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History of Early American Landscape Design
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Washington Monument (Baltimore, MD)

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The Washington Monument (Baltimore) is the centerpiece of an urban park with four radiating squares in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. It is the earliest major commemorative structure planned in honor of George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and first president of the United States. When completed, the 165-foot pedestal, column, and base constituted the tallest columnar structure in the world. [1] The monument’s fame attracted tourists, wealthy residents, and cultural institutions to Mount Vernon Place and initiated a wave of commemorative projects that led President John Quincy Adams to dub Baltimore “The Monumental City” during a visit in 1827. [2]

Overview

Alternate Names:

Site Dates:1813-1838

Site Owner(s):
Managed by the non-profit Mount Vernon Place Conservancy in partnership with the City of Baltimore.

Site Designer(s): Robert Mills

Location: Baltimore, Md.
View on Google maps


History

Fig. 1, Robert Mills, “Elevation of the Principal Fronts,” Washington Monument, Baltimore, 1814.

In 1810 a group of Baltimore citizens began raising funds by lottery for a monument in Washington’s honor. At the request of the managers of the Baltimore Washington Monument Society, the French architect Maximilian Godefroy (1765-c.1838) submitted a variety of design possibilities, including an equestrian statue framed by a triumphal arch; a fountain within a rotunda; and a public square containing a statue of Washington surrounded by trophies. [3] None of these plans was adopted, and in 1813 the managers opened an international design competition that attracted entries from non-American artists, including the French neo-classical architect and landscape architect Joseph-Jacques Ramée (1764-1842). The committee preferred not to give the commission to a foreigner, however, expressing the wish that “American artists will evince by their production that there will be no occasion to resort to any other country for a monument to the memory of their illustrious Fellow citizen.”[4]

In 1814 the committee awarded the commission to the American architect Robert Mills, who had drawn up a number of structurally and iconographically complex designs before settling on a massive pedestal resembling a Roman triumphal arch as the base for a 120-foot Doric column surmounted by a sculpture of Washington in a quadriga guided by a personification of Victory [Fig. 1]. Mills observed that the Doric proportions “possess solidity, and simplicity of character, emblematic of that of the illustrious personage to whose memory it is dedicated, and harmonizing with the spirit of our Government.”[5] Despite his emphasis on simplicity, Mills devised an elaborate decorative scheme for the column and its base to reinforce the monument’s memorial and didactic functions. Six ironwork balconies were to divide the column at graduated intervals so that visitors climbing the internal stairway could pass outside to examine the bands of inscriptions and relief sculptures memorializing Washington’s accomplishments and other events in America’s revolutionary history. A viewing platform at the top of the column would provide vistas of the surrounding scenery. [6] The monument was to be located on a summit to the north of the city on land that had been part of Belvedere, the estate of former Maryland governor and state senator, Col. John Eager Howard (1752-1827). [7]

Aesthetic concerns and lack of funding led to the radical simplification of Mills’s design. [8] The monument ultimately took the form of an unadorned Doric column on a simple rectilinear base surmounted by a statue of Washington resigning his military commission to the President of the Maryland Congress. The Italian sculptor Enrico Causici (1790-1833) won the competition to create the 14-foot marble statue, which was set in place in 1829. [9] Many of the ornamental motifs that Mills had meticulously researched for the column and base were never added, despite his insistence that from a pedestrian’s perspective, they were “essentially requisite to give interest to the near view of the design, as without them there would be too great a degree of plain surface.” [10] From 1830 to 1838, Mills designed and oversaw the production of a cast-iron fence enclosure. It incorporated a number of symbolic elements originally intended for the monument, including distinctly Federal motifs such as stars, ribbon-bound fasces, and battle-axes. [11]

From the beginning, Mills was concerned with the relationship of the monument to its surroundings, and his attention to the viewer’s experience of the site as a whole resulted in the development of a larger park setting than originally planned. In his initial proposal of 1813, Mills had expressed the opinion that “Monuments isolated, or in the open air, should be towering, and commanding in their elevation, especially when they are encircled by a City, otherwise its popular intention is frustrated.” [12] The 1813 proposal included a description of the monument’s immediate surroundings, calling for a gravel walk, eleven feet wide, enclosed by a white picket fence in an octagonal configuration, with an ornamental shade tree at each angle. [13] In 1820 Mills reiterated his concern that “some place for a promenade for the public should be provided,” and during the 1830s, as the land around the monument was being divided into house lots, he urged widening the streets leading to the monument as well as the circular green space surrounding the base. “It would be a pity to have the space about the Mon[umen]t cramped,” he wrote in 1836. “Ample room here will be found not only ornamental but useful for many purposes, for the parade of troops, for great public meetings, etc.”[14]

A description published in 1848 documents many of the improvements requested by Mills and alludes to the undeveloped state of the four public squares that flanked the monument. The writer predicted: “When these spaces can be adorned with appropriate rows of trees, as well as embellished with marble fountains or basins, and other ornaments…it will become one of the most delightful promenades on this continent.” [15] Shade trees, shrubbery, sidewalks, and additional ornamental iron fencing in keeping with that designed by Mills were finally installed following passage of a city ordinance in 1850. [16]

--Robyn Asleson

Resources

[Mount Vernon Place Conservancy website]

Images

Texts

Other Resources

[Washington Place Conservancy]



Notes

  1. Pamela Scott, "Robert Mills and American Monuments," in Robert Mills, Architect, ed. John M. Bryan (Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Architects Press, 1989), 150, view on Zotero.
  2. "Baltimore, October 17," Salem [Massachusetts] Gazette (October 23, 1827), 2, cited in "Baltimore," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Baltimore&oldid=640828638 (accessed January 13, 2015).
  3. J. Jefferson Miller, "The Designs for the Washington Monument in Baltimore," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historian, 23 (1964): 19-21, view on Zotero.
  4. Rhodri Windsor Liscombe, Altogether American : Robert Mills, Architect and Engineer, 1781-1855 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 63, view on Zotero.
  5. William D. Hoyt, Jr., "Robert Mills and the Washington Monument in Baltimore" [Part One], Maryland Historical Magazine, 35 (1940): 155 view on Zotero.
  6. John M. Bryan, Robert Mills: America’s First Architect (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001), 105-17 view on Zotero; Miller, 1964, 22-27, view on Zotero; Hoyt, 155-57, view on Zotero.
  7. Lance Humphries, "Baltimore and the City Beautiful: Carrère & Hastings Reshapes an American City," in Modernism and Landscape Architecture, 1890-1940, ed. Therese O’Malley and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, Studies in the History of Art, Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, Symposium Papers, LV (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2015), 250, view on Zotero.
  8. Scott, 1989, 146-54, view on Zotero.
  9. Bryan, 2001, 208, 210-12, view on Zotero.
  10. Catherine C. Lavoie, Washington Monument, Mount Vernon Place, Historic American Buildings Survey. Baltimore, Md., 2005, 13-14, view on Zotero.
  11. Robert L. Alexander, The Architecture of Maximilian Godefroy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 180-82, view on Zotero.
  12. Hoyt, 1940, 154,view on Zotero.
  13. Hoyt, 1940, 46, view on Zotero.
  14. Lavoie, 2005, 28, view on Zotero.
  15. Lavoie, 2005, 15, view on Zotero.
  16. Humphries, 2015, 251, https://www.zotero.org/groups/54737/items/itemKey/X29RH4U4 view on Zotero]; Lavoie, 2005, 29, view on Zotero.
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