Way back before The Wire, even before the moniker “Mob Town” was bestowed for the city’s contentious election seasons, Baltimore, MD was the “Monumental City.” The construction of the Washington Monument, the first to the general of the Continental Army, whose battles are listed around the monument’s base, was followed by other monuments, such as the Battle Monument, in honor to the defenders of the 1813 Battle for North Point. But, this was the monument, at the intersection of North Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place, that started it all.
The Washington Memorial was an important site during political demonstrations, most notably during the election preceding the Civil War and then the period of secession following it. By the time that war started, the Washington Monument’s square and terrace had set the trend for the prior 30 years of construction, in which squares were established on the tops of Baltimore’s hills, surrounded by the more affluent residences, through the city’s growth and expansion.
Today, the Washington Monument and its parks remain a healthy part of the city landscape, surrounded by intellectual heritage, such as the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, the Maryland Historical Society and the Walter’s Gallery. People criss-cross the area in getting from home to work, or from work to lunch, or from home to dinner, and dog owners and joggers also make use of the pedestrian-friendly zone.
George Washington, standing atop a classical piller, faces south in the direction of the harbors, the place of industry and wealth for Baltimore, historically. On each of the four corners surrounding Washington and the cobbled street square, are statues: Order, Force, War and Peace. All four are comprised of a neo-classic figure, child and animal, designed by the French sculptor, Antoine-Louis Barye. William Walters, founder of the Walters Gallery, donated them to the city.
Mounted on his horse, directly in front and south of Washington, is the Marquis de La Fayette. The Marquis served as Major General under Washington and his contributions are probably essential to the success of the American Revolution. His, is actually in memory of the French and American fallen from World War I.
To Washington’s right are three more statues. The first of these is of the millionaire, George Peabody, who sits just in front of the Institute he endowed. He had already made his first million in Baltimore’s industries and shipping, before he built upon that wealth during the Civil War, selling U.S. bonds in England.
The next statue is part of a fountain system with American neo-classical design. In fact, the statue is itself a naiad. ”The Naiad” was a gift of the Baltimore’s Women’s Civic League, Inc.
The third statue, behind Peabody, is of Severn Teackle Wallis. A lawyer, expert on Spain and Spanish literature and Maryland legislator during the Civil War, he is noteworthy for his defense of secession and his reprimand of the federal government for exercising a military option against the Confederate states. He also served a fourteen month prison sentence with other members of the Legislature and Baltimore residents sympathetic to the southern cause. At no point was he ever charged with a crime, however, in clear violation of the writ of habeas corpus. He would serve out an influential career in law Baltimore and Maryland and as provost of the University of Maryland, following the war.
Sitting directly behind Washington, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the U.S. Supreme Court. Most famous for issuing the Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott v. Sanford and calling Abraham Lincoln out for making arrests during the Civil War without the sacred right of habeas corpus. He was a Baltimore resident and Wallis, mentioned above, would give the dedication speech of Taney’s statue.
Behind Taney, is the dynamic figure of John Eager Howard. Howard came from a well-established, Maryland planter family. At the outset of the Revolutionary War, he joined as an officer, earning a silver medal for leading his troops at the Battle of Cowpens. He would serve in the last session of the Continental Congress. Howard would serve as a governor of Maryland, a state senator and U.S. senator, but would decline an appointment as the Secretary of War. During the War of 1812, he commanded the defense of Baltimore.
Howard donated the land for the Washington Monument; he passed away before its completion. His heirs sold off more allowing for some of the city’s most beautiful homes to be built and for Thomas E. Poppleton’s groundbreaking design for the square on top of the hill.
To Washington’s left (west of the monument) are two more statues donated by Walters: the Seated Lion, also by Antoine-Louis Barye, and Military Courage, by Paul Dubois. In between these, is another fountain.
When you visit:
- Bring your appetite, because there are plenty of places to eat in the area.
- Bring your historical curiosity, because, in addition, to the Walters Gallery, the Maryland Historical Society and the Peabody Institute, the city buildings and streets are rich with history and a self-guided walking tour can you lead through the neighborhood with sites like the Baltimore Cathedral (America’s first) and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Just follow the signs.
- Bring your walking shoes, because it is a great neighborhood to explore!