Temperatures climbed into the 50s and gentle winds buffeted those who had gathered outside Mount Clare Mansion to celebrate its reopening and affiliation with the B&O Railroad Museum.
While bystanders waited for the official ribbon-cutting ceremonies to begin last week, they reveled in the spectacular view of Baltimore from atop the gently sloping hill where Mount Clare, built in 1760, stands overlooking Southwest Baltimore's Carroll Park.
The Monumental City Fife and Drum Corps, dressed in colorful period costumes and wearing tricorn hats, serenaded those waiting with a selection of peppy 18th- and 19th-century airs.
The reason for the celebration was a historic collaborative operating agreement signed by the Maryland Society of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, who have operated the home since 1917, and the nearby B&O Railroad Museum.
With the agreement that went into force Jan. 2, the railroad museum will assume daily operation of Mount Clare, schedule events, oversee its educational programs and handle rentals for the Mount Clare Stables.
Mount Clare was home to one of the wealthiest and most influential citizens of Colonial America, Charles Carroll, Barrister, framer of Maryland's Declaration of Rights, legislator and farmer, who lived there until his death on March 23, 1783.
"This arrangement is a natural fit for the B&O Museum and the Carroll mansion," said Courtney B. Wilson, executive director of the B&O Museum.
"Both properties have an historical connection and the Carroll mansion overlooks our railroad tracks," he said. "We have a station and we can deliver visitors to the mansion by train to this long-hidden treasure."
The Colonial Dames will maintain their relationship with the city of Baltimore as well as with the Colonial Dames' museum properties committee that cares for the house and its collections, which they amassed over the past 95 years.
The Dames have operated the museum since 1917 under a lease agreement with the city, which owns Mount Clare and the surrounding Carroll Park.
"It's a new chapter today. It's a new day for Mount Clare," Wilson said as he stood with Isabelle Obert, president of the Maryland Society of Colonial Dames, and Francis Smyth, chairman of the railroad museum's board, in front of a deep-blue ribbon spanning two columns.
"The Colonial Dames opened this house in 1917 for people like you to learn about the Carrolls," said Wilson, just moments before he and Obert snipped the ribbon and then asked the invited guests to step inside the house.
In addition to the prospect of a light lunch, Wilson promised visitors an additional treat. Just the day before, he said, a heavy wooden box had arrived from New York City.
There sitting on the dining room table was a George III silver punch bowl, circa 1771, which had originally been purchased by Carroll and his wife, Margaret Tilghman Carroll, builders of Mount Clare.
Late last month, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America purchased the punch bowl and its accompanying ladle — which they think the Carrolls bought during a 1771 trip to London — and returned it to Mount Clare.
Robert Lewis, who was George Washington's nephew, stopped at Mount Clare with Martha Washington on May 19, 1789, while they were on their way from Virginia to New York for Washington's first inauguration as president.
In a diary entry, he described how they slaked their thirst.
"We found a large bowl of salubrious ice punch with fruits, etc. which had been plucked from the trees in a green house lying on tables in great abundance; — these after riding 25 or 30 miles without eating or drinking was no unwelcome luxury, however Mrs. C — could not complain that we had not done her punch honor, for in the course of 1 Quarter of an Hour, this bowl which held upward of two GALLONS was entirely consumed to the no little satisfaction of us all," wrote Lewis.
Wilson is also bringing onboard a curator, another Mount Clare first.
Jane Webb Smith graduated from Hollins College in 1973 and majored in American furnishings. She also holds a master's degree in American studies that she earned from the University of Maryland, College Park.
"I have wanted to run an 18th-century house since I was 20 years old, and a job like this just doesn't fall off trees," Smith said in an interview the other day.
Smith brings a depth of experience to Mount Clare, having earlier been a field representative in Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C.
She lent her expertise to the Baltimore rowhouse show that was held at the now-closed Peale Museum and a celebrated silver show that was held some years ago at the Maryland Historical Society. She also had been curator of the Wickham House in Richmond, Va., a spectacular 19th-century Federal-style house.
"I've been on a long and winding road, and this is a spectacular opportunity. Today is an important day for us," said Smith, who is being joined in her efforts as she explores the house and its contents from cellar to attic by Carrie Young, who will be an intern at Mount Clare.
Young, a recent graduate of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., will assist Smith in getting to know the house and its extensive contents.
What makes Mount Clare such a national treasure, said Smith, is that it contains nearly 90 percent of its original furniture, silver, paintings, dishes, glassware and other artifacts that belonged to the Carrolls.
"I'm trying not to be overwhelmed by what lies ahead of me," Smith said with a laugh.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun