The first house structure was built on the current Carroll Mansion site between 1804 and 1808. Subsequent owners made additions to the original structure, the most extensive of which being made by Christopher Deshon, who owned the house from 1811 to 1818. Deshon sold the mansion to Richard Caton, son-in-law of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Richard and his wife Mary moved into the mansion in 1820.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Mary’s father, Charles Carroll regularly spent his winters at the mansion. Previously, he had spent much of his life at the family house on Spa Creek in Annapolis. But by the 1820’s, Baltimore had succeeded Annapolis as the center of social and commercial life in Maryland. Charles Carroll, as the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the wealthiest individuals in America, attracted many guests to the Catons’ home. He was often invited to participate in public ceremonies, including the laying of the first stone for both the B&O Railroad and the Phoenix Shot Tower. It is his legacy that gave the Carroll Mansion its enduring name.
Charles Carroll passed away on November 14th, 1832 while in residence at the mansion. He was 95. His death was a locally and nationally recognized event. The Catons continued to live at the house until their deaths in 1845 (Richard) and 1846 (Mary). The mansion’s ownership eventually passed to the Catons’ youngest daughter Emily MacTavish.
The Sister’s of Mercy and the Saloon
In 1856, Mrs. MacTavish deeded the house to the Sisters of Mercy, who never used the building themselves but rented it to support their activities. Their first tenant, George H. Wetter, was a liquor distributor who operated a distillery in the mansion. He was followed by Charles Kaiser who started a saloon that was later expanded to a restaurant. During Mr. Kaiser’s tenancy, the Sisters of Mercy sold the house to Jacob Seeger. The saloon continued to operate in the mansion up until 1889.
An Immigrant Home
In the 1890’s, upper rooms in the house were rented out as tenement apartments while the ground floor was leased to a used furniture store. The best known recorded memory of the house’s use at this time comes from Dr. Samuel Niestadt who lived at the mansion as a young boy. Dr. Niestadt’s Jewish family moved into the house in 1898 shortly after emigrating from Russia. He recalled the mansion being divided into five apartments and that life was comfortable relative to conditions in other living spaces around the neighborhood. Still, the main doors of the house were always open and vagrants slept in the halls of the ground floor. He also remembered giving tours in exchange for pocket money to visitors who came to the house because of its association with Charles Carroll of Carrollton. In the early 20th century, all of the apartment tenants vacated and the mansion’s large rooms became home to at least three tailoring firms who used them as sweat shops.
Patriotism and Preservation
In 1914, the centennial of Baltimore’s defense during the War of 1812 and the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner were marked with events throughout the city. This included a September 10th ceremony to place a tablet on the mansion recognizing it as the former residence of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Patriotism generated at the time inspired the city to purchase the Carroll Mansion from the estate of Jacob Seeger on April 21, 1914. City officials said that the building would be restored in a short period and opened as a museum, but debate about the house and its use went on for several years.
Baltimore City’s First Vocational School
School Commissioner Arthur Bibbins convinced the city in 1918 to open the mansion to house the city’s first vocational school. Trades taught at the school include printing, electrical work, machine repair, automobile maintenance and pattern making. Workshops were built in the garden space behind the mansion and classes were taught inside the house. The vocational school remained at the Carroll Mansion until 1928.
Beloved Neighborhood Recreation Center
The mansion continued to serve as an educational institution, becoming a recreation center in 1929. The Hampden Woodberry Neighborhood Association, which operated the successful Roosevelt Park Recreation Center under the leadership of progressive physician Dr. Ronald Hooker, helped to establish the Carroll Mansion Recreation Association. At first only the workshop buildings left by the Vocational School were used for programs as the main house was too decrepit. Then in 1935, the city received $26,800 from the Works Progress Administration to rehabilitate the house.
Workers trained by the National Youth Administration supervised many of the recreational and educational programs inside the house. Activities at the center included woodworking, gymnastics, a marching band and a nursery school. The operation of the center transferred to the City of Baltimore in 1940 with the creation of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The recreation center served the neighborhood until 1954.
Carroll Mansion as Museum
The future for the mansion remained uncertain until 1962 when Mayor Theodore McKeldin made an inaugural promise to restore the house and open it to the public. Restoration of the house to its early 19th century appearance was completed in 1967. The Carroll Mansion was operated as a historic house museum until 1997, first by the Peale Museum and then by Baltimore City Life Museums.
Today, the Mansion is administered by Carroll Museums, Inc. which continues the process of restoring the building.