Photo credit: C. Belfoure , 12/15/2006

Property Name: Ruscombe
Date Listed: 12/20/2007
Inventory No.: B-5137
Location: Baltimore, Baltimore City

Description: Ruscombe is a 2 1/2-story with basement, fieldstone Italianate mansion constructed in 1866, located on a 1.35-acre lot in a residential neighborhood called Coldspring/Newtown in north Baltimore. It is a gable and hip-roofed building measuring approximately 90' x 50' overall. The main block of the building is 50' x 50', with a gable-roofed L-shaped wing extending to the north. A circular drive leads to the front entry and to a small hip-roofed stone garage to the west of the house. The west elevation, where the present main entry is located, is 7 bays wide. From the north end, the first bay is covered by a 1 1/2-story wing projecting to the west on both floors. The next two bays to the south are filled with narrower 2/2 sash windows. The final four bays contain 6/6 sash windows with stone lintels and sills on the first and second floors. The entry door, in the second bay from the south end is wood surrounded by a 4-light transom and 3-light sidelights and protected by a small roof supported by wooden brackets. An intersecting gable with an Italianate detailed rake spans the second, third, and fourth three bays from the south. An Italianate-detailed cornice extends 18" from the face of the stone and extends around the entire house. Within the gable is a round-arched window at the attic level. Also on the west elevation is one round-arched dormer with an arched roof on the hip roof over the south bay; three round-arched wall dormers are cut into the roof eave of the wing. The 1 1/2-story stone wing to the west is, 12' deep and 25' wide, with a gable roof and shed dormer. It has 6/6 sash windows with half-round arched window with tracery at the attic level. On the north elevation of the main block, a porch with chamfered wood posts, railing, and balusters runs the full width of the four-bay first story. The gable end of the wing on this elevation has two 6/6 sash windows at the second floor and two round-arched windows at the attic level. The east elevation of the main block has four bays on the first story and three bays on the second, with 6/6 sash windows with stone lintels and sills on both floors. The second-story windows are aligned over the spaces between the first-story windows. On the third story a centered cross gable similar in detailing to the one on the west elevation carries a round-arched window and wooden balcony supported by brackets. In the corner where the main house and wing connect is a concrete block exit stair built when the property was used as a school. On the wing north of the stair tower there is a 6' wide original window that is behind a plywood infill; on the north elevation of the main block there is an original 6' wide door also behind a plywood infill. The south elevation of the house has three bays on the first and second stories, with the center, projecting bay containing a wide wooden door which was the original entry. It is covered by a small roof supported by wooden brackets. Flanking the door are 5' wide original door openings with two rectangular 2-light transoms per door. On the second story above the door large window comprised of four narrow 1/1 sash windows. The flanking second-story bays contain paired 2/2 sash windows. A stone porch spans the entire width of the elevation. Ruscombe was originally a fully realized Italianate design, but a fire in 1955 destroyed its hip roof, which contained a south-facing gable, a belvedere with balcony, and gable dormers. These elements appear in historic photographs of the house. The gable on the east elevation and the original roof eave survive. A porch that wrapped around the south and east elevations, also visible in the photographs, is no longer extant. A garage built in the early 20th century of matching stone is linked to the house by a stone wall. On the interior, the entry on the west elevation leads to a hallway that intersects the original, 10' wide main hallway. The interior walls of Ruscombe are built of 2' thick stone. The first floor rooms are still in their original locations with original door openings, although most of the original doors are no longer extant. Most wood window and door moldings are original, with some original windows remaining. A 12" deep plaster cornice with a cavetto molding runs the perimeter of most rooms. Some fireplaces remain with their original trim intact, but others have been walled in. The main stair is in its original location, but has been rebuilt with new treads and risers, railings, and balusters.

Significance: Ruscombe is significant for its architecture, as it embodies the distinctive characteristics of the mid-19th century Italian Villa. It is a rare surviving example of the kind of mansion built in the Civil War era by Baltimore's wealthy business class. Although the roof was altered due to fire damage in 1955, the exterior of the house retains many important architectural features of the period including all its original window openings, half-round arched windows, its original entry, the doorways that opened onto its porch, and its original L-shaped wing off the man house. The fine artistry of the stonework of the exterior walls is an example of the expert craftsmanship of the period. The mansion's floor plan is intact, showing the original location of the hallways, the main stair, and all the rooms. The proportion, scale, and the remaining fireplaces and detailing of the interior still convey a sense of the grandeur of the lifestyle of the city's business elite. Ruscombe is one of the very few known buildings designed by Joseph F. Kemp, who is credited with the design of Camden Station adjacent to Oriole Park and the Baltimore Equitable Society. Ruscombe is also significant for its association with James Wood Tyson, who, along with his brother, Jesse, played a major role in creating the chrome industry in the United States.




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