A Little History of the Maryland Dames and Mount Clare Museum House
I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to be a Maryland Dame in 1917. In looking through “A History of the Society of the Colonial Dames of America”, which the society was evidently called in those days, there is a note in the Forward by the author. Mary Fenhagen writes, “The familiarity that I have come to feel for every Colonial Dame of the Maryland Society, past and present, is tinged with awe at the amount they have accomplished and great respect for the way they went about it, under the leadership of their inspiring Presidents.” Well earned praise coming forward from the past!
The book describes the work as being done to stimulate the interest of the public at large in all things Historic. A great deal of Dames business was accomplished during long morning visits as most of the members lived around the Monument! It seems that the love of learning was at the top of the list of being a Dame.
A paper written in 1984 by longtime Dame and great friend of Mount Clare, Betty Welsh, has been found in the archives. She includes most of the details of the founding years. Recording her wealth of knowledge here will be an invaluable way of passing on this fascinating history. With thanks to Betty for her research; The last of the Carroll family moved out of the house in about 1840. This once fine house, eight out buildings and gardens soon fell into disrepair. Mount Clare was rented and used in various ways such as a hotel for northern officers and a late 19th century German beer garden and club.
Finally, in 1890 the Carroll’s sold the mansion to the City of Baltimore. In 1891 all the furnishings were removed, and the Parks Department began a complete clean up, filling in open cesspools, tearing down of an old drinking house, a ten-pin alley, and a shooting gallery. Only the two wells and the pump house were saved because this was the water supply to the house. The house was refurbished with a new roof, chimneys, marble mantels, boundary lines, walkways, and driveways. The wings were rebuilt to be used by the neighborhood as bath houses for men and women. In many cases the houses in the Pig Town area did not have indoor plumbing.
At that time the Olmstead Brothers were beginning the transformation of private estate grounds in Baltimore into public parks including Carroll, Clifton, Leakin, and Riverside. On October 24, 1896, the Dames had their first tour of the house and they were highly pleased with what they saw and they envisioned the development of an historic museum room open to the public.
The National Society of the Colonial Dames was founded for the purpose of collecting and preserving old manuscripts, buildings, and mementos of our early Colonial history. Mount Clare would fit that bill in all ways.
It wasn’t until 10 years later, on October 12, 1916, that a special meeting was held to consider a suitable way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of The Maryland Society. Mrs. T. Harrison Garrett, Mrs. William Reed, Mrs. Henry Rogers, Mrs. Whitridge, and Miss Mary Winn met with Mayor James Preston to discuss the possibility of the Dames becoming Managers of Mount Clare. The mayor was very interested and wanted the proper authorities to put the house in first class order and make the mansion a Colonial museum and educational center.
On December 29, 1916 at that 25th Anniversary party, it was announced to all that the Dames were in negotiations with the Parks Board to turn over Mount Clare to them with the intention of creating a Colonial house museum.
On November 15, 1917, the Park Board granted a license to the Maryland Dames to open the house as a Colonial museum. After much consideration, the Dames headquarters at 417 N. Charles Street was sold to the Girls Friendly Society (future Girl Scouts) and Mount Clare became the new headquarters for the Maryland Dames.
In April of 1918 the Dames were given a 25-year lease from the city at $1.00 a year. A month later the superintendent sent the keys of the house to Mrs. Garrett tied in red, white, and blue ribbons and wished The Maryland
Society great success.
Furniture was loaned by many Dames to help fill Mount Clare Museum House. The agreement with the City was that the museum was to be opened to the public twice a week free of charge but on other days the Dames were allowed to charge 25 cents. Post cards were made and sold which helped with expenses.
Neighborhood talks were arranged. People came on special excursions. The National Council of the Society came. The B&O railroad provided a special car free of charge from Washington D.C. Foreign visitors made special trips to see Mount Clare Museum House. It was said that Mount Clare Museum House was known to be second only to Mount Vernon.
In the 1950’s the Dames were interested in acquiring the wings of the house in order to build a library for the valuable manuscripts and books that had been collected. After a number of attempts to make this happen it was finally agreed upon in 1959. The Dames would take over the custody of the wings with the understanding that the entire remodeling expense would be paid for by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Maryland. A usable comfort station was arranged in the stable at the expense of the Bureau of Parks. The bookcases now in the library were saved from a house fire in 1944 at Ivy Neck on the Rhode River in Anne Arundel County. The cases were found lying in an old barn on the same property and negotiations were made to purchase them. At an annual meeting in 1923 it is quoted that a clever lady said, “To make an undertaking a success talk about it, others will take up the tale and then interest increases continually.” And so, has been the story of Mount Clare Museum House as people came to see, love it and return again and again bringing friends from near and far.
Phoebe R. Levering
Museum Properties Chair
Maryland Regent for Gunston Hall