Michael O. Bourne
Mount de Sales Academy
700, Academy Lane, Catonsville, Baltimore County
Located facing south on a prominent rise of ground, Mount de Sales Academy is a massive four-story brick building, 21 bays wide by 5 bays deep, constructed in three stages beginning in 1852. The building comprises three pedimented pavilions connected by full-height hyphens; this final 5-part form was achieved in 1882, when a monastery to house the cloistered Sisters of the Visitation was added to the 1852 chapel and classrooms and 1857 music hall and dormitory. The building features restrained Classical detailing in its two-story Ionic entrance portico and modillioned cornice; the music hall (the easternmost section) displays Italianate influence in its molded window hoods supported by scrolled brackets. A multi-level gallery with cast-iron posts and railings spans the entire rear elevation. A cupola caps the gable roof. The interior of the building remains largely unaltered, and is particularly noteworthy for the original chapel furnishings and an elaborate trompe l'oeil fresco ceiling in the music hall. Interior spaces, including several floors of small cells occupied by sisters in the monastery, remain intact. Associated with the Academy are a pre-1860 Italianate gatehouse, a two-story brick infirmary building constructed in 1894, and a late-19th century brick ice house.
Mount de Sales Academy is significant for its association with the development of education for women in Maryland, and for its architecture. Still housed in its original 1852 building, the Academy reflects the pioneer era of women's boarding schools; prior to the Civil War, convent schools offered practically the only opportunity for formal education for women in the nation. Mount de Sales Academy is the oldest boarding school for girls in Baltimore County and the oldest educational facility in the county still in use as a school. The Chapel is also the oldest Roman Catholic house of worship in Baltimore County. Architecturally, the massive Academy building presents a noteworthy example of mid-19th century institutional design combining Classical and Italianate detailing. The multi-decked cast-iron porches are uncommonly large in scale and represent perhaps the only surviving example of this feature in the county. The building retains a high level of integrity, especially on the interior, where all the original functional spaces remain unaltered including classrooms, dormitory, music hall, chapel, and sisters' cells; the vast majority of decorative detailing is also intact including grain-painted woodwork and a trompe l'oeil fresco ceiling in the music hall.