Cylburn Arboretum: Baltimore's Best Victorian Mansion and Public Garden

Updated on November 19, 2018
Dolores Monet profile image

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

Cylburn Mansion
Cylburn Mansion | Source

Cylburn Arboretum is a beautiful Baltimore City park and nature preserve, featuring a Victorian mansion and carriage house, tree collections, and a wide variety of themed gardens. Set on a hilltop at 4915 Greenspring Road, just off Northern Parkway and close to I-83, Cylburn is like a secret garden—a nature sanctuary with its own micro-climate. Surrounding woodlands protect the park from the nearby urban hard-scape, roads, and highway. Cool breezes and the scent of nature sweeten the air.

Not far from Pimlico Racetrack, Cylburn is free to the public and offers educational workshops and plant sales. It is also available for private events like weddings, dinners, and banquets.

Cylburn Wall Tapestry
Cylburn Wall Tapestry | Source
Cylburn Carriage House
Cylburn Carriage House | Source

Cylburn Mansion

Cylburn Mansion is set on the highest point of the property. Construction on the Renaissance Revival Mansion started in 1863 and was completed in 1868 (or 1888, depending on the source) by local tycoon Jesse Tyson. The house—with its wrap-around veranda, tall French windows, and mansard roof—was designed by George Aloysius Frederick, the designer of Baltimore City Hall.

Victorian mansions often contained several architectural styles. Cylburn's design is often referred to as Italianate but presents Second Empire features such as the mansard roof. In the past, houses were often taxed on the number of stories, measured up the roof line. By building a mansard roof, a top story was added but not counted for tax purposes. Extending the roof line downward also saved on building materials.

Materials and Interior

Cylburn Mansion was built with gneiss stone from Tyson's Bare Hills quarries located on the outskirts of Baltimore. This attractive stone is characterized by bands of minerals and can have a greenish tinge.

The interior of the house features black walnut trim and staircase, inlaid wood flooring, handsome wood paneling, ornate plasterwork, and marble fireplaces. Four rooms grace the first floor and were used as a drawing room, library, dining room, and parlor. The wall tapestry was imported (probably from Belgium) in the early 20th century. Spring water was piped into the home.

Origins of Cylburn Mansion

Jesse Tyson built Cylburn as a summer home to share with his mother. (He wintered in the city) In those days, before air conditioning, the elite often built second homes in rural settings in order to avoid the heat and stench of urban areas.

In 1888, at age 61, Jesse Tyson married 19-year-old Edyth Johns. The house was furnished with European antiques. After Tyson's death, Edyth married Major Bruce Cotten. She remained childless and lived at Cylburn until her death in 1942. Baltimore City purchased the property for $42,000.

The Carriage House, Then and Now

The Carriage House behind the mansion burned down in 1912. Only the outer walls and porch remained. Originally designed to shelter horses and carriages, the reconstructed building was built to house automobiles.

Today the Carriage House is a Nature Museum offering over 200 specimens of mounted birds, bird eggs, fossils, shells, and rocks. The main house is open to the public and used to host events while the upper floors contain offices.

Cylburn Arboretum Rock Garden
Cylburn Arboretum Rock Garden | Source

Gardens at Cylburn Arboretum

Several gardens surround the mansion, including Formal Gardens, a Rose Garden, a gazebo, and statues. Behind the house are three Backyard Gardens, small-sized areas themed for shade, sun, and a four-season garden.

Other gardens include raised beds that produce scented and culinary plants, a perennial garden, rock garden, a compost demonstration area, and greenhouse.

Note: The Rose Garden is tended by the Maryland Rose Society.

Garden at Cylburn
Garden at Cylburn | Source

The Trees at Cylburn Arboretum

Several trails wind through the surrounding woodland, a typical Piedmont forest of mixed hardwood, understory plants, and wildflowers. Trail loops are mulched for comfort and convenience (no hopping over muddy areas).

Cylburn Arboretum showcases several attractive groupings of trees including a fantastic Japanese maple collection and a hill covered with evergreens. Individual specimens include several Baltimore City champion trees, which in the past included a Paperbark Maple, and Italian Maple, and a Painted Maple.

There is no special season for tree viewing at Cylburn. Spring highlights flowering trees, including crabapples, magnolias, and dogwoods, while summer shows them in their full glory. Fall is a great time to see awesome autumn color, and snow transforms Cylburn into a winter wonderland.

Japanese Maple at Cylburn Arboretum
Japanese Maple at Cylburn Arboretum | Source
Cylburn Evergreens
Cylburn Evergreens | Source
Cylburn Lion Statue
Cylburn Lion Statue | Source

Sources Consulted

Personal Visit

Baltimore Gaslight - Newsletter of the Baltimore Historical Society Volume 8, #2

Google eBook: An American Geological Railway Guide...edited by James Mac Farlane

Cylburn Arboretum Association

Baltimore's Historic Parks and Gardens by Eden Unger Bowditch; 2004; Arcadia Publishing; Charleston SC

Victorian Houses: A Guide To The Major Architectural Styles; Dave's Victorian House School

A Tour of the Beautiful Cylburn Mansion

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Dolores Monet

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      • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

        Dolores Monet 

        4 years ago from East Coast, United States

        James Cotten Lamb - thanks for your input into the spelling of the name. I had some trouble with this one. The Cylburn website spells the name as "Cotten." Yet several articles and books spell the name as Bruce Cotton. Use of the letter O instead of E appears in:

        An article in the Baltimore News on Oct. 22, 1918

        A book entitled "50 Best Places to Hike With Your Dog in the Baltimore Region"

        A book entitled "Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore : A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City," by Cindy Kelly

        Online article in Geocaching called "Fairest House in Maryland"

        Bruce with an E Cotten appears in

        The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (Bruce collected 19th century images) But they spell Edyth's name as Edith.

        Ancestry.com spells Cotten with an E

        So, was the actor Joseph Cotten related to our Bruce? I will go with your spelling and change mine forthwith.

      • profile image

        James Cotten Lamb 

        4 years ago

        Actor Joseph Cotten passed away twenty years ago yesterday which inspired a little research of family members. The article refers to Bruce "Cotton", correct spelling- "Cotten".

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