Brief History of Mount Vernon Place
Mount Vernon Place is the centerpiece of the Mount Vernon Place National Historic Landmark District (designated 1972), in the Baltimore National Area and on the Charles Street National Scenic Byway. It is Baltimore City’s most iconic historic site, recognized world-wide. Its significance lies in its Washington Monument, the nation’s first public monument to honor George Washington, centered in an extra-ordinarily fine example of landscape and urban design.
In Mount Vernon Place Baltimoreans’ demonstrated their belief in the ideals of American democracy. After defeating the British in the Battle of Baltimore in 1814, effectively ending the War of 1812, on July 4th 1815, Baltimoreans laid the cornerstone of a monument to George Washington on land donated by John Eager Howard.
The Washington Monument, designed in marble by architect Robert Mills, stands in testimony to Baltimoreans’ civic pride in their decisive role in securing the liberty of the United States. Completed in 1829, when the statue of Washington by Henrico Causici was placed upon the top of the Doric column, the monument and its highly decorative cast iron fence of Mills’ design form the centerpiece of an urban square, also designed by Mills.
As the nineteenth century progressed, the four squares became a highly desirable place to live, giving rise to examples of residential architecture by both locally- and nationally-recognized firms, the latter represented by Stanford White and John Russell Pope, and cultural institutions, include the Peabody Institute and the Walters Art Gallery.
In 1877 Mills’ planfor the squares–large rectangles of grass surrounded by high iron fences–was redesigned in part by the noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The new design removed the fences and created curvilinear walkways and planting beds, with granite retaining walls in the style of the then popular Aesthetic Movement.
This design remained until 1917 when America entered World War I. In solidarity with the French people who had helped the Americans during the Revolutionary War, Baltimoreans broke ground in Mount Vernon Place for a statue honoring the Marquis de Lafayette.
This groundbreaking led to a redesign of the squares by the New York firm of Carrere & Hastings, among the most prestigious architectural firms of the time. In redesigning the squares the firm strove to make them harmonize with their centerpiece, the monument, by utilizing strong lines, similar materials (marble), and a decorative vocabulary based on classical architecture, the same sources used by Mills in designing the monument. This work has recently been called not only one of the “finest realized” designs of Carrere & Hastings, but “one of the most elegant urban spaces in the United States” (Carrere & Hastings, Architects, ).
On the base of the Lafayette sculpture were placed dedicatory inscriptions written during the war by then President Woodrow Wilson and the French President Raymond Poincare, and in 1924 the bronze statue of Lafayette by Andrew O’Connor was dedicated with President Calvin Coolidge in attendance.
July 4, 2015 marks the bicentennial of the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument, while 2017 marks the centennial of the groundbreaking for the statue of Lafayette. As Mount Vernon Place begins to enter into its third century Baltimoreans will express the ideals that created this nationally-important space by its complete restoration.
Click on the link below to read the The Baltimore Sun article from December 5, 2012.