CCBC hosts ribbon cutting to celebrate historic mansion's new life

After nearly two centuries of use as a home, classrooms and offices, the Hilton Mansion showed signs of wear — from rotting wood to peeling paint to water damage.

Two years and more than $6 million later, the Community College of Baltimore County held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 22 for the freshly restored mansion, now called the Hilton Center.

The space, which features meticulously restored historical details combined with modern functions and amenities, will host the college’s Honors Program and its new Center for Global Education, campus director Joan Swiston said.

It will also be available to the community to rent for events such as weddings or business meetings, or to tour for a window into Catonsville’s history, Swiston said.

“Maintaining the historical charm while also ensuring the design was functional for students as well as the community was a challenge, but I think we accomplished that in the end,” CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis said in a Jan. 16 press release. “I am confident our students will enjoy learning in this space and we look forward to making the Hilton Center more accessible to the community.”

The mansion was one of the original Catonsville estates, dating back to the days of the town’s founding, said Catonsville Historical Society President Anne Luco.

“It was wonderful to see how much of the original architecture they were able to maintain and restore,” Luco said. “It’s gorgeous.”

The Catonsville Historical Society will work with the college to install a rotating exhibit of artifacts related to Catonsville’s history, Luco said. Artifacts they plan to display include police and firefighter paraphernalia and milk bottles from the time when Hilton Mansion’s property was the site of a dairy farm.

The renovation also features a dining area attached to a catering and warming kitchen and a series of elegant conference rooms, equipped with digital displays and Wi-Fi.

The third floor will house the Center for Global Education, a program that Swiston said will work to incorporate global studies into various campus curriculums. The fourth floor will hold the college’s Honors Program and features a classroom and a study area, complete with a kitchenette, available only to honors students.

The Hilton Mansion was built between 1828 and 1835, according to a CCBC history pamphlet. It took its current form after George Knapp, director of the National Enameling and Stamping Co., purchased it in 1917 and hired Baltimore architect Edward Palmer to renovate it in the Georgian Revival style. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The newly completed renovation preserved many of the building’s historic details. Ornate, carved molding lines the ceilings and stairwell, and on the first two floors the original black-and-white checkered marble floor was preserved.

Preserving some of those details required creative solutions, as CCBC added the modern amenities required for a public building, such as hallways and elevators that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many fireplaces, which are no longer in use, were preserved and now line the inside of the elevator shaft, Swiston said.

One room is lined with mahogany, which renovators had hand-polished and stained to repair previous water damage. Original lighting is featured throughout the building, lighting each room with faux-candle light bulbs.

Cynthia Moylan, project manager for the renovation, said the cream color used to repaint the mansion was matched to a sample of old paint that was unveiled after an old flagpole was removed.

The living room, on the second floor, was designed by students in a CCBC interior design class, Swiston said. Working with a set budget, students chose an English wallpaper covered in birds and picked furniture, paint and window treatments for the space.

“We thought, why not use our students and give them the commercial experience?” Swiston said.

Funding for the project came from state and local government grants as well as from the National Endowment for the Humanities and private donors.

In the future, Swiston said she plans to host events for the community, such as wine tastings, in the Hilton Center, and hopes to schedule regular tours so that the Catonsville community can visit the space.

“It’s kind of unique to a community college to have this type of property,” she said.

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