This edition of our Baltimore Building of the Week series with Dr. John Breihan is a few days late but still a stunning landmark of Baltimore history and architecture: Clifton Mansion,
The country home of Baltimore’s premier philanthropist, the wealthy merchant Johns Hopkins, Clifton represents another variation on the Italianate architectural style so popular in the middle of the 19th century. Besides their massive symmetrical town palaces with heavy overhanging cornices, the merchant princes of the Italian Renaissance also built less formal suburban villas. The layout was deliberately asymmetrical, especially evident in a tall tower placed at an off-center location in the design. Johns Hopkins certainly qualified as a merchant prince. In addition to his town mansion on Saratoga Street (since demolished), Hopkins in the 1840s began to remodel an older Federal-style house situated on a suburban hilltop, once the home of an 1814 Baltimore Defender. The architectural firm of Niernsee and Neilson incorporated the old house into a much larger mansion, including various Italianate elements – particularly bracketed cornices and arched windows and porch arcades – combined with the asymmetrical layout and 80-foot tower that mark the Italian Villa style.