Back Story: Restoration of Homewood nearly complete

The 19th-century house at JHU had been the home of Charles Carroll Jr.

September 13, 2012|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

North Charles Street motorists, bikers and walkers will notice that the scaffolding that has masked the elegant south portico of historic Homewood Museum since late last fall has been removed, revealing a dazzling and historically accurate restoration.

And on a sun-splashed September afternoon on the Johns Hopkins University campus, Catherine Rogers Arthur, Homewood's director and curator, couldn't wait to show off the nearly completed work to a visitor.

"We were able to save as much of the True Cross as possible," she said. "It was a most exacting and exciting project."

Arthur was persistent and determined in her fundraising efforts, with primary funding coming from Save America's Treasures, a federal program. "I applied four times for that grant," she said with a laugh.

Other important funding came from the W.P. Carey Foundation, Johns Hopkins and Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, which raised the necessary $500,000 for the project.

The restoration was conducted by Henry H. Lewis Contractors Inc., the Owings Mills firm that restored the Basilica in downtown Baltimore and conducted the last major renovation of Homewood, in 1987.

Layers of paint were removed from the great fluted doorway and architrave, made of Southern pine, which revealed the delicate handwork required of a carver more than 200 years ago.

"Paint analysis revealed that the columns had been originally painted in slightly warmer colors," Arthur said.

Portions of worn marble steps were replaced; six columns and pediments were repainted after experts analyzed paint samples.

Arthur looked at a variety of marble replacements, and one night when going to her Northeast Baltimore home, she saw a salvage yard near Eastern High School.

"We called the place 'the Boneyard,' and the marble from the restoration of Gilman Hall had been dumped there, so that's where we found the marble for our steps," said Arthur. She added that Gilman Hall, built in 1915, took its inspiration from Homewood, as did other campus buildings.

"Now it was giving back to Homewood," she said.

Delicate wrought-iron railings that sweep down either side of the porch to the bottom of the steps were removed and examined and were waiting to be reset by workers, while worn tiles on the porch floor were replaced.

Work on Homewood, once the country villa of Charles Carroll Jr., son of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton, began in 1801 on a slight hill at what at what is now Charles and 34th streets.

Architectural historians have described the Federal-period estate as perhaps the most lavish to have been built in Baltimore during the 19th century.

Carroll, who built Homewood for himself, his wife, Harriet Chew Carroll of Philadelphia, and six children, spared no cost. The house was a wedding gift from his father.

Carroll designed the 11/2-story, five-part composition himself, aided in his efforts by William Edwards, a carpenter and builder who used pattern books and other local villas such as Druid Hill and Montebello, now demolished, for inspiration.

Originally budgeted for $10,000, costs soared to $40,000 before its completion in 1810, an enormous amount of money for the time.

The Carroll family's occupancy of Homewood was relatively short. Carroll was a spendthrift and a drunkard, and his wife left him in 1816 and returned to Philadelphia. He died in 1825.

The home had several owners, and from 1897 to 1910, it was home of the Country School for Boys, which later moved to Roland Avenue and is today's Gilman School.

Homewood later served as a faculty club and office of the university president until 1976, when it was converted into a museum.

There was a rather unexpected surprise along the way, said Arthur, that was found when the marble steps were removed and numbered so they could be returned to their original setting.

"We thought they were built on bricks and other rubble," said J. Fred Svec, project manager, "but what we found was a beautifully built brick barrel arch, which we hadn't known existed."

"It was an unheard-of construction detail and over the top," said Arthur. "No wonder this place cost $40,000 rather than $10,000 when built."

Arthur has another surprise that she can't wait to show visitors.

In April, she traveled to Freeman's Auctioneers in Philadelphia, where she purchased a Chippendale mahogany metamorphic architect's desk made in 1770 in Ireland. It was owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and she surmises his son may have used it when designing Homewood.

"This shows that the work of preservation is never done," she said as she stood looking at Homewood in the fading afternoon light.

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