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Jacques Kelly: Solving a mystery of history on Calvert Street requires a doctor, and a librarian

On a Sunday morning drive up Calvert Street, a question came from my traveling companions: What’s the story behind the stately brick house at the corner of Eager Street?

Vacant for a while, this handsome, double-wide building at 1001 N. Calvert St. recently changed hands and is now a law office. But surely it has a tale to tell.

Baltimore was a prosperous city when mansions such as this rose after the Civil War. Their size and general stateliness seem to suggest large families, with children running down big staircases over polished parquet floors, with servants in the back halls polishing silver and lighting gas light fixtures.

So what is the story of 1001 N. Calvert? Caprice DiLiello, a department manager of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, found the answer, and it’s one that upended my preconceptions of the place.

First, after studying federal census and land records, she determined the house was constructed around 1880 by Dr. John Brooke Boyle. Then, she found a biographical sketch of Dr. Boyle. She also located a photograph — a man with a receding hairline and a bushy Victorian-style mustache.

“Rarely do you find something that answers the question so well,” she said. “It was like gold.”

Dr. Boyle was an 1869 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and his house was actually the first to be constructed on the block.

My initial assumption that this roomy residence was built for the social needs of a large family was completely wrong. Dr. Boyle was a bachelor; census records show no one else lived at his residence except a housekeeper.

He had his office and examining rooms here. That makes sense, the house has numerous south-facing windows and would have been well lighted.

Dr. Boyle was born in Frederick County in 1849. Before going to Baltimore for his professional schooling, he attended the old Calvert College in New Windsor.

Once established in Baltimore, he became resident physician at what was then known as the Bay View Asylum, now Johns Hopkins Bayview campus in East Baltimore. He was the physician for the Maryland Penitentiary — which was a short walk from his residence — and attending physician to the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose convent and rest home was also nearby, in the Tenth Ward.

He was elected to the City Council for a term and represented the old Eighth Ward. He could take a short walk to St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, where he was a member.

Perhaps the biggest clue to the homeowner’s status comes in a description in an 1897 biographical work, which revealed the good doctor “has a broad and comprehensive knowledge of the science of medicine. His efforts having been crowned with excellent success, both professionally and financially.”

He sold 1001 N. Calvert in 1908 — it was later made into offices — and retired to Albemarle County, Va. He died in 1928 at age 80. His funeral was at St. Joseph’s Church in Libertytown. The Sun’s obituary noted his connections to the Catholic clergy — and that there were three priests on the altar for his requiem Mass.

In retrospect, perhaps it should not be a surprise that Dr. Boyle lived at this address. The Mount Vernon neighborhood attracted the city’s top medical professionals; its large homes allowed for both office and living quarters.

As Dr. Boyle was leaving for his Virginia retirement, another physician moved in just across the street, at the southwest corner of Calvert and Eager streets.

Dr. Harvey Cushing came to Baltimore to join the staff of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and went on to be known as the father of neurosurgery. One of the country’s eminent surgeons, he also served on the battlefields during World War I.

As with Dr. Boyle, his home has no historic marker or clue to its past owner’s history. It remains one more corner property in a neighborhood of grand residences.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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