Height of Fashion

“one of the most high, airy and eligible locations in the West End” —Republican and Argus, Towson, 1857

Since 1857, Lafayette Square has been Baltimore’s height of fashion. Situated atop a ridge in an area once noted for its fine country villas and breadth-taking panoramic views of the waterways, rolling hills and public landmarks of the bustling nineteenth-century city, the Square was a favorite outlying destination of Baltimore’s leisure and laboring classes. The popularity of the site, fueled by a desire to enjoy the area’s fresh air and fine vistas on a permanent basis, led to the creation of the Lafayette Square Company for promoting the Square as a fashionable place to live. The drive to develop the area around the Square for residential use came to a halt soon after it had begun, however, for in 1861 the City turned the Square over to the federal government for military use. Renamed Camp Hoffman but more commonly known as Lafayette Barracks, the Square served as the headquarters of the Union Army’s Third Regiment of Infantry, Maryland Volunteers, during the Civil War.

After the war and minus the green fields and majestic oaks—its main attractions prior to 1861—Lafayette Square reverted back to the city and development efforts resumed. Construction proceeded rapidly under the direction of the Lafayette Square Association (a second organization, incorporated in 1865), which, in 1866, enticed the congregation of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension to relocate from downtown to the Square with an offer of a free corner lot. The idea put forth by Ascension’s Reverend Calloway in January 1869 that “the church should lead rather than follow the population” into the city’s fashionable new neighborhoods was already a reality locally: In the time between the laying of the cornerstone of Ascension in 1867 and the church’s dedication two years later, Mathew Bacon Sellers and several others had put up impressive new houses on Lafayette Square.

Such was the competition for congregants and prime real estate in Baltimore after the Civil War that the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church erected a wooden chapel on the northwest corner of Lafayette and Carrollton soon after the opening service at Ascension. By 1871, Grace had secured a larger lot on the south side of the Square and begun a new church. In the Square itself, meanwhile, a bronze fountain was added and the ante bellum period iron fences removed in keeping with the latest fashions in landscape gardening. Residential construction on the Square continued apace through the 1880s and 1890s. Grace Methodist added a parsonage (1887-8), and the Square received a fine example of Queen Anne revival architecture at 802-808 North Carrollton. A new bandstand in the park and two residences—1115 West Lanvale and 1102 West Lafayette—closed nearly fifty years of building activity on Lafayette Square.