The land that makes up Mount Vernon Place was donated to Baltimore City by Revolutionary War Hero Colonel John Eager Howard from a portion of his estate, Belvidere, to be the home to the very first monument to honor America’s forefather George Washington. It is 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 – in this case, Baltimore’s Washington Monument.
Mount Vernon Place is composed of four rectangular, block-long garden-parks: East and West Mount Vernon Place, and North and South Washington Place. These parks, along with the houses that line them, form the setting for Baltimore’s Washington Monument. Designed by Robert Mills and completed in 1829, the monument consists of a 165-foot Doric column sitting on a rectangular base, and surmounted by a 15-foot-high statue of George Washington by Enrico Causici. It was the first major monument in the United States built to honor the first president, and is considered today to be one of the finest examples of monumental architecture in this country.
Always a fashionable and sought-after residential district featuring some of Baltimore’s finest homes, the homes and civic buildings of Mount Vernon Place were built by the illuminati of Baltimore in the mid to late 19th Century. Originally, these homes were lavishly-sized, single-family townhouses for wealthy Baltimoreans. After WWI, however, Mount Vernon Place underwent a steady transformation, and the townhouses, for the most part, were gradually subdivided into apartments or converted into use as offices or clubs.
The Squares of Mount Vernon Place
Working with John Eager Howard’s heirs who owned the land surrounding the monument, Robert Mills laid out the original configuration of the squares, and the new street plan was formalized by legislation in 1831. Howard’s original square of donated land was expanded to include open spaces on the north-south and east-west axes, named respectively “Washington Place” and “Mount Vernon Place.” furthering honoring Washington and his revered home. Over time “Mount Vernon Place” has come to be used to describe all of the squares surrounding the monument.
Although houses began to be built on Mount Vernon Place as early as 1829 when John Eager Howard’s son Charles Howard built the first house on the squares on the northeast corner of Washington and Mount Vernon Places (the site today of the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church), the park squares remained largely unimproved for several decades. In 1850, all of the squares were encircled by iron fences, and uniform trees installed around the perimeters. The centers were largely greenswards at this time with several isolated shrubs.
The squares have been redesigned and replanted several times in their history. In 1875-76 Frederick Law Olmsted’s Boston firm was hired by the City of Baltimore to redesign the north and south squares, while the city implemented similar designs in the east and west squares. At this time, the cast iron fences that encircled the places were removed, and various pathways through the squares installed. Low decorative stone walls were added at the entrances, and over time fountains and a number of bronzes sculptures were added to further ornament these designed spaces. As before, uniform trees framed the edges of the squares.