Baltimore's 1840s Carrollton Inn
Hospitality, Comfort and History are High Priorities
If one memory captures a visit to Baltimore, it’s sitting in a secluded courtyard, sharing a nice bottle of wine with Dan, and feeling detached from the city’s hurry-flurry beyond the garden gate. It was warm for mid-October. The courtyard’s handsome ailanthus trees held their deep green leaves and a few flowers were still in bloom. We couldn’t have asked for a better day or a better place to lay our tourist-weary heads at the end of it.
When searching for a place to stay during our Baltimore getaway, we were drawn to the 1840s Carrollton Inn in historic Jonestown. It exemplifies luxury, has a gorgeous courtyard and is also within walking distance of numerous Inner Harbor attractions, the renowned Little Italy and Fells Point neighborhoods, and trendy Harbor East.
The colorful peacock emblem on the inn’s website also caught my attention. I had once read that the bird symbolizes renewal. We booked a two-night stay at the celebrated inn, an experience that transcended our own sense of renewal and spread its wings across four centuries of American history.
We arrived in Baltimore on a Monday as the city picked up its hectic pace. Traffic was a bit congested, and frenzied pedestrians headed to work, sipping coffee or talking on their cell phones. Horns honked as motorist shot across busy intersections.
But once we entered the inn’s historic doorway at 50 Albermarle Street, we were transported to simpler times of the 19th century. Soft classical music filled the reception room which reflects the warmth and charm of Old World elegance; an impressive trio of peacocks rested on the fireplace mantle. Within minutes, we could see that hospitality and comfort are high priorities. Teresa greeted us at the front desk like we were old friends and graciously showed us to our room, the Annapolis Suite which has a courtyard view.
We’d seen pictures of the spacious suite, but nothing prepared us for such overwhelming luxury. It summoned a sense of regality with its faux gold-flecked walls, plush window coverings, marble fireplace, antique décor, and China tea cups waiting for an afternoon pour. A cozy sleigh bed was covered with sumptuous bedding and piled with pillows. The fresh-cut rose on the dresser added a touch of romance. For a few minutes, I actually pictured myself in a flowing dress, stiff petticoat, bloomers, and a bonnet festooned with ribbons. And though the micro-wave, mini-fridge and flat-screen TV brought me back to reality, the bygone ambiance enhanced with today’s modern conveniences created a perfect blend.
Dr. Ronald and Anne Pomykala purchased the row houses in 2003, along with the prominent, four-story Fava building just steps away, to help preserve the historical presence of the downtrodden Jonestown neighborhood. The buildings were once among the City Life Museums which featured Baltimore’s history and culture. The group of museums, which closed during an economic downturn in 1997, also included the Carroll Mansion and the Phoenix Shot Tower, built in 1828 to produce lead shot for muskets. The plant closed in 1892.
One morning over coffee, Anne and her son-in-law Tim Kline, the innkeeper, spoke about the B&B which opened in 2007. It was once a cluster of Federal-style row houses built in the 1840s for working class immigrants. Over the years, it has gone through several phases, most recently the transformation to a Victorian bed and breakfast with 13 lavishly decorated suites, including two handicap accessible suites. During an extensive tour, we learned that each suite reflects the life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. His winter home, the Carroll Mansion, borders the courtyard. The Carroll Suite, the largest of all, has spectacular views of the city and courtyard and is enhanced with skylights. “I call it the oolalaroom,” Anne said.
They also shared plans to add another 12 guest suites to accommodate a growing clientele. Many families with loved ones at nearby Johns Hopkins Medical Center have found comfort at the inn during frequent visits. “They often become part of our family, and we offer free shuttle service if they’re patients,” Anne said. “And with the sports teams (Orioles and Ravens) here, we hope to draw more out-of-towners who come to see their favorite teams play. It’s a great location and we offer a unique product.”
The Fava Building was the first to open in the complex. Prior to purchasing the property, the Pomykalas rented out the 1840s Ballroom on the fourth floor. The grand room showcases life-size murals of Baltimore in the 1840s and provides an elegant setting to host weddings and other special events. Since then, they have opened two additional floors for events, the second floor 1840s City Lites and the third floor 1840s Carroll Salon. The first floor 1840s Cabaret will soon be transformed into a restaurant. Also, future fourth floor plans include an adjoining brick façade with a green deck, graced with flowers and trees.
When Anne shared her grand vision, it was easy to see she has the passion and energy to make it happen – as well as the skills and experience. She grew up in Washington D.C., the daughter of a general contractor, and has an extensive background in property management, including maintenance and repairs. “So I wasn’t afraid of it,” she expressed.
The Pomykalas had already breathed new life into a neglected mansion on the outskirts of Baltimore. They purchased the prominent, Tudor-style home in 1985 and converted it into Gramercy Mansion, an 11-room luxury B&B surrounded by gardens, fountains, fish ponds and several acres of woodlands. The mansion was built in 1902 by Alexander Cassatt, who was president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and brother of Mary Cassatt, the Impressionist painter famous for her mother-child portraits.
It was during the restoration project that Anne was drawn to Baltimore’s rich history and strong sense of community. “I discovered a hometown in Baltimore. The residents love their city and are proud of their neighborhoods and cultural events. They’re enthused about what goes on here and root for their sports teams. That hometown feeling was the catalyst for our investment in Baltimore. Part of our contribution was to lease the Shot Tower and Carroll Mansion and reopen them as museums,” she noted.
Since then, Anne has been in perpetual motion, tirelessly rallying to keep Baltimore’s history alive and accessible through area museums. She was a founding member of Historic Jonestown Inc. which created the Heritage Walk, a three-mile walking tour through four centuries of history, museums, and landmarks in four neighborhoods with Jonestown being the primary destination. Everything is within easy walking distance which makes the location of the Carrollton Inn ideal.
When Jonestown was founded in 1732, it was Baltimore’s wealthiest neighborhood. In the 1800s, it became a magnet for immigrants who arrived at the Inner Harbor to embraced the American culture and the opportunity to flourish. In the 1950s and 60s, government-owned high rises sprang up and over time the neighborhood began to deteriorate. During urban renewal projects in the early 2000s, much of the district was gutted to make way for moderate-income housing.
Jonestown still retains a wealth of history and has been designated a Baltimore City Historic District. However, it’s not recognized as a Federal Historic District because much of the neighborhood has been razed. Anne continues to spend a great deal of time building on the past. “I brought the museums together. I’m very proud of that. There’s something very rewarding about changing the neighborhood,” she said.
Anne gave us a tour of the Carroll Mansion which is among the Heritage Walk highlights. When the mansion was built in 1811, it was the grandest home in the neighborhood. Charles Carroll spent winters there, often entertaining guests and welcoming visitors who wanted to meet the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll made history as the only Catholic signer at a time when Catholicism was taboo in political life. His signature also posed the most risk since he was the wealthiest man in the colonies.
Over the years, the mansion has served as a sweatshop, apartments, vocational school and museum. After sitting empty for several years, the city talked about tearing it down in the 1960s and building a gas station. As you can imagine, the residents protested. The home has been reopened and closed several times over the years. Since the Pomykalas leased the mansion in 2002, it is open once again and a museum.
After spending the morning with Anne and Tim, Dan and I were eager to explore Jonestown and its surrounding neighborhoods with a self-guided tour of the Heritage Walk which connects 20 historic landmarks and museums through Jonestown, Little Italy, the Inner Harbor and City Center. The trail is marked by “Heritage Walk” disks in 17 languages and placed in the pavement along the way. Tour books are available for languages represented.
We followed the disks back in time, beginning with a walk through the promenade between the mansion and Fava building where boxwood shrubs, flowers and herbs were hanging on to summer’s last hurrah -- and then through the iron gates and into the city. We could see the Shot Tower rising in the distance along with the magnificent bell tower of St. Vincent de Paul’s, the city’s oldest Catholic parish, and headed in that direction. The church was founded in 1841 by the Irish community and true to its namesake is known for its outreach to those suffering from poverty. The Georgian-style bell tower has three splendid tiers crowned with a copper dome and a 12-foot cross.
Unfortunately, we were too late for St. Vincent’s noon-day mass, so we headed towards the city center. Several buildings here are distinguished with the classical influences of early times, such as the spectacular War Memorial, but most of the structures were built after the great fire of 1904. However, the Alex. Brown & Sons Building, a financial institution built at the turn of the century, managed to survive the devastation. The two-story, brick and marble beauty, was built by Alexander Brown who founded the first investment bank in America in 1800.
The day was winding down as we strolled along the Inner Harbor, an old seaport that traces its history back to the 1600s. Today’s vibrant waterfront is an urban renewal success story with restaurants, museums, entertainment spots and Harborplace, an urban market with more than 150 shops. The city's maritime heritage can be experienced at the Baltimore Maritime Museum. The USS Constellation is also open as a museum. The ship was built prior to the Civil War and was used to fight Transatlantic slave trade. Today, it's considered the "jewel" of the harbor.
Dan and I followed the trail through Little Italy and past the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum. We toured the home and museum during an earlier visit and have written about it elsewhere on this website. For history buffs, a visit to Baltimore wouldn’t be complete without spending time in the home where the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our National Anthem was sewn.
By this time, we had worked up an appetite. We we returned to the Carrollton Inn to freshen up for dinner at Sabatino’s in Little Italy. When traveling, Dan and I enjoy exploring the side streets and neighborhoods in the cities we visit. One of our most memorable walks was through Little Italy in August 2007. The neighborhood is an ethnic icon where residents celebrate their cultural heritage daily. In the summer, families gather on blankets and lawn chairs to watch outdoor films and neighbors play bocce ball in a nearby court. Dan is no stranger to timeless traditions. His grandfather Anton Martino immigrated to America in 1903, packing the “old country” ways with care. So Dan cut his teeth on homemade pasta, sauces, and crusty bread dipped in wine. These memories have given him the passion to preserve his own rich heritage.
We looked forward to absorbing more of the neighborhood’s Old World atmosphere. The night before, we had a fine meal at Rocco’s, highlighted by a mandolin player strumming classical Italian tunes. Walking through Little Italy, we peered through the windows of shops and restaurants where old family photos still line the walls. We followed the aromas of garlic, basil, and fresh bread to our destination. Sabatino’s is a cultural treasure with authentic Italian cuisine. The restaurant has been a mainstay in the neighborhood since two Italian immigrants opened it in 1955, serving generous portions of original family recipes. Since then, the family venture has spanned three generations and grown to seat 450 patrons. On the second floor, huge photos capture the essence of the neighborhood in the 1930s and 40s. Phil Culotta, the great nephew of the original owner, said it’s not unusual for locals and other guests to recognize their relatives in the pictures. Tables are graced with white linen clothes and napkins.
Our sons live in the Baltimore area and joined us for an evening of down-home fine dining. Our server, Shirley, cozied us into a corner table and started us off with fresh bread and a carafe of the house Chianti. The service was exceptional and the ample meals were among the best Italian feasts we’ve had. I’d highly recommend the fettuccini Alfredo, one of their signature dishes smothered in butter, cream and cheese.
On the way home, we walked through Harbor East, the city’s newest neighborhood, which is linked to the Inner Harbor by a waterfront promenade. We may have never discovered this hot spot on our own, but Monee Cottman, the city’s travel media manager, mentioned it in conversation, noting that it was known for its premier entertainment, nightlife, cutting-edge restaurants, upscale boutiques and posh condos. Best of all, it’s pedestrian friendly!
We stopped off at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion for a nightcap. Our choice teetered between a tropical martini (maybe it was the fun and funky “aloha” service) and our usual Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur from Northern Italy. You can probably guess which one we chose. Maybe our age was showing!
By 10 p.m., we were nestled in our quiet retreat at the Carrollton Inn. The huge oval whirlpool tub, surrounded by hand-cut floral tiles, was perfect to soothe our weary bones at the end of the day. After a cup of tea in the sitting room, we tucked ourselves into the sumptuous cocoon of soft bedding.
In the morning, the staff pampered us with a gourmet breakfast in an elegantly furnished Victorian parlor with sparking China and white linens. Entrees are chosen the night before from an extensive menu and garnished with fresh herbs from the courtyard. From check in to check out, Dan and I experienced first-class hospitality and comfort, but most memorable is the way everyone embraced us with genuine friendliness. It’s no wonder Anne and Tim expressed such pride in their staff which they refer to as “part of the family.”
Centrally located, the 1840s Carrollton Inn is an ideal haven for visitors who want to experience the history, culture, cuisine, and entertainment of Baltimore's diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. And at the end of the day, there's nothing like escaping to the simplicity and charm of a bygone era.
For detailed information:
Visit the 1840s Carrollton Inn website, www.1840scarrolltoninn.com or call (410) 385-1840. For information on the Fava Building ballroom, see www.1840sBallroom.com. And for the Gramercy Mansion, call (800) 553-3404, or visit www.gramercymansion.com
The Heritage Walk features guided and self-guided tours. Visit www.heritagewalk.org, or call (443) 984-2369.
For a taste of the old country, Little Italy has several great dining options, including Sabatino's, www.Sabatinos.com, and Rocco's www.roccoslittleitaly.net
Check out our Good Life Destinations features on the Flag House and Star Spangled Banner Museum, and related sites, at http://www.goodlifedestinations.com/dest/42-maryland/47-baltimores-star-spangled-banner, (Fort McHenry) http://www.goodlifedestinations.com/dest/42-maryland/48-baltimores-fort-mchenry, and (Francis Scott Key) http://www.goodlifedestinations.com/dest/42-maryland/49-fredericks-favored-son-francis-scott-key
Water taxis on the Inner Harbor transport riders to 35 attractions and historic neighborhoods. For schedules, see www.thewatertaxi.com or call (410) 563-3901.
Also worth a visit:
When visiting Baltimore a few years ago, Dan and I spent most of our time at Fells Point, another historic neighborhood at Inner Harbor. The Old World charm of England can be seen in its cobblestone streets and cozy pubs. While exploring the area, we stumbled upon Bertha's where the locals introduced us to a real cask ale. Read Dan's account of this quaint little pub at http://www.goodlifedestinations.com/ks/47-current-offerings/81-berthas-best-bitter
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