Moving Up To Cathedral Hill: Three Centuries of Change
Mount Vernon Cultural Walk
Saratoga Street marks your arrival at Cathedral Hill, a neighborhood packed with three centuries of architecture. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Baltimoreans built some of their finest mansions and churches on Cathedral Hill. Today’s St. Paul Episcopal Church, located across Charles Street, was the fourth church structure built on the congregation’s original site. St. Paul’s Rectory, located a block west on Saratoga Street, served St. Paul’s clergy form 1791 to 1990. The town homes of Johns Hopkins (1795-1873), founder of Johns Hopkins University, and A.S. Abell (1806-1888), founder of the Baltimore Sun, flanked St. Paul’s Rectory in the 1850s, making this block one of the most prestigious addresses in Baltimore.
During the late 19th century, social and fraternal organizations moved into the area. The Masonic Temple, directly south of St. Paul’s Church, was constructed in 1869 and remodeled in 1890, 1908, and 2005 as the Tremont Grand. Directly north of this sign, the YMCA building was built in 1872-1873, remodeled into offices in 1920, and converted into loft-style apartments in 2001. In 1892, the Odd Fellows built their ‘clubhouse’ directly west of St. Paul’s Rectory, a building now renovated into offices.
On Cathedral Hill, Charles Street narrows, marking the northern edge of the 1904 fire. Many businesses, looking to reopen after the fire, relocated to Cathedral Hill and renovated old mansions or built new buildings. Charles Street became a posh retail street that was dubbed the “Fifth Avenue of the South.” Specialty retailers, along with religious and cultural institutions, fraternal organizations, professional offices, clubs, and a rich architectural setting, made Charles Street a favorite spot for Baltimoreans to parade, socialize, and be seen.
An 1801 image of the rectory of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (on the left) and St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church (on the right). St. Peter’s, built in 1770, was the first Catholic Church in Baltimore and stood on the site until 1841.
The town home of A.S. Abell, once located directly west of St. Paul’s Rectory, was built around 1825 and demolished in 1883 when Cathedral Street was extended from Saratoga to Mulberry Street.
Johns Hopkins bought this 1830s-era house in 1851. When Hopkins died in the house in 1873, he bequeathed seven million dollars to create a university and hospital.
Once located directly across Saratoga Street from St. Paul’s Rectory, the Rennert Hotel was built in 1885 and demolished in 1941. H.L. Mencken (1886-1956) ate oysters and drank beer in the hotel’s restaurant and bar, and political boss John J. (Sonny) Mahon (1849-1928) gave orders to his lieutenants from a plush couch in the hotel’s lobby. Baltimore’s own hard-boiled detective novelist Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961 used the hotel for a scene of battle between political bosses in his 1931 novel The Glass Key.
At the north corner of Charles and Saratoga Streets, the still standing YMCA building is depicted with its Victorian-era towers in this 1890 illustration. The towers were removed in the early 20th century. Baltimoreans had built the nation’ first YMCA in 1859, several blocks west of this site.
Mid-1930s image of North Charles Street just north of Saratoga Street. Robert Grier Cooke, president of the Fifth Avenue Association of New York, said that “Charles Street is not only a source of pride of the whole city, but of the world at large."