Carroll Mansion is an inviting site again

May 29, 2006|By EDWARD GUNTS | EDWARD GUNTS,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Local preservationists are pushing Baltimore's long-dormant Carroll Mansion into the limelight, just as the area around it is buzzing with redevelopment.

Carroll Museums Inc., a nonprofit group that operates the historic mansion at 800 E. Lombard St., has reopened the building for tours and made part of the first floor into the Jonestown Visitors Center, a stop on the new Heritage Walk tour from the Inner Harbor to East Baltimore.

The group is making space available for art exhibits, conferences and community events at the mansion, considered one of the finest examples of a Federal-era merchant's townhouse standing in Baltimore. It appointed a new board president, Sally Johnston, former executive director of the Flag House and Star Spangled Banner Museum on East Pratt Street.

And from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. June 5, the museum group will have an inaugural gala banquet to raise money for the house's continued operation and honor leaders of the preservation effort.

"Part of [the reason for] the gala is to get the word out that we are open. We're a public museum. We're trying to raise our profile," said Paula Hankins, executive director of Carroll Museums, which operates the landmark mansion and the nearby Phoenix Shot Tower for the city of Baltimore, the owner of both. Both sites are open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Changes to the surrounding area range from last year's opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture to the emergence of a mixed-income community, Albemarle Square, on the old Flag House Courts property near Little Italy.

"The revival of the Carroll Mansion signals a new era for our historic neighborhood," said Johnston, a longtime leader in efforts to revitalize Jonestown. "The great changes taking place ... promise an urban living experience of unrivaled character for the city's residents and visitors alike."

Built around 1808, the mansion is named for Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last-surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, and wintertime resident of the mansion from 1820 to 1832.

After Carroll's death, the building served as a tenement house and sweat shop, Baltimore's first vocational school and a recreation center during the Depression and World War II. It eventually became part of the Baltimore City Life Museums campus, also known as Museum Row. It closed to the public when that group of attractions did, in 1997, because of financial difficulties.

In 1998, the city housing department sought proposals for the museum properties and selected a partnership headed by Baltimore County innkeeper Anne Pomykala to oversee the revitalization. Pomykala proposed maintaining the Carroll Mansion and the Shot Tower as public museums and creating an inn and meeting facility in other buildings formerly occupied by the City Life Museums.

Carroll Museums Inc. was established in 2002 to operate the mansion and Shot Tower. Another entity, the 1840s Corp., was created to develop the inn, which is to open in phases starting this fall.

Pomykala and her husband, Ronald, will be honored at the gala with the Founder's Award, along with H. Chace Davis Jr., former chairman of the City Life Museums. Ticket prices start at $100 per person and can be reserved by calling Carroll Museums at 410-605-2964.

Hankins said the money raised by the gala will be used to cover the museums' day-to-day expenses. Her group is also seeking funds to match a $75,000 state grant for capital improvements, including painting rooms, upgrading the air conditioning and repairing damage from leaks.

Hankins said her group wants to tell the story of Charles Carroll but does not intend to make the mansion a house museum like Homewood House on the Johns Hopkins University campus.

"There is a desire to keep the house as flexible as possible," she said. "We are not interested in competing with Homewood House. The hope is that we can build a cultural institution that still talks about Charles Carroll and all the other ways the house has been used, while making it relevant to the community today" as a gathering place and educational resource.

The Carrollton Inn will open with 13 guest rooms initially and expand to 24. It's the second inn for Pomykala, who operates Gramercy Mansion in Green Spring Valley.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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