Baltimore’s Main Street is well worth a visit just for its own architectural charms and history. Not to mention restaurants, shops and museums.
It’s a wonderful walk from Northern Parkway to the Inner Harbor, eight miles of lovely architecture, history, universities, historic homes, museums and plenty of sights to see. It’s a nice walk on a pretty day.
Here’s what you’ll see as you stroll along this Baltimore boulevard. By the way, if you get tired, hop on the free Charm City Circulator which runs from Penn Station to the Inner Harbor along Charles Street.
As you walk down Charm City’s fashionable main street — named for the fifth Lord Baltimore Charles Calvert — you’ll have plenty of time to make plans for a movie, a play or a concert that evening, pick from a variety of restaurants for lunch and/or dinner.
Word of advice for walkers: Head south against traffic: it’s downhill and ends at the Inner Harbor.
A second word of caution: Construction is ongoing near the Johns Hopkins University. Sidewalks look like they are pretty passable — but you should be aware. It’s about four or five blocks of completely disrupted roadway. Updates are available.
1. The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
The cornerstone for the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, a contemporary Gothic cathedral was laid May 31, 1955, the first feast of Mary Our Queen. A plaque outside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel commemorates Pope John Paul II’s 1995 visit. Several Catholic leaders are buried in the crypt. The cathedral’s benefactor Thomas O’Neill (see end of article) isn’t here but he is remembered in stained glass near the sanctuary and in the St. Thomas More Chapel.
Baltimore is quite the college town. Two of the four along Charles Street are just south of the cathedral. Notre Dame of Maryland University was the first Catholic women’s college in the United States to offer four-year degrees. It has been doing so since 1899, though it first opened as an elementary and secondary school in 1873. Across and down the street is Loyola University Maryland, a Jesuit institution that moved to this location from downtown (where CenterStage is now) in 1921. You’ll walk past Johns Hopkins University next. The campus itself is not only home to some of the brightest minds in the country, it is the site of one of Baltimore’s early 19th century mansions. The fourth, the University of Baltimore is about 30 blocks south, near Penn Station.
3. Historic Houses
You’ll pass by plenty of notable residences. Two not to be missed are Evergreen and Homewood. Both are open to the public and well worth a visit. Evergreen, the Gilded Age home of Alice and John Garrett. Garrett was an early president of the B&O Railroad. The house was once a modest mansion but Alice turned it into a glittering salon. It’s a palace of Tiffany glass, paintings by Picasso and Degas, 30,000-book library and an astonishing theatre painted by Ballet Russe designer Leon Bakst.
Farther south on Charles, past the upper-crust homes of Guilford and Homeland, on the Hopkins campus, is a far different mansion, this one the simple but stunning Homewood. This 1801 Palladian-style home was designed by the son of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Charles Carroll of Homewood, as his family home. The National Historic Landmark features family furniture, including Carroll’s portable writing desk and a traveling crucifix.
4. Art museums
Though not technically on Charles Street, the Baltimore Museum of Art is worth a detour. Its Sculpture Garden, in fact, is bounded on one side by Charles Street at the Hopkins campus. Admission to both is free. It is the first of Baltimore’s two art museums on Charles Street. The second, the Walters Art Museum, is near the end of your walk at the Washington Monument. The 22,000-piece treasure trove known as The Walters Art Museum has a collection that stretches from ancient times to last week. Admission is free.
5. Movie sets
South of Hopkins main campus, you’ll see a copper brown edifice not part of Hopkins’ Education Department in the 2800 block of N. Charles. It was built in 1907 as Seton High School and served as a backdrop in Barry Levinson’s 1987 film “Tin Men.”
Another “movie set” is the Arunah S. Abell House, 811 North Charles, at the corner of Madison and Charles. This was the last home of Arunah S. Abell, founder of The Sun, and his wife Mary Fox Campbell. An upstairs window appeared in the 1987 movie thriller “The Bedroom Window.” The house is now occupied by businesses and restaurants.
6. Station North
The walk down Charles street south of Hopkins becomes more, forgive the pun, pedestrian until you reach the area known as Station North. This up-and-coming arts district is home to several small theaters and restaurants, including Single Carrot Theatre, the Charles Movie Theatre and Tapas Teatro Restaurant.
Pennsylvania Station, Baltimore’s 1911 Amtrak train station, is just south of this block. You can also catch the light rail or Charm City Circulator here — or even the Bolt bus. If the Beaux Arts architecture doesn’t stop you, the gigantic Male/Female sculpture might. The 51-foot aluminum sculpture depicts intersecting human figures who share a pulsating heart.
7. Mount Vernon
You’ll know you are in the Mount Vernon neighborhood when the Washington Monument looms ahead of you. It’s a center of history, culture, music and art.
Movers and shakers made this part of town their home in the late 19th century. (They still do.) This neighborhood was the home of the Abells (whom we already met), and at 5 West Mt. Vernon Place is the home of the Walters Art Museum’s founders, William Walters and his son Henry. Look for the bronze sign by the steps. Nearby is the Garrett townhouse, now known as the Engineer’s Club.
On East Mt. Vernon Place, at Number 16, Charles Carroll of Doughoregan, son of the Homewood Carroll, wintered at his townhome from 1855 until his death. The Carroll house is privately held.
The Washington Monument honoring our first president predates the obelisk in our nation’s capital. Robert Mills designed this one first; then the other. It is not at present open for visits, due to structural concerns.
Across the street is the Peabody Institute, the country’s oldest music academy. When the windows are open, concerts from practice rooms are free. All kinds of concerts are scheduled in the Peabody’s many performance halls, from jazz to opera. The Peabody Library at 17 East Mt. Vernon Place is a cathedral of books. Take a look. We’ll wait.
8. Fire of 1904
When you reach the intersection of Charles and Lexington, turn around and look north. You may notice that the street gets wider south of this corner. This is where the Baltimore Fire of 1904 stopped burning. Everything south turned to rubble — and wider streets were built in the reconstruction. On this corner was O’Neill’s Department Store. When the owner, Thomas O’Neill had his prayer answered and his store didn’t burn, he left funds in his will to build the new cathedral eight miles to the north.
9. Much more to see
I admit I left out plenty of interesting sights. So, to fill in the gaps, I can recommend two great walking tours.
At the Baltimore Visitor Center, the three-mile Mount Vernon Cultural Walk is offered daily in warm weather. It includes many other buildings and historical details.
If you like your history more literary, take the Literary Mount Vernon tour. You’ll find out where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived with Zelda, where Gertrude Stein stayed while in medical school and a host of other details on and off Charles Street. Very cool.
A version of this article detailing Catholic history appeared in The Catholic Review. You can read it here along with a video taken at Homewood.
© 2013 Text and photos. Mary K. Tilghman.