-A A +A

Although Maryland is a small state, its diverse history and geography has produced a rich architectural heritage. The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary of its kind in the country, and the coastal plain that surrounds it, was the scene of Maryland’s earliest settlements and the backdrop for a thriving maritime culture that nurtures economic, military, and recreational pursuits. From the coastal plain rising in a gentle slope to the Allegheny Mountains are the Piedmont Plateau and its rich agricultural lands and gently rolling hills. A system of navigable rivers gave rise to port cites such as Chestertown on the eastern shore and Baltimore, the state’s largest city, to the west. Extending westward from the Hagerstown Valley is the Allegheny Plateau, an area rich in coal and other minerals, and accessed, beginning in the early nineteenth century, by a growing transportation network that included the National Road, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Essential themes in Maryland’s architectural history include these early railroad, canal, and transportation innovations, in addition to maritime and coal mining communities, the New Deal, and the World War II homefront. Agriculture, commerce, religion, suburbanization—particularly around Washington, D.C. and Baltimore—and the role of the military and the federal government also emerge as crucial to the story.

The outstanding collection of mid- to late-eighteenth-century Georgian architecture in the state capital of Annapolis is represented by renowned buildings such as the Hammond-Harwood House, the Brice House, and the Maryland State House. The Eastern Shore and Tidewater counties also retain many important early buildings representing both agricultural and port town development. Maryland’s rich maritime history is reflected in seafood processing plants, lighthouses, and the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Agricultural structures include rare vernacular survivors along with high-style landmarks such as Wye House and its associated Captain’s House in Talbot County. The ethnic heritage of Maryland’s settlers is also revealed in buildings such as Schifferstadt, a German colonial-era residence. Buildings in Western Maryland along the National Road tell the story of western expansion. Houses in the thriving agricultural communities of the Tidewater and Western shore counties—particularly Maryland’s rich array of five-part-plan Georgian houses—illustrate the development of a tobacco economy based on slave labor and Maryland's role as a border state between north and south. The complex stories of slavery and free black communities is embodied in buildings such as Frederick Douglass’s summer house in Anne Arundel County and the McComas Institute, a Freedman’s Bureau school in Harford County. A wide range of ecclesiastic structures from the elaborate Catholic Cathedral in Baltimore to the humble Third Haven Quaker Meeting House on the Eastern Shore speaks to Maryland’s early Catholic heritage and promise of religious tolerance.

Nineteenth-century railroad development in Maryland drove the construction of significant structures such as the Thomas Viaduct in Howard County, the Baltimore and Ohio’s 22-sided car shop in Baltimore, and railroad stations represented by examples such as Oakland Station in Garrett County, Mount Clare Station in Baltimore, and Ellicott City Station in Howard County. The Italianate villas of Howard and Carroll Counties and the impressive Victorian neighborhood of Washington Street in Cumberland, Allegany County, illustrate links between the railroad and residential development. The Baltimore and Ohio also provided access to Maryland’s Victorian-era mountain resorts such as Mountain Lake Park in Garrett County, an 1880s summer vacation and Chautauqua movement destination.

Baltimore’s fine nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings include numerous structures noted for their contributions to social and cultural development, such as the early medical operating theater Davidge Hall and Walters Art Museum. Regionally significant Baltimore architects such as Robert Cary Long (Sr. and Jr.), Edmund G. Lind, and Niernsee and Nielson contributed their talents to both the local urban landscape and the hinterland, solidifying Baltimore’s role as the nineteenth-century commercial capital of the state. Buildings in Baltimore by nationally celebrated architects such as Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s Roman Catholic cathedral, McKim, Mead and White’s Lovely Lane Methodist Church and Winans House, and Mies van der Rohe’s Charles Center connect Maryland to a broad timeline of national and international architectural trends. Selected parks, monuments, squares, and cemeteries in Baltimore merit special consideration for their high quality design and defining role in the city’s urban fabric.

Maryland’s location along the highly developed northeast corridor made it an important testing ground for ex-urban settlement trends. Many widely celebrated contributions to late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century planning and urban development are located here—from the planned Victorian neighborhood of Roland Park in Baltimore, to the prototypical but exclusive streetcar suburb of Chevy Chase in Montgomery County, to the Levitt Brothers 1960s development of Bel Air at Bowie in Prince George’s County. The Resettlement Administration planned “garden city” of Greenbelt in Prince George’s County and the cabin camps of Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area in Frederick County signify the unique accomplishments of New Deal programs and the influence of the nearby nation’s capital. In the late twentieth century, Maryland contributions to then cutting-edge of urban redevelopment include the now-ubiquitous festival marketplace of the Baltimore Inner Harbor and equally influential retro baseball stadium of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Also significant is James W. Rouse’s planned community of Columbia, intended to right the ills of suburban sprawl and racial and social segregation. Finally, still-thriving Kentlands in Montgomery County stands out as a fully realized example of New Urbanism by Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company.

Even when embracing new trends in architecture and planning, Maryland architecture often remains respectful of the past. The result frequently is conservative and the most influential Maryland architecture tends to be in conversation with the past. This past is still very visible thanks to generations of Maryland residents who have proven to be worthy stewards of a distinguished architectural legacy.

Writing Credits

Catherine Lavoie and Lisa P. Davidson, Co-Coordinators

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.