Bolton Hill History


Located directly northwest of downtown Baltimore, Bolton Hill is one of Baltimore's premier neighborhoods. Elegant homes, landscaped boulevards, decorative civic monuments, and lovely religious buildings are distinctive characteristics of this community.  Major development took place in Bolton Hill between 1850 and 1900. Primarily a row house neighborhood, Bolton Hill architecture ranges from traditionally styled row houses with refined details to elaborately decorated Queen Anne designs. Other historic housing types include huge mansions, early brick cottages, alley houses, duplexes with small front yards, early 20th century apartment buildings, and carriage houses converted into residences.

Among the prominent residents of Bolton Hill were noted writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, art collectors Dr. Claribel and Etta Cone; Johns Hopkins PhD. candidate and later U.S. President Woodrow Wilson; first Johns Hopkins president Daniel Coit Gilman; department store owners Thomas O'Neill and David Hutzler; and philanthropist Jacob Epstein. In the nineteenth century, Bolton Hill was also home to many Confederate Civil War veterans, German Jews, and a few African-Americans who lived in small alley houses or within large houses as servants of wealthy homeowners.

The community experienced a brief period of decline in the mid-20th century, followed by a period of stabilization. Urban renewal efforts replaced deteriorated housing with new townhouses and private preservation activities restored magnificent Victorian-era houses to their original splendor. At the turn of the 21st century, Bolton Hill is a bastion of in-town living. As one long time resident stated, "Bolton Hill is more than a neighborhood. It is a state of mind."

Although estate houses were built in the area as early as the Revolutionary War era, the major development in Bolton Hill took place between 1850 and 1900. Two of the earliest individual brick cottages survive: 204 W. Lanvale Street, now home to the Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, and 232 W. Lanvale Street, a private residence. By 1870, the neighborhood extended from Eutaw Place to John Street and from Dolphin Street to roughly Mosher Street. Unlike most Baltimore neighborhoods that were built along a north-south grid, Bolton Hill’s traditional brick row houses were built along a diagonal orientation first laid out in 1821 by Thomas Poppleton, a surveyor. Poppleton departed from the norm in the northwest section of Baltimore, following instead the alignment of the old Reisterstown Road (Pennsylvania Avenue) and the Jones Falls.

The early stately row houses of Bolton Hill feature plain brick facades with refined ornamentation, primarily to define front entrances, windows, and rooflines. The only decorations on these austere facades are bracketed cornices, decorative door surrounds, and the occasional ornate window lintel. These traditional red brick row houses express simplicity and elegance. Other early housing types include:  unified row houses and duplexes.  Beethoven Terrace in the 1500 block of Park Avenue is an early example of a unified block front of row houses faced with stucco and designed in the Second Empire style. In addition to the rows of houses, duplexes were built in the 1300 block of John Street and 100 block of West Lafayette Avenue. These houses are set back from the street with small front yards. Some have entrances on the side, rather than on the front facade.

Later 19th century row houses were influenced by popular architectural styles of the era, most notably Queen Anne. These later houses are more highly ornamented than the traditional row house. Red brick gives way to stone and other materials. Projecting bay windows and balconies break the plane of front walls. Terra cotta decoration, corner towers, rusticated stonework, stained glass, and distinctive rooflines replace the tradition of simplicity and elegance. Huge mansions were built along Eutaw Place, taking advantage of the landscaped setting.

By the end of the 19th century, row house development was complete. A few large apartment buildings, most notably the Marlborough Apartments, were constructed in the neighborhood in the first decade of the 20th century. 

Historic Churches and Institutions: Lofty Spires and Stately Domes

Several historic churches and synagogues built in the second half of the 19th century, served the residents of Bolton Hill. The earliest, Memorial Episcopal Church, built between 1861 and 1864, was a memorial to clergymen Henry Van Dyke Johns and Charles Ridgely Howard. Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, dating from 1861, features Tiffany windows. The high Victorian-styled Strawbridge United Methodist Church was built in 1882 at Park Avenue and Wilson Street. Architect Patrick Charles Keely designed Corpus Christi Catholic Church in 1886, although its signature corner spire dates from the early 20th century. The Friends Meeting House on Park Avenue, built in 1889, expanded into Friends School, and now houses Old Friends Apartments.

Local architect Joseph Evans Sperry designed two synagogues in the area, Temple Oheb Shalom (1892) on Eutaw Place and the Har Sinai Congregation (1894) on Bolton Street. The dome of the Eutaw Place temple can be seen from many points in and around the neighborhood. The Har Sinai building, later occupied by the Cornerstone Baptist Church, was by destroyed by fire in 1969.  Fitzgerald Park replaced the fire ruins. Many of Bolton Hill's religious institutions also built related community buildings, schools, and rectories in the neighborhood.

Several notable institutions became part of the Bolton Hill community. The Baltimore Female college once stood at the northeast corner of Park Avenue and Wilson Street. The Maryland Institute College of Art's main building, dates from 1905. The school moved to Mount Royal Avenue after its former home on Market Place was destroyed in the Baltimore Fire of 1904. The New York architectural firm of Pell and Corbett won an architectural competition for the building design.

Historic Parks and Monuments: The Artistic Neighborhood

Early landscape features distinguish Bolton Hill from other in-town communities. Elaborate plantings, fountains, and flowering urns make Eutaw Place, created in the 1850s, one of Baltimore's best landscaped residential boulevards. Mount Royal Avenue and the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Park Avenue (originally known as Park Place) feature landscaped medians. The 1896 Bromley Atlas of Baltimore identifies small inner-block pocket parks within the community. This park tradition continues in Bolton Hill today with common spaces in the newer townhouse developments and small parks created by closing streets to traffic in the 1300 block of John Street and 1700 block of Linden Avenue.

Bolton Hill’s landscaped boulevards became the ideal setting for public monuments. The Francis Scott Key Monument, designed by French sculptor Jean Marius Antonin Mercie, was added to Eutaw Place in 1911. War memorials sprung up along the tree-lined median of Mount Royal Avenue. F. W. Ruckstuhl designed the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in 1903. In the same year, Edward Berge unveiled the Watson Monument, commemorating the Mexican American War. Later this sculpture was moved from Mt. Royal Avenue at Lanvale Street to Mount Royal Terrace just north of Bolton Hill. The Maryland Line Monument, dedicated to Maryland veterans of the Revolutionary War, also stands on Mount Royal Avenue just south of Bolton Hill across from the Lyric Theatre.

A monument honoring two winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I stands on Dolphin Street and Park Avenue. Stone lions that had decorated the Calvert Street Bridge over the Jones Falls now reside in the small park in Park Purchase, a townhouse development within Bolton Hill. The park is now known affectionately as "Lion Park." The sculpture tradition continues in Bolton Hill with the modern artwork in and around the buildings of the Maryland Institute College of Art.