Benjamin H. Latrobe
Spring House or Dairy - c. 1812
The spring house or dairy, originally situated over a small spring, was designed to keep perishables such as milk cool in interior troughs of spring water. It was located at Oakland, the country estate of Robert Goodloe Harper (1765-1827), one-time United States Senator from South Carolina and son-in-law of Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Harper’s picturesque Oakland estate stood a few miles from the Museum in present day Roland Park, just east of Falls Road near the present Spring House Path.
Influential British-born architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), President Thomas Jefferson’s architect for the United States Capital, designed this neo-classical building around 1812. A decade later it was praised as the “prettiest building in Oakland” and described as an “ancient temple...handsomely embellished with oak trees and flowers with an inscription on the frieze, ‘Pour Elle.’” Unfortunately, the ornamentation and the inscription no longer exist.
When the building was offered as a gift to the Museum, John Russell Pope, the designer of the BMA’s stately 1929 structure, suggested the Spring House be reconstructed with as much of its original materials as possible. Upon its relocation to its present site in 1931, the Spring House was rebuilt using not only original columns and pediments, but also bricks and remnants of rubble walls. Careful siting of the structure reinforced the strong east-west axis of Pope’s building. Visitors looking straight across the lawn from the Spring House towards the patio and doors of the Pope building can see all the way through the entire building to the east side of the Museum.
Several changes were made in the Spring House when it was installed at the Museum. Its original second story, with access via an exterior rear staircase, was removed. As a result, the interior of the building became a single large room. A brick floor was added, with herringbone-patterned borders to show where troughs carried cooling water from the stream below. Second story windows were relocated, and a fifth louvered vent was removed. Upon completion, the building was used briefly as a gallery of 18th- and 19th- century architectural elements, most of which are now included in the BMA’s American Wing.
During the 2003 restoration, a new wood roof was installed and for original louvered vents, sealed during the initial reconstruction seventy-five years ago, were opened, allowing air to flow freely through the building again. Based on surviving vernacular structures, the spring house was painted with an historic yellow color.