It is a fact that most of Baltimore's parks were once the estates of large landowners; the mansion house at the center of each is a dead giveway. Mount Clare, the mansion at the center of Carroll Park in southwest Baltimore, is the oldest standing building in the city.

"Georgia" was the tobacco plantation of a branch of the far-flung Carroll family. In time, it would be inherited by Barrister Charles Carroll (not to be confused with his cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton). In 1760, Carroll had his mansion house built just off the Georgetown road in the Baltimore County countryside, several hours' ride from the struggling little tobacco entry port of Baltimore.

The mansion is a typical brick Colonial plantation house, with many of the influences of the day, such as roof pediments, a stone-columned portico, and Palladian wings connected to the main house by corridors called "hyphens". Many of the more classical-looking features were probably added a little later, during the Neo-Classical movement.

There Carroll lived with his family and slaves and grew tobacco, shuttling back and forth to his house in Annapolis when the General Assembly was in session. Of course his slaves were the ones who grew the tobacco and built the house; we should never forget this.

Baltimore's struggles as a port ended in 1771 when the Ellicott Brothers built their flour mill on the upper Patapsco and began to ship their flour out through Baltimore. The city grew to engulf the estate. In 1828, the north end of the property was sold to a group of investors with a radical new idea: a railroad, something that was just coming into vogue across the ocean in Great Britain. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad became the first railroad in America, and the railroad station built on the transferred parcel was the first in the country, opening in 1830. Also in 1830, the now-legendary race between the B&O's first locomotive, "Tom Thumb", and a horse-drawn wagon took place. The engine broke down and the horse won, but that did not stop railroads from spreading across the continent.

The bustle of city life and the decline of the Carroll family meant a different fate for the rest of the estate. All the outbuildings (including the wings) were demolished by later owners, and it served as a Union army hospital during the Civil War. After that Mount Clare served as a biergarten, perhaps serving thirsty travelers on the nearby Washington Turnpike (if not the railroad station, ten blocks' walk away).

In 1890, the City Beautiful movement was in full swing, and any city that wanted respect had to have large open spaces in imitation of New York's Central Park. Baltimore set about purchasing land for these parks, and they purchased Mount Clare from its German owners, building Carroll Park around it. They restored the mansion to a historically accurate, if not entirely original, condition.

Today, the mansion, restored and kept up by the Colonial Dames of America, is surrounded by a public golf course. The former Mount Clare station now houses the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum. If you ever visit Charm City, both sites should be on your list.

National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary

The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America

B & O Railroad Museum: Landmark moments at Mount Clare

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