The History of the Bolton Hill Garden Club

Garden clubs have existed in our neighborhood almost, it seems, as long as gardens. The Mount Royal Garden Club, still in existence, dates back to at least the 1930s.

Two other garden clubs–The Town and The Village–were active in the late 1940s through the 1970s. They worked on projects singly and together and also with Mount Royal. This was the era of hats, white gloves, and flower shows. Members of The Town and The Village clubs provided plantings at the Walters Art Gallery, both indoors and out and also for the Flower Mart. All three garden clubs regularly won prizes at local flower shows. 

In 1955, the Department of Recreation and Parks closed off a block on John Street to create the country’s first vest pocket urban park. The Village Garden Club took on the job of planting the park, paid for the fencing and coordinated work crews to groom it. The Club began holding spring plant sales in the park to pay for its upkeep. The Christmas Greens sale was already a neighborhood tradition. Every year on the day after Christmas, the club gave out awards for the best holiday door decorations. Neighbors became quite competitive and their efforts attracted many sightseers. The members also “decked the halls” in the Women’s Hospital on Lafayette Avenue. 

When urban renewal came to the neighborhood in the 1960s, city planners gave the old Mount Royal District a new name–Bolton Hill. Tradition has it that the name was born in 1955 when the three garden clubs held a house tour to raise money for the planting of John Street Park and called it the Bolton Hill House Tour after the long-gone Grundy estate. In 1965, the Village Garden Club notified the Federated Garden Clubs that it was changing its name to The Bolton Hill Garden Club. 

Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s the club worked closely with the Mount Royal Improvement Association for ongoing beautification and park projects, donating funds for curb-side trees and volunteering for to neighborhood maintenance.

Renewal began on Contee-Parago Park at Dolphin and Bolton Streets, Fitzgerald Park at Wilson and Bolton Streets, the Frick Park, the small triangular gate-way park that was at the intersection of Mt. Royal and North Avenues. This park was named after the Frick family who built all the houses on the odd numbered side of the 1500 block of Bolton Street. (They lived in one themselves and cultivated an attractive rear garden. The Frick sisters were also members of the garden club.) 

The medians on Mt. Royal Avenue received much needed attention from Sheila Bittner Schmitt. Fund raising activities include the pansy sale, greens sale and spring plant sale. Members even decorated the neighborhood for the Christmas holidays! 

As time passed club members observed that less maintenance was being done by the city and parks and medians once again were falling into disarray.

In the 1990s members of the club, including Lynn & Bob Pellaton spearheaded a campaign to preserve and restore the 1911 Francis Scott Key Monument. The Friends of the Francis Scott Key Monument group successfully raised over $100,000 and worked with the Baltimore Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation, the City Department of Public Works, Heritage Preservation and the National Museum of American Art, and the Target Stores Corporation, among other partners and donors to restore the monument. The effort received White House support and was adopted as part of the White House’s “Save America’s Treasures” campaign to preserve significant works of art and architecture. In July 1998 former first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, conducted a ceremony at the monument announcing the project as part of a national tour.

Ongoing dedication to maintaining the landscape of Bolton Hill remained a priority for the club into the 2000s. In 2005 the club initiated the Green Space Grants Program making funds available to neighbors who had clearly stated plans for public spaces and tree wells and who executed them as planned. This program was the impetus needed to get forty tree wells in the 1400 block of Park Avenue renewed by their owners. Contee Parago Park was up-graded and made more welcoming. Club member Coleen McCarty partnered with MICA to maintain the berms on Mt. Royal Avenue. The grants enabled Sarah and Marvin Bingham, long-time residents on in the 1400 block of Eutaw Place, to continue their work on the Gunther Fountain and surrounding gardens. 

Eutaw Place, once a grand promenade graced with fountains and statuary, took the attention of new homeowners as they moved into the grand homes on either side of the street. In 2007, Club members obtained grants from local organizations to place urns at either end of the 1800 block. 

The club agreed to partner with the City of Baltimore to enable those residents to apply for larger grants to install a fountain in the center of the median.  The landscape plan for the restoration of the Eutaw Place median gardens in Baltimore City was designed by Carlo VanGrieken.

The fountain installation took place in the spring of 2009, and was dedicated in conjunction with the June Garden Walk. For this work and other greening efforts the club was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Mount Royal Improvement Association in May, 2007, as well as a Mid-Town Community Benefits award in October, 2009.

On March 23, 2010, the Bolton Hill Garden Club was honored to receive both the Governor’s Silver Beautification Bowl and an Historic Preservation Award from the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, Inc.  These awards were in recognition of the project to restore and replant the historic park in the median of the 1800 block of Eutaw Place.   On May 16, 2010, the Bolton Hill Garden Club was then honored to receive a First Place Historic Preservation Award from the National Garden Clubs, Inc. 

In April 2012, Bolton Hill was selected as one of the sites of the 75th annual Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage with residents and members opening their homes to the public to share our rich history. The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage (MHGP), a non-profit organization, is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of architecturally significant properties in the State of Maryland. 

Today, the club continues supporting all of our community parks through fundraising activities which benefit the Green Grants program and partnering with other community organizations like the Bolton Hill Community Association and Midtown Baltimore to plant trees and preserve the charm of our gardens and splendor of our community green spaces.