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Baltimore's Beautiful and Historic Mount Vernon Place

A lifelong resident of Baltimore, Dolores loves to share her interest in the historic spots of her beautiful and quirky home town.

Some of Mt. Vernon's beautiful architecture.

Some of Mt. Vernon's beautiful architecture.

National Register Historic District

Mount Vernon Place is one of Baltimore, Maryland's most beautiful and historic neighborhoods. Surrounding the Washington Monument, four parks, and elegant 19th-century homes, churches, small offices, museums, schools, and galleries make Mt. Vernon Place a walkable area for locals and tourists alike.

Ten blocks north of the Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon is a National Register Historic District known for its Victorian architecture, some of the best-preserved in the United States. Three and four-story row houses, once single-family homes of Baltimore's elite have been divided into apartments and offices. Beautiful mansions, churches, and civic buildings offer a wide array of architectural styles that blend to create one of the most attractive urban areas in the world.

Mount Vernon hosts several festivals throughout the year, including Flower Mart in early May, and a lighting of the Washington Monument in December.

Baltimore's Washington Monument

Baltimore's Washington Monument

George Washington Monument

Shortly after the death of George Washington, a group of Baltimoreans planned to build a memorial, the first George Washington monument in the United States.

In 1815, Robert Mills won a design competition for what would become the centerpiece of Mount Vernon Place. Initially planned for the center of the city, the proposed monument met with controversy. Residents of the area feared that the monument might fall over. To alleviate potential disaster, a new site was donated by John Eager Howard (5th Governor of Maryland), who had fought in the American Revolution under the command of George Washington.

Constructed of Cockeysville marble, the Washington Monument consists of a 165-foot Doric column rising from a low rectangular base, crowned with a 15-foot-tall statue of George Washington. The classic Greek lines set a tone of elegance that has remained with Baltimore for nearly 200 years.

Mount Vernon Place

Unfortunately, John Eager Howard died before completion of the monument. Along with the area on which the monument was built, adjacent property was donated for the creation of four small parks that extended out from the monument. After his death, Howard's heirs sold lots that bordered the parks.

In those days, Baltimore was on the rise, moving from being a small shipping town toward business and manufacturing. As new wealth and prosperity increased Baltimore's population and economic base, the city expanded. The rural area once known as Howard's Woods began to fill with fashionable homes and mansions for the well-to-do.

The middle of the 19th century introduced new architectural styles and technologies that offered builders the opportunity to embellish buildings with new decorative elements. Cast iron framing enabled great height. Ornamental ironwork became popular for real and false balconies, railings, and fencing.

Many homes, churches, civic buildings, and schools erected at Mount Vernon in the 19th century made use of these new styles and techniques to create beautiful buildings and facades.

Mount Vernon Gothic

When Mount Vernon Plaza was young early in the 19th century, architecture leaned toward the simple lines of classic Greek and simple Federal styles.

19th-century Victorians loved heavy ornamentation. Many decorative elements of the Victorian style relied on mass production, including sheet metal stamped with designs at a factory and delivered to the building site. When the Aesthetic Movement introduced a renewed interest in craftsmanship, artists and architects turned toward styles based on historical influences, including Gothic designs.

But Gothic had never really gone out of style in cathedrals and churches. Flying buttresses and ribbed vaults support large, heavy buildings, allowing for large windows and door openings that create a grandiose appearance. The sharply arched windows and entrances look beautiful in a large church.

Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church just North East of the Washington Monument, is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture of the 1870s. While some objected to the design, feeling that it would be out of place, others were concerned over the proposed height of the spire. Zoning regulations forbade any nearby building to rise above the Washington Monument.

Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, built between 1870 and 1872, was constructed of six kinds of stone including green serpentine from Baltimore county. The church is best appreciated on a rainy day when the moisture brings out the beautiful green tones of the stone.

A few clocks west, the First Presbyterian Church, built in 1854, is a magnificent example of Gothic Revival. A spire added in 1873 reaches toward the heavens employing the use of structural cast iron.

Other Significant Buildings at Mount Vernon Place

  • The Washington Apartments, north of the monument and built in 1906, are an example of Beau Arts Architecture. With its sculptural embellishments and lavish ornamentation, including iron balconies, the Washington Apartments add to the historic grandeur of the area.
  • Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the United States' first cathedral. Built between 1806 and 1821, the Basilica experienced a major restoration between 2004 and 2006 and was visited by Pope John Paul II. His visit is commemorated in an adjacent prayer garden. The Basilica celebrates Freedom of Religion in that it was constructed shortly after Catholics were allowed to practice openly after years of persecution when they were not allowed to celebrate Mass.
  • Peabody Conservatory of Music, or the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, is the United States' oldest music conservatory in continuous use. The Peabody Library is an awesome construction of book-filled balconies, made of cast iron, extending five tiers to a skylight. Visiting the Peabody Library is like visiting a church, the eye is drawn upward and the observer is overwhelmed with a feeling of reverence.
Peabody Library

Peabody Library

Walter's Art Museum

The Walter's Art Museum, formerly known as the Walter's Art Gallery displays an enormous collection of world art including work from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome; the Americas; Islamic art; and European art from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque Europe, and the 18th and 19th centuries.

Opened in 1934, the Walter's encompasses three buildings including the Hackerman House, a Greek Revival mansion built in the mid-1800s which now houses the museum's Asian art.

Pictured below is Raphael's Madonna of the Candelabra, exhibited at the Walter's. The museum (600 North Charles Street) is free (except for special shows) and is open from Wednesday to Sunday.

A painting by Raphael at the Walter's Museum of Art

A painting by Raphael at the Walter's Museum of Art

Mount Vernon Place Festivals

Mt. Vernon is a festive neighborhood and welcomes several events during the year, including the Lighting of the Monument at Christmas time. The winter festival was started by Mayor William Donald Schaefer and warms up the cold weather with music and fireworks.

Flower Mart has been a Baltimore tradition since 1911. Despite occasional threats of moving the festival to another location, or ending it altogether, the Flower Mart continues on with its signature treat—lemon sticks—that is a peppermint stick shoved into a cut lemon. Sucking the tart lemon juice through the peppermint "straw" is a refreshing treat.

The early May Flower Mart is a two-day celebration with live music, craft vendors, food, school booths, and flowers. Not to be missed is the hat contest where women vie for the best decorated (or outlandish) hat in town.

I am sorry that I don't have a better picture of this beautiful castle-like mansion. The Graham - Hughes house was designed for George Graham by George Archer and built in 1888. You can see more of it on the right in the picture above.

Sources consulted:

Personal Visit

The Architecture of Baltimore an Illustrated History edited by Mary Ellen Hayward and Frank R. Shivers; 2004; Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore, Maryland

Mount Vernon Place by Bill Wierzalis and John Pl Koontz; 2006; Arcadia Publishing; Charleston, SC.

Baltimore's Historic Parks and Gardens by Eden Unger Bowditch on behalf of the Cylburn Arboretum Association; 2004; Arcadia Publishing; Charleston, SC

Baltimore's Painted Screens