Holly Tour Is A Perfect Lead-in To The Holidays

December 01, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

The setting December sun seems to flatter the landmarks of Baltimore's old Mount Vernon neighborhood. I can't think of a more civilized way to edge into the holiday spirit than taking the annual Holly Tour, when this vintage neighborhood welcomes guests and shows off its landmarks.

Devotees of old Baltimore neighborhoods swear by this little pilgrimage through the churches, homes and institutions in and around the Washington Monument. The event will be held next weekend, Dec. 8 and 9, with a Saturday evening candlelight tour and a Sunday afternoon daylight walk.

The Holly Tour began in the 1960s when longtime Girl Scout leader Margaret Safford Dudley Boulden ran it from First and Franklin Presbyterian Church.

She was a woman who saw Baltimore's potential. She brought a clear set of eyes to what it took to make the city a better place. In her own way, she opened up this Baltimore neighborhood and brought it some of the recognition it deserved. She and her committee of downtown churches tried their best to cheer up the neighborhood with a little boost of recognition. When many thought otherwise, she proselytized that downtown was certainly not a bad place to live.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Boulden was at her peak, the Holly Tour was a required activity. In the city of that time, when it often seemed the urban sky was crashing (riots, falling real estate values, flight to the suburbs), she rounded up people and places to open their doors on a Sunday afternoon.

Mount Vernon has always been one of Baltimore's better-kept secrets. Its refurbishing has been very gradual. At times I've been impatient about its deliberate, up-and-down pace, but maybe that's a good thing. Character takes a long time to establish, and this place has it on every corner.

This year's tour will feature the First Unitarian Church and the Basilica of the Assumption, plus visits to businesses and homes along Hamilton and Cathedral streets. I have numerous favorite places and spots in Baltimore, but the block of Hamilton Street between Charles and Cathedral is a knockout. You can easily imagine yourself in Dublin or London.

How often do you get a chance to be cheerfully admitted into early Federal residences marked by some of the most beautiful entry doors in Baltimore?

Information on the tour is available at www.hollytour.com or by calling 443-524-2370. The tour funds go toward landscaping efforts of the parks around the Washington Monument. Those taking the tour can sign up for a brunch as well, but there are numerous restaurants along Charles Street.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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