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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: Peter Kurtze, 1995
Clifton Park
Inventory No.: B-4608
Date Listed: 9/12/2007
Location: Bounded by Harford Rd, Erdman Ave, Clifton Park Terr, Sinclair Ln and BBRR, Baltimore, Baltimore City
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: c. 1790-1940
Architect/Builder: Architects: Niernsee & Nielson; Wyatt & Nolting; Olmsted Brothers; Frederick Thomas
Description: Clifton Park is comprised of 266.746 acres in East Baltimore bounded on the northwest by Harford Road, on the northeast by Erdman Avenue and Clifton Park Terrace, on the southeast by Belair Road, and on the southwest by the Baltimore Belt railroad and Sinclair Lane. Circa 1790, a farm house was built on the property by an unknown owner. Between 1799 and 1902, the land and farm house passed to a merchant named Henry Thompson, who constructed two additions to the house. In 1841, Thompson's estate conveyed the grounds to Johns Hopkins, one of the city's most prominent businessmen. Under Hopkins' ownership, the property became a summer residence, and farming was joined by the art of landscape gardening. In 1874, Hopkins bequeathed the property to the Trustees of the Johns Hopkins University as the site for a university, but his wish was never fulfilled, and the grounds only underwent minor modification over the next 20 years. In 1895, the City of Baltimore purchased Clifton for a public park, turning it into one of the most well-equipped public spots for active recreation in the city. For over 100 years one of the city's most widely used parks, Clifton Park has managed to balance its Romantic and active recreation legacies. Today's landscape includes the Thompson-Hopkins Mansion, fragments of Hopkins' drive and path system, and the outline of his parterre gardens and orchards. The park also reveals athletic ground added by the Trustees of the Johns Hopkins University prior to 1894, as well as circulation changes and a golf course added by the City Park Commission in the 1910s. Also evident are a series of improvements designed by the Olmsted Brothers in the 1904-1917 period. These were based on site and (sometimes) planting plans for the band shell, swimming pool, and multiple athletic facilities. Lake Clifton, constructed as a city reservoir in 1887 and, until 1962 a defining feature of the park, was filled to make way for Lake Clifton High School in 1970. The park's built resources include the Mansion, gardener's cottage, valve house for Lake Clifton, a dwelling/superintendent's house, a bath house, band shell, stables, and a shop building. Notwithstanding the Federal-era farmhouse at its core, the Mansion is considered the finest Italian Villa in Baltimore, based on Hopkins' extensive 1852 alteration. Other rarities are the gardener's cottage, an outstanding example of a Gothic Revival cottage; the valve house, individually listed on the National Register and a striking Gothic and Romanesque Revival water board structure; a Stick Style superintendent's house; Classical Revival bath house; and quasi-Arts and Crafts stables/shops building. The park's resources demonstrate the work of the Baltimore architectural firms of Niernsee and Neilson and Wyatt & Nolting, as well as that of Park Architect Frederick Thomas and unknown staff at the City's Department of Recreation and Parks and the Baltimore Water Board. In the case of the band shell and bath house, the influence of the Olmsted Brothers in building design is documented. Other designed resources included "objects" such as a series of gate posts, a sculpture by Edward Berge, and one marble urn from Hopkins' day. Classical statuary in marble, a hallmark of the grounds during Hopkins' day, no longer exists on the site. Significance: As the home of a prosperous merchant named Henry Thompson, the elegant summer retreat of Johns Hopkins, the potential site of the Johns Hopkins University, and one of the city's most widely used public parks, Clifton has played many roles in the history of Baltimore's evolution from farmland to sophisticated urban center. Clifton Park is significant for its association with the development of the city's park system in the 19th and 20th centuries. Seizing upon the opportunity to provide a public park for the northeast sector of the city, Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe III acquired Clifton from the trustees of Johns Hopkins University in 1895. The city's initial stewardship was guided primarily by horticultural interests, but as the new century approached, so did new ideals. By 1919, thanks to the Commission's responsiveness to the public and the vision of the Olmsted Brothers, Clifton Park would be described as the "Elysian Fields" of Baltimore, with an 18-hole golf course, 27 tennis courts, a 3 1/2-acre swimming pool, and baseball, football, and lacrosse fields. The park gains added significance for its particular association with Johns Hopkins, patron and namesake of the world-renowned Johns Hopkins University and Hospital. Hopkins purchased Clifton in 1841 and remodeled its farmhouse into one of the most elaborate Italian villas in the city. In addition to updating the house, Hopkins reworked the grounds into an Arcadian landscape, complete with planned vistas to the harbor, winding drives and paths, a porter's lodge, gardener's cottage, orchards, crops, and parterre gardens. A small but significant part of the grounds' character and two of its most celebrated buildings hark back to Hopkins' 1841-1873 occupation. Finally, the park is significant for its architectural and landscape architecture significance. Regarding the first measure, the park's collection of built resources includes several unparalleled examples of building types and architectural styles, such as the Italian Villa Mansion, Gothic Revival gardener's cottage, and Gothic/Romanesque Revival valve house, as well as a rare example of a Stick Style house in the Superintendent's house. Along with these Victorian edifices are three notable 20th century resources that represent the work of a well-known local firm and the park's official architect. Regarding Clifton's landscape architecture significance, the park is a strong example of a designed landscape of high artistic value. Within the 19th century, Clifton was laid out as a private estate in the English landscape garden tradition advocated by Andrew Jackson Downing. Clifton still features the "Beautiful" landscape elements of this tradition in its broad lawns, tall shade trees, vista to the harbor, and remnants of its meandering drive. On the other hand, the Clifton of the early 20th century was a pioneer in the area of active recreation, hosting the city's first municipal golf course, largest artificial swimming pool in the country, and the greatest concentration of tennis courts in the city. People flocked to Clifton to engage in the newly discovered joys of publicly sponsored athletic recreation. These improvements required extensive planning, grading, road building, and planting operations. Most of this work was spearheaded by the Olmsted Brothers and is still manifest in the landscape today.
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