The inhabitants of early-19th-century Baltimore had to contend each summer with such unpleasantness as yellow fever outbreaks, pestilence and an oftentimes unbearable heat and humidity. Applying the "get out of the kitchen" approach, during those months people of financial means often fled the city to their country homes in such present-day areas as Charles Village and Druid Hill.
One such summer retreat was Homewood, a classically inspired five-part house built two miles from the city's center on a 130-acre farm that is now the university's main campus. While not the bucolic getaway it once was, Homewood House appears today much as it would have the moment in 1802 when Charles Carroll Jr. and his family first moved in.
To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the building's construction, the university will host a series of events starting this week centered around Building Homewood: Vision for a Villa, an exhibition of tools, design books, maps and images of Baltimore villas intended to reveal how the house was built, used and integrated into its landscape. Designed by its owner, Homewood is considered one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in the country.
Judith Proffitt, program coordinator of what is now Homewood House Museum and curator of the exhibit, says that while the celebration will focus on the building's origins, it also recognizes "a magnificent survival story" as most of the villas built during that time period have long since succumbed to the city's outward growth.
"Homewood is a rare, incredibly well-preserved relic of a time gone by sitting right here in our front yard," says Proffitt of the national historic landmark. "Over these past 200 years Homewood has been virtually unaltered. It's not something you find just anywhere, and certainly not something that you find in this great condition."
Homewood was built beginning in 1801 for Charles Carroll Jr. and his bride, Harriet Chew Carroll. The land and funds to construct and furnish the house were a wedding present from Charles' father, Charles Carroll of Carollton, a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence.
While Homewood was designed for entertaining family and friends, Proffitt says that for Harriet Carroll, it simply became a place for raising children.
"Harriet Carroll lived here for 14 years, and during that time she had seven children. She was described, and even criticized, as being a homebody and domestic," Proffitt says. "She enjoyed spending days with her children at Homewood."
Samuel Wyman bought the house and property from the Carroll family in 1839. In 1902, Homewood and its surrounding land were bequeathed to Hopkins as the site of the university's new campus. The donation was made by William Keyser and his first cousin William Wyman, who inherited the property from his father. According to Keyser's letters, the family donated the property out of concern that the encroaching city would eventually claim their beloved Homewood. They knew that with Johns Hopkins as its guardian the building would be both protected and preserved.
Homewood was used as administrative offices for the university throughout much of the 20th century. In 1973, an endowment was established by Robert G. Merrick, an alumnus and university trustee, to help restore Homewood as a historic house museum. The building was opened to the public in 1987 after several years of research, archaeological investigation and restoration by the university.
In preparation for the 200th anniversary, a research effort was begun two years ago by scholars Damie Stillman, a professor emeritus of American architecture at the University of Delaware; M. Edward Shull, landscape architect and founding member of the Southern Garden History Society; and Bernard Herman, professor of art history at the University of Delaware. Their findings form the basis of the exhibition, which runs from Sept. 28 through Dec. 29. In addition, the three scholars will present their research at the Building Homewood Public Lectures, to be held from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28. The same group of speakers will also take part in the annual Homewood symposium held on Nov. 8.
"We thought the best way to celebrate the anniversary of the house's construction, and the anniversary of its donation to the university, was to expand our knowledge about the house and share that with the public," Proffitt says.
Catherine Rogers Arthur, Homewood House curator, says it was also felt that the research effort would be in keeping with the university's mission.
Featured in the exhibition will be 18th-century design books, rare images of Baltimore villas of the same time period, historical building tools on loan from Colonial Williamsburg and artifacts from earlier archaeological investigations, including a chisel used in building the house.
To illustrate the house's construction, the museum will host a 19th-Century Building Trades Fair, to be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Homewood's east lawn. An eminent group of restoration builders and tradesmen will demonstrate such skills as brickmaking, the shaping of quarried stone, blacksmithing, the hand grinding of paint pigments and the use of planes and chisels in the making of decorative architraves.
Proffitt says the trades fair and exhibition will be a journey back in time.
"We think people will be amazed at just what it took to put a structure like Homewood together," she says.
Admission to Homewood's 200th anniversary celebration on Sept. 28 is free. After the opening, admission to Building Homewood: Vision for a Villa is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for students and free for the Hopkins community. For information on any of the events, call 410-516-8639.