Mount Vernon Cultural Walk
During the early 19th century, Baltimore became, for a brief time, America's second largest and fastest growing city. Baltimore led the world in shipbuilding, sail-cloth production, and flour milling. On Cathedral Hill, Baltimore's business leaders built mansions surrounding America's first Roman Catholic cathedral.
Cathedral Hill residents fueled Baltimore's rise as an economic and cultural center. These wealthy merchants were patrons of literature and the arts, inventors, philanthropists, and politicos. They funded many of the institutions along Cultural Walk, such as the Maryland Historical Society, Maryland Club, the Peabody Institute, the YMCA, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Many of their mansion houses still stand today on Mulberry, Franklin and Charles streets.
A papal decree in 1789 established Baltimore as the seat of the first American diocese and commissioned the first bishop, John Carroll (1735-1815), "to erect a church in the vicinity of the said city of Baltimore in the form of a cathedral church, in as much as the times and circumstances allow." The cathedral was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), architect of the U.S. Capitol under President Thomas Jefferson. Its cornerstone was laid in 1806, and the building was dedicated in 1821. Pope Pius XI elevated the cathedral to the rank
of minor basilica in 1937 and renamed it the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Baltimore's most famous Catholic, Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921), guided the affairs of the Baltimore Archdiocese for 44 years. Cardinal Gibbons was born in Baltimore near the corner of Fayette and Gay streets. At the time of his consecration in 1866, he became the youngest clergy to be named bishop, the first native son of Baltimore to become archbishop and the first American bishop ever to participate in electing a new pope, Pope Pius X. In 1886, Pope Leo XIII named Gibbons a cardinal of the church. During his day, Gibbons was one of the most photographed men in the world.
(Inscription under the image in the upper center) Cardinal James Gibbons with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1918. During Cardinal Gibbons 44-year leadership in Baltimore, he founded the Catholic University in Washington, D.C; supported and defended the Knights of Labor against attacks from conservative clergy; sided with strikers in Baltimore, prepared a speech for the first ever Parliament of World's Religions in 1893, supported the founding of the National Consumers League, and supported equal rights, fair elections, and major public improvements in Baltimore.
(Inscription under the images on the right) (Image 1) "Politics in an Oyster Bar," painted by local artist Richard
Caton Woodville in 1848, captures a scene from Baltimore's political and social life. John H.B. Latrobe, who lived at 11 West Mulberry Street, bought it from Woodville. Today, the painting is housed in the Walters Art Museum. (Image 2) Between 1890 and 1960, Calvert Hall College, a Catholic college preparatory high school, stood directly south of the Pratt Library on the corner of Cathedral and Mulberry Streets. Since 1845, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, commonly known as the Christian Brothers, have guided the school. Today, Calvert Hall is located in Baltimore County. (Image 3) "Renaissance men" such as John H.B. Latrobe (1803-1891), son of architect Benjamin Latrobe, excelled in business, cultural and artistic activities. The younger Latrobe represented the B&O Railroad in legal matters; painted several paintings now housed at the Maryland Historical Society; designed the Latrobe Stove; authored a guide book to Baltimore; and helped establish the Maryland Historical Society, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the nation of Liberia. (Image 4) Recently restored to the Latrobe and Carroll design, the Basilica of the Assumption is a landmark of international significance because of its architectural design and role in American History. Spectacular original lighting effects designed by Latrobe were replicated including translucent glass windows in the nave, twenty-four skylights in the main dome, and the original lighting fixtures. Its restoration is one of the most extensive and significant on a religious building in the country, befitting the importance of America's first Cathedral. (Image 5) The centenary celebration of the Baltimore Roman Catholic Cathedral in 1906. On a visit to Baltimore in 1859, Ralph Waldo Emerson, enthralled by the Cathedral, described his experience in a letter to his wife Lydia, "Today I heard high mass in the Cathedral here, and with great pleasure. It is well for my Protestantism that we have no cathedral in Concord!"