Architecture

Photo Mystery: The Investigation

Baltimore, Md [?] – Houses – Unidentified House, ca 1870s-1880s, SVF, MdHS.

Baltimore, Md [?] – Houses – Unidentified House, ca 1870s-1880s, SVF, MdHS.

A few weeks ago, we shared a photograph of an unidentified building which had long stumped the Library staff. We are grateful for the myriad of suggestions from our readers, and we’ve been busy investigating them by digging into our Passano-O’Neill file and photograph collections.

This view shows the area near the jail around the period the photograph was taken. No. 15 East by North. Jail and penitentiary from Weaver’s Photographic Views of Baltimore, ca. 1863-1886, William Henry Weaver, MF225.W3, MdHS.

This view shows the area near the jail around the period the photograph was taken. No. 15 East by North. Jail and penitentiary from Weaver’s Photographic Views of Baltimore, ca. 1863-1886, William Henry Weaver, MF225.W3, MdHS.

Several readers suggested that the date of the ambrotype was incorrect.  In our files, the ambrotype had been dated as circa 1870s or 1880s. However, we agree that the clothing does appears more representative of the 1850s or 1860s, and use of the ambrotype format also points to an early date. By the 1860s, photographers more commonly produced tintypes and paper based photographs, which were cheaper and easier to make.

The tower is quite similar to the one in the background of the photograph. Maryland Penitentiary (Fallsway at Madison Street), ca.1920. 1995-62-035, MdHS.

The tower is quite similar to the one in the background of the photograph. Maryland Penitentiary (Fallsway at Madison Street), ca.1920. 1995-62-035, MdHS.

A few sites in Baltimore were suggested that merited further consideration and research. On the Maryland Historical Society Facebook page, Jean Belt wondered if one of the buildings in the background was the Maryland Penitentiary on Forrest Street near the Fallsway. Inspecting the background buildings could help narrow the building’s location in the city or tell the observer from which direction the photograph was taken. A tower or cupola can be seen on a building in the background on the right side of the image, which is reminiscent of the architecture of the prison. The jail saw many renovations over the years, which makes the building a useful way point in dating outdoor images. The photograph above, taken at a similar time, features a more rounded cupola than can be seen in the unidentified photograph. The 1920s era photograph shows another tower, to our eyes more similar to the one in the original photograph. However, this portion of the penitentiary was not built until the 1890s.

Mack McCullough posited that it could have been the Baltimore Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital at 1214 Eutaw Place. Originally built as a private home in the 1850s for John Egerton, a sugar refiner, whose family occupied it until the Civil War when it was purchased by William Gilpin Harrison, president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The building changed handles several times until it became the hospital in 1922. The hospital merged with Maryland General Hospital in the 1960s and moved out of the building, which still stands today. The buildings are quite similar, but the Eutaw Place property lacks the rounded windows and cupola.

The Baltimore Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital bears a resemblance to our mystery building, but doesn't quite fit the bill. Baltimore Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, ca. 1929, Subject Vertical File, MdHS.

The Baltimore Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital bears a resemblance to our mystery building, but doesn’t quite fit the bill. Baltimore Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, ca. 1929, Subject Vertical File, MdHS.

Commenters on the Facebook page also felt the architecture of the building seemed more in line with that of the Mount Vernon or Bolton Hill neighborhoods of Baltimore. While stately homes and ornate architecture define Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon architecture, detached buildings, even for large houses, were uncommon. And as pointed out on Facebook by Lance Humphries, executive director of the Mount Vernon Conservancy, the area appears too “suburban” to have been in Baltimore during the mid to late 1800s. The overall consensus was that the building architecture felt more reminiscent of Washington, D. C. or perhaps Boston, Massachusetts.

At this time, the Library staff feels confident that the photograph is not of a Baltimore building. Annapolis seems unlikely, as well, due to the architectural style and the scale of the buildings in the background. No other Maryland city appears to fit the bill either. The addition of the cupola does suggest a coastal city. We remain on the hunt for an answer! (Lara Westwood)

 

 

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