Dear Homewood House Museum:
A few blocks from my house, on a green hill overlooking Charles Street on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University, your red-brick and white-porticoed self fairly sings. You’re one of the best-preserved Federal-style houses in the country, a National Historic Landmark, a brilliant jewel in Baltimore’s architectural diadem.
And hardly anybody who passes by knows who you are. Or even notices you.They think you’re the Hopkins president’s house. Or maybe a library, or even a fancy dorm. But you’re more august than that. And more romantic.
Built between 1801 and 1806 by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the longest-surviving and only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, you were created as a wedding gift for Carroll’s son, Charles Jr., and his wife, Harriet Chew. And you’re a stunner. From your elegant, perfectly symmetrical exterior to the delicate tracery on your fanlights, to the colorful, bright, surprisingly modern interior, you’re a living embodiment of the principles of the Enlightenment.
I feel a little thrill every time I pass the sweeping white marble steps that lead up to your front entrance. I get chills when I walk into the Reception Room. I smile wickedly every time I look at the shiny silver traveling bidet that once belonged to Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, the Jennifer Lopez of her day (albeit with a classical education). I imagine what it was like to sashay through your rooms, eat elaborate meals in the dining room, waltz at parties with the likes of Ben Franklin and who knows which other luminaries of our early republic. I marvel at the political and philosophical ideas that must have been bouncing off each other like light off your gilded pier mirrors.
As a New York Times article noted, historic houses aren’t valued as they once were. And this spells danger. If people don’t bother to visit these houses, if they don’t even notice them right in their own backyard, how will historic houses survive? This is about more than just preserving pretty furnishings — although the case for the importance of aesthetics in our lives is a powerful one. This is about preserving our history, understanding how we got here, what our ancestors believed, what principles they espoused and why.
You’ve been sitting on that hill for more than 200 years. True, you don’t command the view of the harbor you once did (c’est la vie; development got in the way), but you’re just as beautiful and breathtaking as ever.
Valentine’s Day is around the corner…show your love to Baltimore architecture by writing a love letter. Visit http://baltimorearchitecture.org/love-letters-to-baltimore-buildings/ for more details.