1770s will be reborn at Mount Clare Mansion site State grant helps project get under way

May 03, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

The grounds around Mount Clare Mansion in Southwest Baltimore are slated to be transformed into a Williamsburg-style tourist attraction featuring owner Charles Carroll's 1770s Patapsco River wheat plantation and ironworks.

The 1993 General Assembly allocated $300,000 to help return a 56-acre tract at Washington Boulevard and Monroe Street to its 1770 appearance, complete with an orangery, greenhouse, slaves' quarters, iron foundry and other outbuildings.

The project, called Carroll's 100, is expected to cost $12 million and take up to 10 years to complete. Initial work on the project -- research and some construction -- is expected to begin later this year.

Carroll's 100 is the brainchild of the Carroll Park Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit group that was authorized by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in 1991 to map a strategy for turning the city-owned park into a regional attraction.

The state funding is significant because it represents the first infusion of cash for the project, said Pamela Charshee, the foundation's executive director. "This is the challenge grant that we needed to kick it off."

To pay for the project, Ms. Charshee said the foundation plans to solicit donations, expand its membership and charge admission to Carroll's 100, once preliminary improvements are in place in about two years.

Using the restored 1754 mansion as the centerpiece, the group intends to create a "living history" museum, featuring employees dressed in pre-Revolutionary War era costumes, telling the story of life at Mount Clare during its heyday.

It is part of an effort by the city, state and private groups to tap into the growing public interest in urban history by developing a collection of attractions in Southwest Baltimore.

Other components of this "heritage itinerary" include the H.L. Mencken House, the Babe Ruth Museum and the B&O Railroad Museum, which also has ambitious expansion plans.

"It's just such an extraordinary piece of good fortune that we are close to a major downtown that has so many people visiting already," Ms. Charshee said. "The educational possibilities are just remarkable.

"We are going to have an opportunity to explore the beginnings, the emergence of the African-American culture in America: What was it like for people to work on a plantation like this? What was their relationship to others here? We'll be doing pioneering historical research. It's going to appeal to all kinds of people," she said.

As developed by LDR International of Columbia, the master plan calls for construction of a visitors' center that will contain exhibits about 18th century life at the plantation and the emerging black culture there.

The plan also calls for the removal of some of the wide city roads that now lead to the mansion and the repair of some recreational facilities on the periphery of the property.

But the main thrust of the work will be the "museum without walls," the re-creation of an authentic 1770 iron plantation within a 56-acre historic zone near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and South Monroe Street.

"We hope to find as many of the original foundations of buildings as we can," Ms. Charshee said. "There was an orangery, a greenhouse, an office wing, a kitchen. The whole complex stretched out 350 feet along the hillside [of Carroll Park].

"What we don't know yet is where the slave quarters were. Where was the stable? Where were the mills? We'll try to re-create them to portray the kind of a life that would have existed and the many different kinds of people who worked here," she said.

Dating from 1754, Mount Clare is the oldest colonial structure in Baltimore.

The home of Charles Carroll, barrister, and his wife, Margaret Tilghman, it was the centerpiece of an 800-acre estate that supported wheat fields, a grist mill, orchard, racing stables, flour mills, brick kilns, and a shipyard.

Mr. Carroll, who lived from 1723 to 1783, is credited with writing Maryland's Declaration of Rights and serving as a member of the committee that drafted the first state constitution. In 1831, his heir, James Maccubbin Carroll, gave the land north of Mount Clare to the B&O, which laid the first passenger line in the United States and built the first passenger station in America.

In 1890, Baltimore acquired more than 100 acres around the mansion and has used most of the land for a public park ever since.

The mansion was opened to the public in 1917, making it the first historic house museum in Maryland.

It is operated by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.

Ms. Charshee noted that the city spent $500,000 in the late 1970s for preliminary archaeological excavations that helped historians learn about the plantation.

The growing public interest in historical places of all kinds bodes well for the project, Ms. Charshee said.

"Hampton Mansion [near Towson] gets 50,000 visitors a year, and it's not next to the Inner Harbor. I think we could get double that," she said.

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