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Architecture of Mount Vernon

In the first few decades of the 19th century, Baltimore was the fastest growing city in America. When the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid in 1815, the site was well north of Baltimore town; by the 1840s, Baltimore had grown out to the Monument, and many of the bustling city's most prominent citizens were building elegant townhouses on the lots laid out around the squares.

The oldest house standing on the squares is the Mount Vernon Club at 8 West Mount Vernon Place. Formerly known as the Tiffany-Fisher House, it was built circa 1842 by William Tiffany. With Doric columns supporting a stone portico, a rusticated first story and large windows gracing the upper two storys, it is a fine example of the Greek Revival architectural style prominent at the time. Since 1942, it has served as the home of a private women's club. An interesting aside--the Duke and Dutchess of Windsor stayed here when they visited Baltimore in 1959. The Dutchess, formerly Wallis Warfield, was named for her uncle, Severn Teackle Wallis, whose statue stands in East Mount Vernon Place.

Hackerman House (background) and Barye Lion

The second oldest house on the squares, built 1849-1851, is the Thomas-Jencks-Gladding House at 1 West Mount Vernon Place, now known as Hackerman House. It was designed by J. Rudolph Niernsee of the local firm of Niernsee & Neilson, and displays Italian Renaissance features then in fashion. It was built for John Hanson Thomas, a descendent of John Hanson, President of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. The Jencks family bought the house and remodeled the interior in 1892, widening an already impressive circular staircase and adding a Tiffany skylight. The Jencks were known for their lavish entertaining, and included among the guests at their parties over the years were President Warren Harding and Mrs. Herbert Hoover. After Mrs. Jencks died in 1953, the house deteriorated and its future was uncertain; fortunately, Harry N. Gladding, a local automobile dealer, bought the house in 1962 and completely restored it. At his death, he left the house to the City of Baltimore, and in 1991 it was remodeled for museum use and now houses the famed Asian art collection of the Walters Art Gallery.

The Garrett-Jacobs Mansion (Home of the Engineering Society)

West Mount Vernon Place is not only the site of the oldest, but also the most imposing and expensive residence on the squares--the Garrett-Jacobs mansion at 7-11 West Mount Vernon Place. John W. Garrett, president of the B & O Railroad, originally bought 11 West Mount Vernon Place in 1872 as a wedding gift for his son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Garrett. In 1884, the Garretts hired nationally-renowned architect Stanford White of the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White to design an expanded house incorporating 9 West Mount Vernon Place, which they had recently purchased. Robert Garrett died in 1896, and in 1902, his widow, by then married to Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs, commissioned John Russell Pope to design another addition to the house on what had been 7 West Mount Vernon Place. Although harmonizing on the exterior, the interiors of the house reflect the distinct work of both prominent architects. Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs died in the 1930s, and the house had a succession of owners until the Engineering Society of Baltimore bought it in 1962. The Society has since put considerable effort and money into restoring the house; it is now, with the financial assistance of the Maryland Historic Trust, working to raise the money necessary to restore the building's limestone facade. For a more detailed history of the mansion and views of its lavish interior (including a carved wooden spiral staircase with a Tiffany glass dome), see the Engineering Society web site.

The Peabody Institute (Main Building)

Across Charles Street from Hackerman House at 1 East Mount Vernon Place is the original building of the Peabody Institute. George Peabody wrote to 25 leading Baltimore citizens in 1857 outlining a specific proposal to create a cultural institution in Baltimore, and when his gracious offer was accepted, he insisted that it be built on this site, one of the most expensive and prominent locations in the city. Edmund Lind, an English architect who came to Baltimore in 1855, designed the building in the Renaissance Revival style. The first section of the building (the three bays to the right of the present main entrance) was built between 1858 and 1862, but not dedicated until after the Civil War in 1866. This wing contains the Peabody Concert Hall, an art gallery and the classrooms and music rooms of the Peabody Conservatory. The east wing of the building, constructed from 1875 to 1878 and connected seamlessly to the west wing, contains the magnificent Peabody Library: six levels of book stacks rising to a skylighted ceiling, supported by cast iron pillars connected by decorative ironwork. It is known as one of the finest interiors in the city.

Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church

Directly across the east park from the Peabody Institute is the Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church. Built 1870-1872, it is a prime example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Its extraordinary color (especially when wet) comes from the use of green serpentine marble from Baltimore County and buff and red sandstone trim. Because neither stone wears well, major repairs and replacements of individual pieces were necessary in 1932 and again in 1978. The Church replaced the grand house of Charles Howard, son of John Eager Howard, who had erected the first residence on the square circa 1830. Charles Howard married the daughter of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, who died while visiting his daughter in that house in 1843, a fact noted by a bronze tablet on the site.

Next the the church at 10 East Mount Vernon Place is Asbury House, another Italianate Renaissance design of J. R. Niernsee and J. C. Neilson, circa 1855, which is now used by the Methodist Church for offices and the parish house. Farther down the block from Asbury House is Brownstone Row, from 22 to 32 East Mount Vernon Place. Built during the Civil War, these are the only examples of speculative housing on the squares, and they were an immediate success. Most are now divided into apartments.

North Washington Place hosts two large apartment houses, the Washington Apartments at 700 North Washington Place, build in 1906 in the Beaux Arts style, and the Stafford Apartments (originally Hotel) in 1894 at 716 North Washington Place. At the northwest corner of Washington Place stands the Graham-Hughes House, an 1895 example of a French chateau-style townhouse. Both the Stafford and the Graham-Hughes House were designed by Baltimore architect Charles E. Cassell.

The Walters Art Gallery

South Washington Place is dominated by Peabody student housing in converted residences on the east side of the square, and the Walters Art Gallery on the west side of the square. When the tremendous art collection amassed by William and Henry Walters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries became too large for the Walters house at 5 West Mount Vernon Place and small gallery attached to the rear of the residence, Henry Walters commissioned architect William A. Delano to design a separate, larger gallery. Delano, only 20 years old at the time, designed a building modeled on the University of Genoa's University Palace, the result being a two-story interior arcade surrounding a small courtyard, an ideal setting for pieces of classical art. Upon his death in 1931, Henry Walters left the gallery and the collection to the people of Baltimore.

With the deaths of Henry Walters and Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs, Baltimore's society drifted away from Mount Vernon Place and the area began to decline. In the post-World War II era, Baltimore suffered the fate of so many large cities of the period as the affluent moved to the suburbs and the downtown area began to decay. Although Mount Vernon Place still retained much of its former grandeur, it was increasingly under assault on several fronts--from numerous indiscriminate development projects, misguided urban renewal proposals, and creeping neglect and abandonment. That the area survived largely intact can be attributed to the vigorous defense put up by several neighborhood groups (most notably, the Mount Vernon Improvement Association), professionals in the fields of architecture and history and other interested citizens. These preservationists prevailed, and as a result, building on the four squares during the 20th century has been limited to only four structures: the 1902 addition to the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, the 1906 Washington Apartments, Henry Walters' 1909 gallery, and Leakin Hall, now the Peabody Institute's preparatory school, built in 1926.

The above "tour" leaves out many interesting sites with fascinating stories of their own. But even this brief listing illustrates Mr. Dorsey's observation concerning both the 19th century character of Mount Vernon Place and its intimate connection to the 19th century history of Baltimore.


Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
RSVP Policy January 7, 2015 9:50 PM anonymous
Important info for residents May 1, 2012 12:57 PM anonymous
Architecture of Mount Vernon May 1, 2012 12:53 PM anonymous
Restaurants in Mount Vernon May 1, 2012 12:51 PM anonymous
Websites and Resources on Mount Vernon May 1, 2012 12:50 PM anonymous
Read about the history of Mount Vernon May 1, 2012 12:45 PM anonymous
Museums in Mount Vernon May 1, 2012 12:35 PM anonymous
About Mount Vernon May 1, 2012 12:39 PM anonymous
About 20s & 30s Mount Vernon Urbanites May 1, 2012 12:57 PM anonymous

Baltimore, MD

Founded Apr 24, 2012


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