A New Chapter For H.L. Mencken House

BALTIMORE NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA

PRESS RELEASE: A NEW CHAPTER FOR H.L. MENCKEN HOUSE

Heritage Area Takes on House Restoration, Opening to Public as Museum Celebrating Life of the “Sage of Baltimore”

[Contact: Jeffrey Buchheit 410-878-6411 • jbuchheit@baltimoreheritagearea.org]

September 12, 2018 (Baltimore) — The Baltimore National Heritage Area (BNHA) today entered into a lease agreement with the City of Baltimore to assume stewardship of the home of journalist, critic, and author H.L. Mencken (1880-1956). The three-story, Italianate rowhouse on Hollins Street was built around 1880 and is both a city landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Mencken, who reported for the Baltimore Sun, was known for myriad essays and his three-volume study The American Language. He lived in the house for most of his lifetime from 1883 until his death in 1956.

BNHA will manage the renovation, working closely with the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development and the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. Upon completion, the heritage area will collaborate with the Mencken Legacy Group to develop museum exhibitions and programming and set hours for the public to visit the home. Funds for renovation, ongoing maintenance, and interpretation will be provided by the estate of Max Hency, who made a $3 million bequest to Baltimore City for this purpose.

“We are thrilled to be part of this collaboration with our city agency partners to revitalize this local and national landmark,” said BNHA Executive Director Jeff Buchheit. “We look forward to working with the volunteers from the Mencken Legacy Group on how to best interpret the life and work of Mencken, including the controversial aspects of his career.”

While the house is structurally sound, years of vacancy require restoration of the home’s flooring and interior finishes, repairs to the roof, roofing repairs, and general improvements to bring the building up to modern codes. Once complete, rooms on the first and second floors will interpret Mencken’s life and legacy. BNHA will occupy the third floor as office space.

“I am very happy and grateful that this historic landmark will now be receiving the care and attention it deserves,” said Brigitte V. Fessenden, president of the Society to Preserve H.L. Mencken’s Legacy. “It’s a win-win situation for the house, H.L. Mencken’s Legacy, the Union Square neighborhood, and heritage tourism for Baltimore City.”

The heritage area will begin to oversee the renovation project later this year. The goal is re-open the house with a public event on September 12, 2019, one year from today and the 139th birthday of the iconic writer that the New York Times called “the most powerful private citizen in the United States.”

The mission of the Baltimore National Heritage Area is to promote, preserve, and enhance Baltimore’s historic and cultural legacy and natural resources for current and future generations. Visit www.explorebaltimore.org for more information about the Baltimore National Heritage Area.

The End Of A Pear Tree

There will be no partridges in the pear tree at the Mencken House this Christmas. Workmen from Forest Valley Tree & Turf LLC of Jessup, MD, arrived this morning to remove the remaining portion of the Bradford Pear which had split during the derecho of June 29, 2012.

The tree which was cut down was not original to the garden but had been planted to replace the one that was originally there. A reference from 1963 says that the original tree was a “Kieffer pear tree”. In Happy Days Mr Mencken writes that “[t]he pear tree survives to this day, and is still as lush and vigorous as it was in 1883, beside being thirty feet higher and so large around the waist that its branches bulge into the neighboring yards.” In 1982, the tree is described in a newspaper article as “a now scraggly looking pear tree.” The Mencken House was acquired by the City of Baltimore in July 1983 and was opened as a museum on June 15, 1984. Sometime between the acquisition of the house and 1990, the original pear tree was replaced. A Bradford Pear was chosen because it is self-sterile, that is, it will not bear fruit unless it is planted near other pear trees. Fallen fruit attracts rats, creatures not unfamiliar to Baltimoreans.

The Bradford pear was originally cultivated at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Introduction Station in Glenn Dale, Md. and was named in honor of Frederick C. Bradford, a former director of the station. It was introduced in 1963 and was popular until its shortcoming became apparent: it is “a structurally defective tree, inadequate in the slightest wind, likely to split in half” and “highly susceptible to breakage by winds”.

Many thanks to Phil Hildebrandt who arrived early and erected a scaffold which made the workmen’s task easier and saved the garden bed from being trampled.

 

Volunteer inventories garden tiles

The Friends would like to thank Justus Heger for volunteering to photograph and inventory the garden tiles. Heger became interested in the tiles after visiting 1524 Hollins St. during the annual Friends’ open house, volunteering on the spot to photograph and help preserve the tiles. “It’s part of Mencken’s personality, the tiles are everywhere,” Heger said. Heger has taken many photos of the tiles and sent them to a historical conservator in Harrisburg, Pa., for advice on conservation. More tiles will be revealed, he said, when garden growth shrinks during winter weather.

Friends work with city to secure removal of damaged Bradford Pear

The Friends hope to work with the city to secure the removal of the Bradford Pear tree damaged during derecho storm June 29, 2012. Friends vice president Phil Hildebrandt has placed several calls to the General Services department of Baltimore City to request removal. A significant part of the tree is still standing and leans towards the garden.