BNHA Washington Monument and Mount Vernon Place
Seeking Prosperity on the Chesapeake: Baltimore History from Colonial Times through the 1800s
Shaping a Monumental City: The City’s Growth in the 20th Century
Charles Street Byway
Points of Interest
699 N Charles St
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument, the centerpiece of Mount Vernon Place, is the first memorial to the nation’s first president, George Washington. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1815, and the stonework of the monument completed in 1829. It was partially for paid for by a public lottery, as was common at the time. The column is a simplified version of the winning design by Robert Mills (who later designed the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.)—embracing changes Mills made before the cornerstone was laid. The statue atop the monument depicts George Washington resigning his commission, an event that took place in 1783 in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. The column rises 162 feet from the ground, and the statue of Washington adds another 16 feet. The land on which the monument stands was donated by John Eager Howard, a Baltimore Revolutionary War hero.
Erecting the first Washington Monument in the United States was a point of pride to the citizens of Baltimore giving rise to its nickname as “The Monumental City.” It has long been thought that John Quincy Adams coined the name during his 1827 visit, but the moniker arose in 1823 from the pen of an editor of a Washington, DC newspaper. Although the national capital bore Washington’s name it would be decades before it would also have a monument dedicated to the Father of American Independence. Regional jealousy gave birth to the name, which immediately became honorific.
The Monument was restored by the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy and rededicated and reopened on its bicentennial, July 4, 2015. Visitors can once again explore the gallery with digital exhibits at the base of the monument and climb the 227 steps to the top. Visit the Conservancy’s website for hours and advance reservations for the monument climb.
Mount Vernon Place
Mount Vernon Place is the name for the Washington Monument, the four park squares that radiate from it like a Greek cross, and all of the old buildings that surround the squares. The front walls of the fine buildings that line the squares create a three-dimensional space that provides a sense of enclosure. This type of civic space is found throughout Europe, but is rare in U.S. cities.
The heirs of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard developed Mount Vernon Place. After his death in 1827 they inherited almost all the land that today comprises the Mount Vernon neighborhood., and their mission was to maximize the return on the land.
They laid out four public squares around the original Washington Monument parcel with large private building lots encircling four new green spaces. In this period the squares were simple squares of grass surrounded by trees and a cast iron fence. Mount Vernon Place soon became the neighborhood for Baltimore’s elite.
In 1875-77, the landscape design for the north and south squares by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. was updated. The City of Baltimore completed the east and west squares in a similar manner in the 1880s. This design included a system of curvilinear walks surrounding slightly mounded grass areas and planting beds, fountains and statues, and low brownstone entry walls and portals. Carrère and Hastings redesigned the parks again in 1917-20 to introduce a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, and transformed them into the walks and Beaux Arts white marble balustrades and fountains of today.
Interestingly enough, Mount Vernon Place has not always been appreciated. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the buildings that surround the squares were targeted for demolition in a proposed urban renewal plan. Modern office buildings and museum complexes would have replaced all of the “old, worn out, and functionally obsolete” rowhouses facing the squares. In 1964, after a long and ugly fight, the newly emerging preservationists won the “Battle of Mount Vernon” and the urban renewal plan that finally emerged actually protected those same rowhouses from demolition. Mount Vernon Place became Baltimore’s first local historic district, and in 1971 was designated as a National Historic Landmark District.