars to various educational institutions he wished to create. It was the largest donation of it’s kind up until that point in American history. In 1875, just two years after his death, part of this money went to the founding of a University in his name. The school was originally planned to be located on the Clifton site, but the board managing the estate altered the arrangements.
In 1915, Baltimore’s first public golf course was built at the park. It still thrives today in its urban settings. Between the eighth and ninth hole stands Edward Berge‘s sculpture On The Trail, a seven foot tall Native American surveying the landscape with benign intent.
In 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Baltimore fell under Martial Law due to extensive rioting. Maryland’s Governor at the time, Spiro Agnew, asked the federal government for troops and received them. Thousands of soldiers descended on Baltimore to quell the increasing violence. Clifton Park was their campsite, strategically placed near North Avenue, the tree-lined estate provided a safe sanctuary and a necessary staging area.
Today the Park is indeed a different place. Underfunding has left the municipal land starving for resources. However, the park still retains a great deal of its former glory and programs are in place to rescue the park. The mansion house and gardener’s cottage are still standing, though in need of repair. The rolling hills still give the impression of an English countryside. The lake is gone, now the site of a public high school, and the sculpture garden no longer exists, but the valve house and outdoor theatre are still in their original locations. With a little love and a boatload of money, Clifton can once again be the playground for Baltimoreans it once was.