The Archivist’s Nook: The Small World of E. Francis Baldwin

 

The 1883 Sykesville B&O Station on the bank of the Patapsco River was, until recently, Baldwin’s Station & Pub. The building has been celebrated for its “lively Queen Anne jumble of gables” (Lewis xvi). Drawing by Wiley Purkey from the author’s personal collection.

Because I commute all the way from Sykesville, Maryland down to the Catholic University campus, it took me a while to realize that the “E. F. Baldwin” responsible for the University’s first new construction was in fact the same E. F. Baldwin after whom my favorite local restaurant was named. Small world! Sadly for me, Baldwin’s Station & Pub was sold to new owners this past summer, but they’re still running a restaurant out of the historic train station.

It turns out E. Francis Baldwin (1837–1916)—as his name often appears; the E. stood for Ephraim—was a prolific architect.

Among Baldwin’s most iconic extant works are the “four-block-long” B&O Camden Station Warehouse, which baseball fans might recognize as the backdrop to the Baltimore Orioles’ ballpark at Camden Yards; the Point of Rocks B&O Station (“to many, the quintessential Victorian railroad station”); and the 22-sided B&O Passenger Car Shop in Baltimore—“oftentimes erroneously referred to as a ‘roundhouse’”—which the B&O Railroad Museum now calls home (Avery 60; Harwood xiv; Avery 54).

Clockwise from upper left: the B&O Camden Station Warehouse (1898), the Point of Rocks B&O Station (1875), and the 22-sided B&O Passenger Car Shop (1884)—home of the B&O Railroad Museum. All photographs courtesy of the B&O Railroad Museum.

Meanwhile, in the CatholicU universe, Baldwin is remembered as the architect of Caldwell Hall and McMahon Hall—the first two buildings constructed after the University was established in 1887. Today, Caldwell and McMahon are the two oldest extant buildings on campus. Baldwin attended the cornerstone laying ceremony for Caldwell on May 24, 1888 and saw it through to completion in 1889. A year later he was asked to oversee the construction of McMahon, which was completed in 1895.

Long story short, Baltimore was the common factor in Baldwin’s career with both the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Catholic Church. During Baldwin’s lifetime, Baltimore was the “mother of American railroading,” but before and since that time the city has been recognized as “the locus of the first Catholic diocese in America” (Harwood xi; Lewis xv). Baldwin’s decision to base his architectural firm in Baltimore had important repercussions; on the one hand he “became the principal architect for the Catholic Church in Maryland,” but on the other hand he found that “his radius of action” was largely restricted to “the reach of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad”—sealing his fate as “a parochial rather than a national figure” (Lewis xv).

An important “bread-and-butter account” in his early architectural career, the B&O remained Baldwin’s biggest client from the early 1870s through the late 1890s; he became for all intents and purposes its “house architect,” much like his mentor John Rudolph Niernsee (1814–1885) before him (Avery viii; Lewis xvi). Diagnosing Baldwin as a “chronic Baltimorean,” Michael J. Lewis explains Baldwin’s relative obscurity compared to his first partner, Bruce Price, who left the firm in 1873, enjoyed a distinguished career as a domestic architect, and is supposed to have influenced the far-more-famous Frank Lloyd Wright: “But for this [Price] had to move to New York—a choice that Baldwin, constrained by the bonds of patronage and clientele, could not make” (Lewis xvii).

The 1890 University Station at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. The station was demolished sometime in the 1970s to make way for the Metro. Upper photograph from the University Photograph Collection, Box 41, Folder 1. Lower photograph courtesy of the B&O Railroad Museum.

Unfortunately, the building that best represents the marriage of Baldwin’s work for the B&O and the Catholic Church is no longer with us. Built in 1890, University Station at CatholicU was razed and replaced by the Brookland–CUA Metro Station sometime in the 1970s. University Station was one of only a handful of B&O stations executed in the Richardsonian style—named after Baldwin’s contemporary Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–1886). In November 1889—the same month that Caldwell Hall was dedicated—the B&O offered to build the young University a “neat and convenient” station out “of blue Georgetown stone so as to harmonize with the handsome university building.” As Carlos P. Avery points out in his definitive history of Baldwin, “That harmony was ensured, of course, because E. Francis Baldwin was the architect for both buildings” (Avery 41).

According to Avery—who spent about as many years researching Baldwin as Baldwin spent working on B&O projects—the University’s first rector, John J. Keane, personally prepared the plans for Caldwell Hall (then-known as the Divinity Building) after rejecting all of the proposals that had previously been submitted as part of a design competition (Avery 81). As an aside, one of the competitors was fellow Baltimore architect George A. Frederick (1842–1924), who Avery variously describes as Baldwin’s “arch-rival” and “nemesis” (Avery vii).

In his history of Keane’s rectorship (1887–1896), Patrick H. Ahern credits Baldwin with putting Keane’s plans in “working shape” (Ahern 34). Letters from Baldwin to Keane reveal Baldwin’s role in introducing a number of pragmatic measures—perhaps the most notable of which was the decision to use “Georgetown gneiss rock, with Ohio sandstone trimmings” instead of brick (Ahern 34). In a letter dated September 5, 1887, Baldwin at first politely acquiesces to Keane’s request to execute the building in brick but then goes on to

“strongly recommend the substitution of stone in place of brick, for the reason that brick, in a few years, will become rusty and shabby, rendering painting almost a necessity which then becomes a mortgage in the shape of renewal every 5 to 10 years—whilst stone is rather improved by age, as time and weather combine to add color and picturesqueness to its already most substantial and enduring character. The extra cost of stone would be about 3% on the cost of the building, amounting to not much more than one painting of the brick walls” (Baldwin 5–6).

In short, Facilities can thank Baldwin for sparing them the trouble of having to paint the exterior of Caldwell for the last 130 years!

Architectural drawing of the Divinity Building (a/k/a Caldwell Hall) by Baldwin. Not everyone was a fan of the design; an early resident once denigrated it as “an asylum with a brewery attachment” (Nuesse 165). From the University Photograph Collection, Box 33, Folder 2.

This brings me to one of Baldwin’s greatest strengths as an architect, which unfortunately also seems to be the other main reason for his relative obscurity today. Although I’ve focused on his work for the B&O and CatholicU, the truth is that “he worked on a large number of projects for a wide-ranging clientele—secular and ecclesiastical, public and private, commercial and social” (Avery vii). In other words, Baldwin was extremely versatile—even chameleon-like. No doubt, his versatility came at the expense of developing a signature style; it’s not really feasible to point to a Baldwin the way you could a Van Gogh; but does that constitute an artistic failure on Baldwin’s part? As I’ve learned more about Baldwin in the last few weeks, I’ve been impressed by the way he somehow shaped the regional landscape without leaving his fingerprints all over it. He seems to be everywhere and nowhere. In Lewis’s estimation, Baldwin belonged to the class of humble Victorian architects who simply “felt their task was to serve their clients ably and responsibly, to translate their programmatic requirements into durable, efficient, and fashionable designs, and to guard their clients’ money zealously” (Lewis xv). Perhaps nothing better supports this characterization than the aforementioned September 5, 1887 letter to Keane, which Baldwin signed “Your Obedient Servant.”

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Anna Kresmer, MSLIS—Archivist at the Hays T. Watkins Research Library of the B&O Railroad Museum—for helping me obtain many of the photographs included in this piece.

References and Further Reading

Ahern, Patrick H. The Catholic University of America — 1887–1896 (The Rectorship of John J. Keane). Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1949.

Avery, Carlos P. E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond. Baltimore Architecture Foundation, 2003.

Baldwin, E. Francis. Letter to Catholic University Rector John J. Keane. 5 September 1887. Box 1, Folder 7. Office of the President/Rector. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Washington D.C.

Harwood, Herbert H., Jr. Foreword. E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond, by Carlos P. Avery, Baltimore Architecture Foundation, 2003, pp. xi–xiv.

Lewis, Michael J. Introduction. E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond, by Carlos P. Avery, Baltimore Architecture Foundation, 2003, pp. xv–xvii.

Lord, Charles K. Letters to Catholic University Rector John J. Keane. 29 November 1889 and 13 January 1890. Box 1, Folder 2. Office of the President/Rector. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Washington D.C.

Malesky, Robert P. The Catholic University of America. Arcadia, 2010.

Nuesse, C. Joseph. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History. CUA Press, 1990.

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