Vintage landscape: Washington Monument, Baltimore, Md.

Great Washington, too, stands high aloft on his towering main-mast in Baltimore, and like one of Hercules’ pillars, his column marks that point of human grandeur beyond which few mortals will go.

— Herman Melville, Chapter XXXV, Moby Dick

Washington Monument, Baltimore, early 19th c., Library of Congress/enclos*ureAbove: Baltimore’s Washington Monument under construction in 1828 (looking north).  A watercolor, ink, and graphite drawing by John Rubens Smith, via the Library of Congress.*

Completed in 1829, the monument was the second one erected to honor George Washington.  (A tower in Boonsboro, Md., was finished first, in 1827.)

The land for the 178′ tower and its surrounding park had been donated by John Eager Howard from part of his estate, Belvidere.  In the late 18th century, Belvidere was often praised for its fine high views, and the monument was originally visible from ships entering the harbor (today, 10 city blocks to the south).

1796 George Beck Baltimore from Howard Park, Maryland Historical Society. Above: Detail of “The View of Baltimore from Governor John Eager Howard’s Garden Park,” 1796, via the Maryland Historical Society and Early American Gardens.

19th c. Washington Monument, Baltimore, Library of Congress/enclos*ureAbove: In 1849, artist unknown.

During the next twenty years, four small squares, one in each direction, were laid out around the monument.  They were originally planted with grass and surrounded by iron fences.  The well-to-do built homes, churches, and cultural institutions around the squares, which became known collectively as Mount Vernon Place.

“It [was] one of the first examples in the United States of a deliberate use of city planning to create a dramatic setting for an existing monument,” according to the Trust for Architectural Easements.

Washington Monument, Baltimore, 1900, Md. Historical Society/enclos*ureAbove: Mount Vernon Place, east side, 1900, photographer unknown.

Mount Vernon Place has undergone several design and planting changes since about 1850, according to the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy.  The photo above and those below show the 1875-76 paths and stone walls of Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm.

early 20th c. Washington Monument, Baltimore, Library of Congress/enclos*ureAbove:  The south side, ca. 1902, by William Henry Jackson (Detroit Publishing Co.). early 20th c. Washington Monument, Baltimore, Library of Congress/enclos*ureAbove: Mt. Vernon Place, north and east sides, ca. 1903, by William Henry Jackson (Detroit Publishing Co.).

early 20th c. Washington Monument, Baltimore, Library of Congress/enclos*ureAbove: Looking north, ca. 1920-1930, photographer unknown.

This last photo shows the work of Thomas Hastings of the architecture firm of Carrère and Hastings.  In 1917, he redesigned the squares in the Beaux-Art style.  According to the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy:

[His] design was an exemplar of City Beautiful-inspired architectural and landscape design, which called for symmetry, uniformity and axiality.

Hastings utilized white marble to harmonize his new work with the existing monument, and retained the tradition in the east, west and north squares of matched trees framing the squares. After his hardscape work was completed, the trees in all of these squares were replanted to ensure they would mature uniformly, creating and maintaining a crisp border on their edges. Hastings supported this wholesale replanting as necessary for the future integrity of his design.

In the south square, however, he retained some of the existing large trees and shrubs to frame out a newly positioned statue of Lafayette.

It used to be possible go inside the monument and climb to the top.  I did it about 12 years ago.  There are 228 very claustrophobic steps.  The structure has not been open to the public for the last three years, however.


*All the images here are via the Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division, except the third, fourth, and last, which are via the Maryland Historical Society.

4 thoughts on “Vintage landscape: Washington Monument, Baltimore, Md.

    1. I went to Goucher ’77 to ’81, so I got to know that area well. In the early eighties, I used to spend time in an interesting bookstore/coffeehouse in one of those beautiful old buildings just south of the monument. That idea was quite new and hip in those days (although that was not a word we would have used then). I enjoy keeping up with the city in your blog.

  1. The last time, and only time, I was in Baltimore I stayed not too far from this monument. I was in Baltimore to inspect a college my daughter was considering and we were rushing to and fro trying to do too many things in a short period of time. I do remember, however, the presence of this monument. Passing by it on foot it slowed our pace and called to us to walk it, which we did. Now, thanks to enclos*ure, I know it’s history and have gained some insight into why it beckoned to us that day.

    1. I love Baltimore, and the Mount Vernon area is especially great. Aside from the monument, there are blocks of beautifully preserved 19th c. buildings, Enoch Pratt Library, the Basilica, the Walters, and the Peabody. I arrived at Goucher College from a small town on the Eastern Shore and before that, the suburbs. I had never been in a real city, and I was in heaven.

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