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Clifton Park’s Historic Buildings

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Originally owned by an unknown farmer, Clifton Park was acquired by wealthy merchant and War of 1812 veteran Capt. Henry Thompson in the late 1790s. The land passed to Johns Hopkins, one of America’s wealthiest businessmen, in 1841. Hopkins bought the estate as a summer retreat. He added countless exotic trees, a lake, an orangery and a garden with over 100 pieces of marble sculpture. When Hopkins died in 1873, his will stipulated that the estate would become the grounds of a University in his name. The University’s trustees chose a different location and the land fell into a period of temporary neglect.

Purchased by the city of Baltimore in 1895 under the mayorship of Ferdinand Claiborne Latrobe, east Baltimore’s Clifton Park was given to the citizens of Baltimore. The city turned the property into a park of recreation, installing Lake Clifton, an 18-hole golf course and twenty-seven tennis courts. The Olmsted Brothers were hired to design the park’s layout. The brothers incorporated the pasture’s existing features into their competent design, complete with meandering paths and splendid arbors. Today the park still maintains qualities from the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, its historic buildings and significant landscape architecture bridging the gap between America’s westward expansion period and modern times.

In the early 19th Century Capt. Henry Thompson made vast improvements to the estate’s existing farmhouse, turning the hilltop abode into a stately manor. When Johns Hopkins purchased the property in 1841 he enhanced the mansion house even further. Hopkins hired the architectural firm of Niersnee and Neilson to turn the house into an Italian villa, adding an observation tower and an extended veranda. Made of brick covered in plaster, Clifton Mansion rests on a foundation of stone and has walls nearly a foot thick. The historic building will soon be undergoing a full restoration.

In 1887 the Baltimore Water Board completed the Clifton Park Valve House. The Gothic Revival open-air structure was constructed over Lake Clifton’s valve system. The man-made lake was eventually filled and a high school was built at the location. The Valve House has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gardener’s Cottage is tucked away in a wooded area off the 16th-hole of Clifton’s public golf course. Designed in the rural Gothic tradition, the cottage was built by Johns Hopkins’ gardener in the late 1840s or the early 1850s. Its design was based upon an Andrew Jackson Downing sketch. Downing’s A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America, a popular book at the time, contains a detailed drawing of a very similar cottage. The building appears to be structurally sound and stands ready for renovation.

Mothers’ Garden was dedicated by Mayor William Broening “to all the mothers of Baltimore” in 1926. At the northern tip of Clifton Park, the memorial garden features a stone gazebo and a wood and stone pergola. The gazebo’s eight-sided shape is seemingly inspired by the Valve House. The recently deceased William Donald Schaefer rededicated Mothers’ Garden in 1984.

Other historic buildings at Clifton include the bandstand, the superintendent’s house and the stable (now a maintenance garage). The collection of structures in the park display a wide variety of architectural styles and construction practices. They are presented in their original environment displaying their original intent. Wealth, luck and preservation have kept Clifton Park in a state of perpetual limbo that I can only hope continues for another 200 years.

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Written by monumentcity

May 20th, 2011 at 9:03 am

Laurel Cemetery and the Belair Shopping Center

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Moving a cemetery is a difficult thing for any development company to do. Especially moving a 19th Century burial ground where the caskets have deteriorated and the headstones are non-existent or unreadable. But apparently developing neighborhoods need shopping centers more than old cemeteries.

While researching Charm City’s former reservoir system I noticed a graveyard near Clifton Park that isn’t there today. The city’s 1905 land records clearly show a Laurel Cemetery on the lot now occupied by the Belair Shopping Center. Laurel Cemetery was founded in 1852 and was the first non-sectarian funerary grounds in Baltimore for blacks. Numerous important figures were interred there including members of the local church and Civil War veterans.

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The site made perfect sense. It was on a hill, just outside the North Avenue city boundary, that had been used for decades as a burial ground for the free and slave servants of local landowners. Before long, Laurel Hill became the premiere cemetery for blacks in the area.

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The Rev. Daniel A. Payne, a senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a frequent visitor to Abraham Lincoln’s White House, was buried there in 1893. Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist, eulogized the bishop at the cemetery. The seventh bishop of the A.M.E church, Alexander Wayman, who had spoken at Bishop Payne’s funeral, was himself buried at Laurel in 1895.

As the years passed Laurel became overgrown and neglected, its administrators eventually unable to afford regular maintenance. In 1958 the city stepped in to purchase the land, and just four years later a company by the name of Two Guys built a store and parking lot, forever sealing the historic parcel. In her journal, Agnes Callum, an Enoch Pratt librarian, published her assessment of the land takeover.

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Laurel was already more than 100 years old when a band of city law officials and real estate operators formed a corporation to buy the cemetery for themselves in 1958.

With the help of legislation initiated by Marvin Mandel, then leader of the city delegation to Annapolis and later governor, the corporation acquired title to the cemetery. They bought the prime site on Belair Road for $100 in an audacious and complex land-acquisition coup.

After buying the land for basically nothing the city turned around and valued the boneyard at close to a quarter million dollars. When they sold the land an undertaker was hired to exhume and move the bodies to a new site located in Carroll County. The question is whether or not they actually moved them. Of the estimated five to seven thousand people buried at Laurel only eight to twelve bodies were removed intact. These remains along with two to three hundred small boxes filled with anonymous bones and skulls were taken to Carroll County. The rest were paved over.

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For many years after the cemetery’s removal, human bones would occasionally be found protruding from the hill behind the department store. The bones ended up as souvenirs in the collections of local citizens.

Written by monumentcity

December 4th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Baltimore’s Clifton Park

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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.

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“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.

Written by monumentcity

December 9th, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Mothers’ Garden in Clifton Park

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Harford Road & E 32nd Street (Street View)

GPS: 39° 19′ 37.64″ N 76° 35′ 1.89″ W

History

The Board of Park Commissioners dedicated the garden to all the mothers of Baltimore in 1926. Two years later a tablet was fitted to a stone and placed at the site, marking the memorial. Mayor William Donald Schaefer rededicated the garden in 1984 to his mom Tululu Schaefer. In recent years, the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corporation introduced a plan to improve the facilities of Clifton Park, including Mothers’ Garden. Once the summer home of Johns Hopkins, Clifton was the intended site for the university bearing his name, but was deemed too far from the city’s core. Instead, the land was turned into a municipal golf course and community park.

Notes

At the northern tip of Clifton Park, the memorial is a strangely peaceful place. A small domed edifice surrounded by benches sits on top of the hill, and a pedestrian bridge crosses a forgotten pond. Situated between Harford Road and the golf course’s 5th hole green, Mothers’ Garden is across the street from Montebello Elementary School.

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Written by monumentcity

April 15th, 2009 at 8:00 pm

On The Trail Statue in Clifton Park

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N Rose Street & Indian Drive in Clifton Park (Street View)

GPS: 39° 19′ 18.54″ N 76° 34′ 55.30″ W

History

A fine example of Edward Berge‘s numerous pieces erected in Baltimore City, On The Trail displays his realist style. Berge was one of the original seven students at the Rinehart School of Sculpture along with friend and colleague Hans Schuler. Standing over seven feet tall the Indian statue gazes steadily over Clifton Park, a terrain once owned and farmed by Johns Hopkins. The land housed National Guard Troops during the riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in 1968, and over a century before was a staging ground for Union Generals during the Civil War. The sculpture garden and lake no longer exist, however, rolling hills and majestic antique buildings still dominate the landscape, and On The Trail remains, more than one hundred years since its installation.

Notes

The monument stands just south of Lake Montebello between the 8th and 9th holes of Clifton Park Golf Course. You might not notice it at first glance, but this monument has an inscription at its base which has been covered up by a bush. However, if you crawl head-first under the bush, you’ll be able to read the plague beneath which bears the official monument title, “ON THE TRAIL,” along with artist info and dedication dates.

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Written by monumentcity

March 3rd, 2009 at 10:35 am