History of the Mansion House and the Creation of Druid Hill Park

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The Mansion House as Estate
The present Mansion House, built in 1801, is the third home built on the estate that has been known as Druid Hill since the early 1800s. The second home, designed and built by Colonel Nicholas Rogers (1753-1822) in the late 1700s, was destroyed by fire in 1796. Two wings, planned for either side of the current Mansion House, were never built. The kitchen was in the basement. The first floor consisted of a drawing room, salon, and dining room interconnected along the rear of the house, with a central hallway dividing the master bedroom and study. Five other bedrooms were on the second floor.

The Creation of Druid Hill Park
By the mid-1800s, Baltimore was expanding rapidly and the City sought to purchase the 475-acre Rogers estate for a park. The Colonel’s son and heir, Lloyd Rogers, was reluctant to sell. But over his objections, the Green Spring Avenue Company was granted a right of way through his property for the construction of a turnpike. Then, in 1858 Mayor Thomas Swann created a tax on revenues from new street car lines to fund the creation of “one or more large parks.” Two years later, the City paid Rogers nearly $500,000.

The already well-landscaped estate was enhanced by engineer Augustus Faul and designer Howard Daniels, who created “lakes, scenic views, picnic groves, pathways and promenades.” George A. Frederick designed several architectural follies that served as sheltered stops along a small rail line that wound through the park. The remaining shelters are among the nation’s oldest park buildings.

The Mansion House as Public Pavilion
Under the direction of John H.B. Latrobe, the Mansion House was converted into a public pavilion in 1863. The original entrance was removed and a 20-foot wide open porch was added on all four sides. The interior was “Victorianized” with Gothic arches, ornate ceilings, and an elaborate staircase on the second floor that led to a cupola.

Enclosure of the porch in 1935 prepared it for a brief stint as a restaurant. “Air-cooled by nature” and billed as “every man’s country club in the very heart of Baltimore,” it featured curb service, a modern Milk Bar, a doughnut-making machine and dining on the veranda. The building’s cupola beckoned diners upstairs to observe the city’s tableau.

In the mid-1940s, the building was used as a day school for the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Associations, reflecting the growth of the Jewish population in the Park’s surrounding neighborhoods since the early 1900s.

The Baltimore Zoo’s Bird House The Baltimore Zoo, home to over 2,700 animals including more than 285 mammal, bird, and reptile species, was established in 1867 adjacent to the Mansion House. Guests “flocked to what was initially a drive-through menagerie of 17 species including 215 deer, 15 white rats, 3 swans, 2 black bears, and 1 three-legged duck.” When the Hall of Jewels exhibit (featuring exotic birds and small mammals) opened on the Mansion House porch in the mid-1950s, the building was informally dubbed the Bird House and functioned as such for nearly 30 years.

Restoration Efforts
In 1978, extensive renovations began and bird exhibit residents were relocated throughout the Zoo. The building has been used for Zoo administrative offices and educational programming ever since. A million-dollar state-funded exterior rehabilitation began in the summer of 1996. The front entry was recessed, rotting woodwork and broken windows replaced, and the porch, along with much of the first floor, was enhanced by new paint, carpet, and lighting fixtures.

Sources: Baltimore Zoo; John Dorsey and James D. Dilts, 1997, A Guide to Baltimore Architecture, 3rd Ed., Centreville, Tidewater Publishers; Gilbert Sandler, 2000, Jewish Baltimore, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press.

Visit the Baltimore Zoo

Find Out More About Baltimore's Parks

Visit the Maryland Historical Society

Invitations, Programs, and Other Designs

The Mansion House as originally constructed. 1811 Painting by Francis Guy, Maryland Historical Society.

Postcard, Strolling by the Boat Lake in Druid Hill Park.

Band Stand, Druid Hill Park.

Early park groundskeeping techniques.  vintage postcard. 

Polar Bear Cage at the Zoo, vintage postcard.

Camel Exhibit at the Zoo, with the Mansion House in the background, vintage postcard.

The Mansion House today.

Postcard, Ice Skating on the Lake, Druid Hill Park.

Garrett Bridge, vintage postcard.
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