This week’s edition of the Baltimore Building of the Week from Dr. John Breihan returns to Mount Washington, home to an Octogan House and the 1807 Washington Mill, to feature the 1878 Mount Washington Presbyterian Church,
In the decade following the Civil War many American buildings imitated Victorian Gothic and Second Empire from Britain and France. But some American architects struck out on their own distinctively American designs. The Mount Washington Presbyterian Church on Thornberry Road (now the Chimes, Inc.) is an example of the “stick style.” Built in 1878, the church is a celebration of the machine-cut lumber now coming on the market. Exposed wooden beams and vertical board-and-batten siding evoke the Gothic, but are far cry from the heavy masonry of Victorian Gothic.
This week’s Baltimore Building of the Week from Dr. John Breihan is an unusual dwelling type that can be found throughout the country– the Octagon Houses inspired by Orson Squire Fowler. More information on this fascinating example of American vernacular architecture can be found in the Octagon House, 1850-1860 by Deborah Holmes.
In 1848 the polymath Orson Squire Fowler of upstate New York (presumably not related to Baltimore’s Lawrence Hall Fowler) published A Home for All, a book extolling an octagonal floor plan as the most desirable residence. Later editions also extolled a primitive form of concrete construction. In this era of eclectic architecture, other free-thinkers were inclined to try it out. There is a particularly fine single-family octagon in Lutherville. Within today’s city limits, Rev. Elias Heiner of the German Reformed Church built an enormous octagon for the Mt. Washington Female Seminary, which occupied it between 1855 and 1861. For about a century the hilltop octagon housed Mount St. Agnes College, until it merged with Loyola University in the 1970s. It now is part of the Mt. Washington Conference Center. Across Smith Avenue at the foot of the hill stand two unusual octagon duplexes (demi-octagons?), reflecting perhaps a Baltimore tendency to turn anything into a rowhouse.
Reflecting the rich industrial heritage of the Jones Falls Valley, this week’s Baltimore Building of the Week is the 1807 Washington Mill building.
The Industrial Revolution began in England with simple water-powered machines to spin and later to weave cotton. Although Samuel Slater smuggled some of the designs into Rhode Island in 1793, the English mills dominated the market until 1807, when President Jefferson imposed an embargo on trade with England. The Washington Cotton Factory in Mount Washington dates from that year. Besides being the oldest industrial building in Baltimore, it is arguably the third oldest in the USA. Drawing power from the swiftly flowing Jones Falls, the sturdy stone mill was built to bear the weight of heavy machinery. Long rows of windows provided natural light for the three factory floors. This historic building, along with other pioneer industrial buildings on the site, has been imaginatively preserved as part of the mixed office and retail Mt. Washington Mill development. Other textile mills along the Jones Falls south of Mount Washington have been put to a variety of new uses, reminding Baltimoreans of their industrial heritage.