The History of the Bolton Hill Garden Club – 1937-2021
In the letter of introduction to the 1937 edition of “The Mount Royal Garden Blue Book” President Anne Graeme Turnbull wrote:
“This club was organized to improve and beautify the Mount Royal District and to co-operate, in every way possible, with the Mount Royal Protective Association.”
She goes on to state fourteen practical ways that this would be done including to plant gardens, to assist neighbors when they are unable to do their own gardens, to have an annual garden contest each year, presided over by competent people, and give prizes for the best gardens!
President Graeme Turnbull concludes with “A city garden club must have a two-fold program. While gardens and flowers are paramount, the members can never lose sight of the fact that that they must take part in every civic movement.”
Anne Graeme Turnbull also confirmed in her 1937 letter “the placing by the Club of two magnolia trees at the south end of the 1700 Park Place Square in memory of the late Mr. William Marbury.” A brass plaque inscribed with his name and The Mount Royal Garden Club was also laid adjacent to the trees. Her words “These living sentinels will always remind us of the one who did more to save this District than anyone else.” This was the club’s way of affirming civic involvement pertinent to the issues of the day. The plaque remains but the magnolia “sentinels” are gone.
In the 1940’s through the late 1970’s, in addition to the Mount Royal Garden Club, The Town and The Village garden clubs were active and often collaborated on community projects. This was the era of women wearing hats and white gloves as they attended garden shows. Their work of planting in and around the Walters Art Gallery and participating in the annual Flower Mart and flower shows brought prizes to all three clubs.
In 1955 the first vest pocket urban park in the U.S.A. was dedicated in the 1300 block of John Street when the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks closed the block to traffic. The Village Garden Club supervised the plantings, paid for fencing and coordinated work crews for continued maintenance. At the same time the three clubs sponsored a house tour which, for the first time, they called “The Bolton Hill House Tour.” Spring plant sales were held to finance the up-keep. A commemorative plaque honors neighbor Lunn Harris who spear-headed much of this work.
Christmas greens sales were a neighborhood tradition. To encourage outdoor decorations, the club gave awards for the best holiday door decorations. Wreaths were hung on the lamp posts. Neighbors became quite competitive and their enthusiastic efforts attracted many sightseers. The club decorated the halls of the Women’s Lying-In Hospital on Lafayette Avenue.
The 1950s and 1960’s saw urban renewal change the neighborhood. Due to the neglect of many of the grand houses during and after WW II, whole blocks of houses were demolished leaving gaps in large swaths of the area. Baltimore City planners gave the old Mount Royal District a new name…Bolton Hill. It was a nod to the long-gone Grundy estate that once sat at the foot of the hill near what is now the Fifth Regiment Armory.
In 1965 the Village Garden Club notified the Federated Garden Clubs of America that it was changing its name to The Bolton Hill Garden Club.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s the club collaborated with the newly named Mount Royal Improvement Association on funding curb-side trees and contributing to neighborhood park projects in some of the vacant lots. Renewal began on Contee-Parago Park (Dolphin and Bolton Streets), Fitzgerald Park (Wilson and Bolton Streets) and Frick Park (intersection of Mt Royal and North Avenues).
This small, triangular gate-way park was named after the Frick family who built many of the near-by houses and were active in the garden club. (N.B. Frick Park was maintained by garden club member Sheila Bittner-Schmitt until it was demolished to make room for the Maryland Institute of Art Gateway dormitory.) Ms. Bittner-Schmitt also cared for the medians on Mt. Royal Avenue and spear-headed the effort to get the bollards and benches installed at the foot of Mosher Street. As a tribute to Sheila’s untimely passing and her enduring work the club installed a granite bench on the median of the 1400 block of Mt. Royal Avenue.
The BHGC was asked by the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage to host a tour of homes and gardens in the spring of 1990. Selected gardens got a spring cleaning and were admired by Pilgrims from all over the state of Maryland. For many it was their first venture “into the city”. The club realized $4,000.00 from the tour and decided to do something for the neighborhood.
Lunn Harris, Barbara Alfriend and Lynn and Bob Pellaton agreed that the Francis Scott Key Monument (a tribute to the War of 1812 and Baltimore’s role in defending Fort McHenry) needed restoration but knew that it would require substantial funding. A campaign was launched which included notifying the Baltimore Commission on Historic Architectural Preservation (CHAP) which identified funding sources as The Maryland Military Monuments Commission. With the help of CHAP, the White House became a part of the restoration efforts as First Lady Hillary Clinton had initiated the “White House Millennium Council – Save America’s Treasurers”. That Council identified other grants and, along with the generosity of Baltimore City, allowed the work to begin. With the recommendation of Cindy Kelly, an expert on Maryland monuments, one, and only one – Steve Tatti, a New Yorker who knew how to restore a monument that involved granite, bronze, gilt and more was called in. He alone restored the entire thing. We prepared to rededicate the monument with a ceremony including The First Lady, the Governor of Maryland, the Mayor of Baltimore, our Senators and more. It was a bright, sunny day when neighbors and guests enjoyed the festivities with the monument gleaming before us all. To date, this was the largest endeavor undertaken by the club and The Friends of the Francis Scott Key Monument. The neighborhood was starting to come to life.
By 2005 the club noticed that parks and green spaces normally cared for by the City were suffering from neglect. This seemed to present an opportunity for neighbors to work together to keep the parks and medians green. The Green Space Grants program was initiated with Ellen Joyce as the Chairperson. The grants were awarded to those interested in caring for tree wells, parks and other public spaces. Recipients Sarah Lord and her neighbors restored forty-three tree wells in the 1400 block of Park Avenue. Coleen McCarty worked with MICA on the Mt. Royal Avenue berms. Sarah and Marvin Bigham continued to work with the elegant Gunther Fountain in the 1400 block of Eutaw Place. Greening grants are available annually.
In 2007 Eutaw Place received additional attention when club members raised funds to place large cast iron urns at either end of the 1800 block which included landscaping and annual care for the enhancement of Eutaw Place the club and participating neighbors won a Certificate of Appreciation from the Mount Royal Improvement Association.
By partnering with the City of Baltimore for permits, a cast iron, solar powered fountain was installed in 2009 in that same block under the supervision and with the hard work of club members President Mary Consugar, Ellen Joyce, Carlo Van Grieken, Christian Roth and Brian Causey. For their valiant efforts they were awarded the Midtown Community Benefits Award followed by The Governor’s Silver Beautification Bowl and an Historic Preservation Award from The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland, Inc. The National Garden Clubs also awarded the First Place in Historic Preservation Award that same year!
After a terrible city owned apartment complex was torn down in the 1980’s and new homes (Spicer’s Run) built in its place at Eutaw Place and Robert Street, Sumpter Park, a long neglected and abused green space, was adopted by members of the club. Again plans were made and funds spent on landscaping, fencing and a bocce court. The MRIA invited neighbors to buy commemorative, inscribed bricks to pave an entrance to the park. A small playground was installed that is an added attraction for young families.
Club treasurer Brain Causey gave the club an on-line presence when he initiated a web site with a connection to the Federated Garden Clubs of America. This site enabled members to join electronically as well as participate in our fund raising sales by pre-ordering plants or greens.
There is always more to do but the corvid pandemic did have an impact on the club. Past President Gwynevere Armstrong engineered successful meetings via Zoom. Electronic pre-ordering was used exclusively for our plant and greens sales to observe caution during the ongoing pandemic. Friends and neighbors responded enthusiastically recognizing the need to continue gardening and to support the work of the club despite the constraints.
Currently, our new Web Master Chris. Mirkovich has brought our website up to date with additional refinements such as adding Venmo as an additional method of dues payment. The monthly meetings will be on Zoom as we continue to observe Covid-19 awareness. This is a time of innovation and bodes well for the future of the club under the leadership of our new president Lisa Johnson.