Homewood house pic
Homewood cost an astronomical $40,000 when it was built—a fortune in today’s money. [photo from Homewood House website]

A CONSTRUCTION STORY IN EXHIBITS:

Homewood Is Again ‘At Home’ on Charles Street

by Russ Henley

Sited among 46 other buildings on the Charles Village campus of The Johns Hopkins University, Homewood, as one student describes it, is "an old house that looks like it doesn’t belong on a college campus."

To others who know more about the origins of the elegant 200-year-old mansion that is Homewood, the architectural wonder is a link to discovering part of Baltimore’s 19th century geography and history. Homewood certainly "belongs" exactly where it is.

The planning and construction of Homewood began in 1801 under the supervision of Charles Carroll, Jr., whose father was one of four men from Maryland to sign the Declaration of Independence.

The Carroll clan first stepped on American soil in 1688 after they fled Ireland looking for more freedom to practice Catholicism. One generation later, the Carrolls had become one of Maryland’s most prominent, wealthy families (a designation that would last until Homewood was sold in 1839). They garnered their wealth through business investments, property sales, and money-lending.

When the younger Charles Carroll married, his father agreed to provide him and his wife with $5,000 per year, along with a farm and a substantial house. Instead of heeding his father’s suggestion to renovate an existing farmhouse, Charles Carroll, Jr. decided to display his wealth and represent his family’s legacy by building an extravagant new home that followed the style of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio on the exterior but adopted a more contemporary style for the interior.

Homewood’s most notable architectural features are detailed carvings on molded plaster, which slide like puzzle pieces into where ceiling meets wall. Upon entering the house, guests are welcomed with high ceilings and long hallways leading to unexpectedly spacious rooms. It is apparent that Charles Carroll, Jr. took pride in designing this masterpiece. The final price tag of Homewood? A whopping $40,000 when built—a fortune in today’s money.

It is very hard these days to imagine Baltimore as relatively wide open with large plots of land, but surrounding Homewood at the time it was built two miles from the center of town were 120 acres of woods and fields. The house stands on a 45-degree angle to North Charles Street, cushioned nicely by the Hopkins campus.

Homewood continues to amaze visitors not only with its superb architecture, but also with the simple fact that the house still stands in pristine condition. Restoration work began in 1929 and continued until 1932, when the project was abandoned with the onset of the Great Depression. It regained attention in 1975 as its exterior restoration took place, along with archeological investigations and additional restoration inside the structure.

In 1987, the National Historic Landmark opened to the public as a museum displaying 18th and 19th century maps of Baltimore and Philadelphia as well as blueprints and costs of Charles Carroll, Jr.’s ultimate dream house.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Homewood’s founding, the museum has opened a commemorative exhibit, "Building Homewood: Vision for a Villa," which features original tools, period design books, early maps, and other information detailing Homewood’s relationship to its vast landscape.

As it turns out, Charles Carroll Jr.’s father was rather disappointed in his son’s "improvident waste of money" in building Homewood, and described the experience as one to "look back upon with painful regret."

Luckily for Baltimoreans, Carroll, Jr. did not heed his biggest financial supporter, and forged ahead with his plans to build a timeless architectural treasure, thereby achieving a form of immortality for the Carroll family.

Building Homewood: Vision for a Villa is open now through December 29. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $3 for students. Tours are available Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Sunday, 12-4 p.m. A symposium including lectures on aspects of Homewood, a walking tour of the Homewood campus, and a woodwork demonstration will be held Friday, November 8. Admission to the symposium is $35 for Homewood members and Johns Hopkins affiliates and $40 for non-members. For more information, call 410-516-8639, email Judith Proffitt, program coordinator at proffitt@jhu.edu, or visit Homewood House Museum's website.


Homewood House is located at 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218.

Russ Henley, a recent graduate of King College in Bristol, Tennessee, is an editorial intern with this newspaper.


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This story was published on November 9, 2002.