Michael O. Bourne
212, Aigburth Road, Towson, Baltimore County
Aigburth Vale is a large, three-story, wood, Second Empire mansion set on an open, 4.9-acre lot. One of Baltimore County's preeminent examples of Second Empire architecture, the building's complex massing includes a large central pavilion, three porches, and a number of wings all with mansard roofs. Rich decorative elements appear throughout on the exterior, including on dormers, porch supports, and at the cornice line. Set on a slight rise, with large mansard roofs and a large central 3 1/2-story tower with a widow's walk, Aigburth Vale is a striking example of Second Empire styling. Building materials include original horizontal wood siding; standing-seam metal, wood shingle, and composition roofing; and stone foundations. In the interior, the building features a number of large public rooms with decorative stone fireplaces and simple wood trim. The land currently associated with the houses is part of what was originally a large, over 200-acre estate. The house today is located within a largely suburban neighborhood.
Aigburth Vale is significant under Criterion B for its association with the prominent stage actor John E. Owens, and derives additional significance under Criterion C as an outstanding example of the Second Empire style, attributed to Niernsee & Neilson, one of Baltimore's preeminent architectural firms in the late 19th century. The house was built in 1868 as the country home of one of America's best-known and wealthiest actors of the 19th century, and served as the main residence of John E. Owens and his wife, Mary S. Owens, until Owens' death in 1886. For its time and place, the house was considered particularly handsome and finer than other houses, largely, perhaps, because of its size and elegance as well as its use of modern conveniences. It is today one of Baltimore County's preeminent examples of Second Empire architecture, especially considering the building's scale and materials. The house was one of a number of large mansions that were distributed along York Road during this era. Later, the area became the site of busy suburban development, and the Aigburth Vale subdivision was the first suburban development in the Towson area. The property was divided up for development around the time of Owens' death, and the house, at the center of the development, served briefly as an inn or summer residence. In 1919, the house was turned into a private hospital, and finally in 1962, it became the main office of the Baltimore County Board of Education. The property derives its significance from Owens' association with the site, which lasted from 1868 until 1886, and from Niernsee & Neilson's original design for the house, which was completed in 1868. No subsequent occupants, uses, or design alterations of the property meet the National Register Criteria to merit extending the period of significance beyond Owens' occupation of Aigburth Vale.