Founded in 1931, the Baltimore City Life
Museums were a private non-profit organization devoted to preserving Baltimore
's history, culture
, and traditions. The group, which was granted 501(c)(3)
status in 1991, operated eight historic sites, including six on Museum
Row, its "campus
for city history" at 33 South Front Street near the Inner Harbor
. BCLM also hosted the City Life Players
, the nation's first resident museum theater
- Morton K. Blaustein City Life Exhibition Center
- The flagship museum of the BCLM, the center was housed in a new building with a 125-year-old cast iron façade. It featured three exhibits on three floors: "What Makes Baltimore Bawlamer," "Nipper's Neighborhood," and the Baltimore Bicentennial Homecoming Center. The fourth floor was used for conference rooms.
- Carroll Mansion
- Built around 1810, this was the final home of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the wealthiest men in early nineteenth-century America. He died there in 1832, and recently the mansion was a walk-through restoration of the rooms he lived in.
- 1840 House
- Adjacent to the Carroll Mansion, the 1840 House was a restored rowhouse that belonged to wheelwright John Hutchinson in the mid-nineteenth century. A "living history" museum, the 1840 House experience began with a costumed interpreter introducing the house and its history in a modern room and then entering the house for a guided tour. The House also hosted special events for groups and allowed hands-on activities, including cooking in the open hearth kitchen; in December the City Life Players presented reenactments of the life of Hutchinson and his family and servants.
- Brewers' Park
- Located across Lombard Street from the Carroll Mansion, this park was originally the site of the area's largest brewery from the Revolutionary War era. Signposts around the site point out remnants of the foundations of malthouses and the brewer's home.
- Center for Urban Archeology
- Originally an agency within the city's government when it was formed in 1983, the following year the center became part of the BCLM. The museum part of the center featured artifacts found at excavation sites around the city, and the center's staff was sometimes called in for work and testing at construction sites nearby.
- Shot Tower
- The shot tower actually stands two blocks north of Museum Row. Sometimes called the "factory in a smokestack," it is one of Baltimore's last surviving pieces from the Industrial Revolution. The cornerstone was laid in 1828 by Charles Carroll. Recently, exhibits detailed the structure's history and uses, and a light and sound show was featured.
- Peale Museum
- One of the two off-campus BCLM sites, it was built by Rembrandt Peale in 1814 and was the first structure in the western hemisphere designed specifically to serve as a museum. Recently the building was home to an exhibit of Peale family paintings and the Museum Reference Center, which contains hundreds of thousands of images of Baltimore.
- H.L. Mencken House
- Also not on the organization's campus, this was the restored home and gardens of the "sage of Baltimore," H.L. Mencken, who was sometimes considered the most powerful private citizen in the nation.
The Museum Row sites were open from 10am to 5pm daily, except for Christmas and Easter. Admission was six dollars for adults and four dollars for children, senior citizens, and military personnel. The Peale Museum and Shot Tower were only open on weekends; admission to the Peale Museum was one dollar. At least part of each museum was accessible to disabled visitors, but upper or basement floors were not always wheelchair-accessible.
While researching this writeup, I was saddened to find the BCLM closed in 1997 due to lack of funding and its collections were transferred to the Maryland Historical Society in 1998. When I was about ten or eleven years old, I volunteered for a short time as one of the costumed interpreters at the 1840 House, and I'm sorry to hear the entire project is finished. This writeup was originally in present tense; I have made the appropriate changes into past tense. I can only hope that the oversized Nipper statue that stood outside Carroll Mansion has found a good home.