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an online version of the magazine Winter 2007
Annals of Hopkins
 
 

On the Streets Where They Lived

The entrance to Howard Kelly’s house in Bolton Hill.
> The entrance to Howard Kelly’s house in Bolton Hill.

The physicians who founded The Johns Hopkins Hospital went home to townhouses and mansions. What's left of those places?

 

By Neil A. Grauer

 

Take a stroll through Baltimore’s tree-lined Bolton Hill neighborhood and you’ll catch on pretty fast that you’re in a world of faded grandeur. Situated in a 20-block area on two gently sloping rises above downtown, the neighborhood’s regal townhouses and vest-pocket parks once were proclaimed the gem of the city by novelist Henry James. Indeed, by the end of the 19th century, Daniel Coit Gilman, Johns Hopkins University’s first president, lived here. So did two of the fabled founding Four Doctors of The Johns Hopkins Hospital: the world famous gynecologist Howard Kelly and the first surgeon in chief, William Halsted.

Several of the houses of those early Hopkinsites still stand—carved now for the most part into many apartments. A worn, three-story, faded red-brick row house with white marble trim, for instance, carries a London-like blue plaque telling us that William Halsted lived there from 1891 to 1896. A similar plaque on a mammoth five-story building with 20 apartments—once the single-family home where Kelly presided over a household of servants and nine children—identifies it as the former residence of a “wizard of the operating room.”

Do the current residents of Kelly’s domain, we wondered, have any idea that they are cooking in kitchens and sleeping in bedrooms where one of Johns Hopkins’ founding physicians once romped with his children? Encountering a balding, bearded man sporting a rumpled yellow T-shirt emerging from the front door of the apartment house, we decided to find out: “Do you know who Howard Kelly was?”

“A doctor,” the man shrugged. “He’s gone now.”

 

*****

 

Two of Howard Kelly’s many grandchildren, W. Boulton “Bo” Kelly Jr., 78, and his cousin, Margery Coates, 86, vividly remember “1406,” the splendid mansion on Eutaw Place where their grandfather settled late in 1892—and remained until his death in 1943. With its marble-floored foyer, wide mahogany banisters (“wonderful for sliding down,” says Coates), large front hallway mirrors, huge glass chandeliers and heavy, uncomfortable Victorian furniture, the place, they say, remains unforgettable.

Here and there, Kelly kept a collection of reptiles, one or two of which would periodically escape from their glass tanks to slither through the house. In the servant’s quarters, the great physician, a fundamentalist Christian, would hold regular prayer meetings for his staff. And on Sundays, Bo remembers, a bevy of grandchildren and assorted relatives would gather around the massive oak dining table for substantial dinners served by the butler. Guests would frequently be invited to drop in to discuss Kelly’s various civic crusades. And since one of his projects focused on ending prostitution in Baltimore, among those stopping by would be occasional ladies of the night whom Kelly would try to convert to a righteous life.

The famed doctor was happiest, though, when settled in his second-floor library and its adjoining carriage house, where he kept his Pierce Arrow and Cadillac parked in a first-floor garage. Jammed with books from floor to ceiling, the library also housed a mind-boggling assortment of coins, mineral samples, Mexican pottery, shells, oil lamps, snake skins, even a saber-toothed tiger’s skull and several shrunken heads.

The apartment house where Welch lived for 12 years wears a For Rent sign flanked by a historical plaque.
> The apartment house where Welch lived for 12 years wears a For Rent sign flanked by a historical plaque.

But of the Hospital’s founding four doctors, Kelly was the only one who lived in a mansion right from the start. William Welch, the first pathologist, never married, never owned a house and was content to spend most of his free time at his clubs. When he did come home, he lived in rented quarters, always managed by the same landlady and her daughter. He moved when they did and spent more than 40 years in simple rooms that they oversaw. (A bronze plaque adorning the townhouse at 935 St. Paul Street, where Welch lived from 1891 to 1903, designates it the William. H. Welch House.)

The other two big doctors—William Osler, the first physician in chief, and Halsted—lived in the Hospital after it opened in 1889, where their habits became famous. One early medical resident, Lewellys Barker, whose quarters were next to Osler’s, recalled being able to set his watch with relative safety  “at 10 p.m. each night when I heard him place his boots on the floor outside his bedroom door.” Halsted, meanwhile, had his Hospital rooms repainted repeatedly in his frustration to get the color just right.

Bolton Hill today. The Kelly home is second from the right.
> Bolton Hill today. The Kelly home is second from the right.

Marriage finally prompted Osler and Halsted to seek more suitable arrangements. When the walrus-mustached Osler married Grace Revere Gross (Paul Revere’s great-granddaughter) in 1892, he bought a new, three-story house, not in Bolton Hill, but in the equally prestigious nearby Mt. Vernon area. For 14 years, the couple hosted medical students, residents and fellow faculty there. By 1905, though, when the Oslers prepared to leave Hopkins for good to go to Oxford, their house was already slated for demolition to make way for the Rochambaud apartment house (a Baltimore landmark until it was torn down last fall). As a parting gift, Grace Osler gave the engraved nameplate from the front door to Harvey Cushing, Halsted’s young surgeon in training, who had been a frequent guest.

The huge house where Halsted and his wife once lived in lonely splendor is now broken into apartments. The plaque on
> The huge house where Halsted and his wife once lived in lonely splendor is now broken into apartments. The plaque, below, adorns its facade.
Plaque on William Stewart Halsted's house

Halsted, who wed chief surgical nurse Caroline Hampton a year after arriving in Baltimore, took a few years to find a home up to his standards. In 1891, a bemused Welch noted in a letter to a friend that “Halsted has taken a large house on Madison Avenue [the house in Bolton Hill with the plaque], one of the biggest in Baltimore and still feels that he has not enough room to move around.”

In 1896, Halsted finally moved into an immense three-story house on Eutaw Place in Bolton Hill. Why he required all that room isn’t clear. Hospitality certainly wasn’t his thing. Cushing remembered being invited to dine at his aloof chief’s home only a couple of times in 15 years. He found the home a dismal residence, reminiscent of Dickens’ Bleak House—“a great, magnificent, cold stone house, full of rare old furniture, clocks, pictures and whatnot in topsy turvy condition … and most unlivable.” For heat, most of the rooms relied solely on open fireplaces—fueled by white oak and hickory logs, specially cut and aged in North Carolina to Halsted’s specifications.

The Halsteds—Dr. and Mrs.—forged an unusual living arrangement. His office and bedroom were on the second floor; Mrs. Halsted’s separate accommodations were on the third. He and she ate breakfast alone in their respective apartments but shared dinners together at 7 p.m., chatted until 8:30, then retired to their rooms.

Ironically, the fate of that grand Halsted home was sealed by Howard Kelly’s grandson Bo during the 1960s. By then, the Bolton Hill mansion had been bought by the city and divided into offices. Kelly, a city planner, was set up in Halsted’s former bedroom. And it was there, in 1966, as part of an urban renewal plan, that he recommended the house be demolished.

 

*****

 

By the late 1930s, parts of Bolton Hill were slowly beginning to lose their luster. As spacious neighborhoods with wide lawns and elaborate homes began springing up at Baltimore’s northern edge, well-heeled physicians took to the idea of going home to less-crowded surroundings. For many, the winding, leafy roads of Guilford—founded in 1913 two miles north of downtown as an “in-city suburb”—became a favored enclave. Among the Hopkins physicians who would set up there was Lewellys Barker, Osler’s former Hospital dormitory mate. But no Hopkins salary could pay for the house that he built. 

 

Randy Barker in front of the 38-room mansion his grandfather built in 1917 in Guilford.
> Randy Barker in front of the 38-room mansion his grandfather built in 1917 in Guilford.

Barker had left Hopkins in 1900 to become a professor and chief of anatomy at the University of Chicago. In 1905 he returned to succeed Osler as physician in chief of the Hospital. Nine years later, he was faced with a financial decision. Johns Hopkins wanted all its physicians to become full-time faculty so they could focus on research and teaching. The School of Medicine would pay them a fixed salary of $10,000 ($194,600 in today’s money), but they would have to give up any outside private practice.

And so, in 1914, the Hospital’s second physician in chief relinquished his position, switched his association with Hopkins to visiting professor and began focusing on his private practice in his residence at 1035 North Calvert Street. In 1917, he built a 38-room mansion on Stratford Road in Guilford. By 1919, he was making five times what Hopkins had offered.

Barker’s grandson, Randol “Randy” Barker—a professor of medicine at Hopkins Bayview—was an infant when his grandfather died in 1943. But his grandmother lived in the Guilford house until her death in 1961, so Barker remembers it well. His grandparents kept large, separate bedrooms, he says. The one feature about his grandfather’s suite that remains utterly memorable is the bathroom. It featured a shower, with five hoop-like, perforated pipes that surrounded the bather horizontally, shooting water from every direction. “I’ve never seen another one like it.”

Following Mrs. Barker’s death, the home was purchased by Walter E. Loch, a Hopkins otolaryngologist of some repute, and his wife, Mary, also a Hopkins physician. There, in a grisly twist, in August 1994, the elderly Lochs were both bludgeoned to death in their beds in what turned out to be a family murder.

By 1996, the house had been sold and refurbished. That year, when it was featured as the Baltimore Symphony Decorators’ Showhouse, a brochure offered a brief history of the Johns Hopkins physicians who had lived there. Almost no one seemed to have known any of them personally. 

 
 
 
 
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