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Maryland Club History

The Maryland Club formed in 1857, when workboats, sailing ships, and steamboats jammed Baltimore harbor. Political parties frequently met here to nominate candidates for President, and citizens proudly referred to the place as “the monumental city.” The new club chose as its first president a well educated lover of horse racing and nephew of the late French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. It eventually settled in an imposing house that Robert Mills had designed and that stood on the northeast corner of Franklin and Cathedral streets. Many members lived not far from the club house in the area still known as Mount Vernon Place. In early 1861 the club largely supported Confederate independence, although not necessarily Maryland secession. Unionist members for the most part resigned, President Bonaparte among them, but not Johns Hopkins, who shouldered an increased share of the club’s financial burden. When Union military forces took up positions in Baltimore that May, General Ben Butler allegedly threatened to shell the Maryland Club if city fathers quarreled with martial law. Soldiers later raided the club house, looking for hidden weapons, and eventually closed it.

After Appomattox, the governors re-opened the club and welcomed a massive influx of new members, who as usual were leaders in Baltimore business and professional life. Many of them helped rebuild and capitalize the southeastern states of the former Confederacy, investing heavily in railroads, manufacturing, mining, and timber. Other members, newcomers to Baltimore, helped to found the Johns Hopkins University, Hospital, and, later, School of Medicine.

As the club flourished, and the city expanded northward, the governors purchased a vacant lot on the southeast corner of Charles and Eager streets and made plans for a new club house. The lead architect, Josias Pennington of the local firm Baldwin and Pennington, had much experience designing B&O Railroad stations. His Romanesque building in the style of Henry Hobson Richardson made heavy use of Baltimore-County white marble and formally opened on New Year’s Day, 1892.

Besides the comforts of the new club house--front fireplace blazing on a chilly evening; dozens of gentlemen playing bridge or billiards before walking home--the Maryland Club carried appeal because of its  reputation for fine food and drink. Club cooks made the most of local delicacies—canvasback and other ducks; oysters and clams; Chesapeake terrapin; marsh birds; Southern Maryland salt-cured and smoked ham; Rockfish from the bay; hominy and tomatoes from the Eastern Shore; and the list went on, eventually including blue crab. Visitors often commented on these local delicacies; Marylanders never took them for granted.

Because by tradition drink accompanied meals, especially formal dinners, members of the Maryland Club strongly opposed Prohibition, weathering the storm well by way of private lockers, each well stocked. Repeal roughly coincided with the demise of the Baltimore Club, comprised of men somewhat younger and more athletically committed than those of the Maryland Club. Governors of the senior group voted to accept all the juniors who wished to join, and one of their immediate contributions was to insist on squash facilities in the style they were accustomed to. Card games thus gave ground to squash matches, and the Maryland Club eventually became the site of important state contests.

After a disastrous fire in 1995, club leadership elected not simply to repair the Eager Street building but to restore it-- refinishing floors and paneling, repainting walls, and rethinking the arrangement of prints, paintings, and trophies. When the club re-opened the following year, it supplied a subject of much professional commentary, and members applauded heartily.

To this day the Maryland Club combines tradition with salutary change. It seeks to preserve the best of nineteenth-century traditions. Its attention to good company, local food, and friendly drink remains constant.

Robert J. Brugger