Earlier this year I was in Baltimore and spent the afternoon at the Evergreen Museum. It was originally a 32-acre estate purchased in 1878 by John Work Garrett, president of the B&O Railroad. His grandson, John Work Garrett II, took over the house in 1920 when his mother died.
John Garrett II graduated from Princeton and went into the family banking business in 1895 but in 1901 he joined the Foreign Service. He lived in The Hague, Berlin, Rome, Paris, Venezuela and Argentina. He met his wife, Alice Warder, in 1905, while she was studying music in Berlin and he was working at the US Embassy. His career culminated in his appointment to Rome as Ambassador from 1929 to 1933. His wife did not always travel with him and when John retired from the Foreign Service he joined her at Evergreen. They never had children so their house and their collections became their focus.
Apparently Alice had a huge personality and loved to perform, even though she wasn’t very good. What was once the children’s gymnasium became a theater for Alice decorated with designs by Leon Bakst, set and costume designer for the Ballet Russes.
To be honest I was not all that impressed with the house overall but it’s 48 rooms had some beautiful things. Almost every room had a Tiffany chandelier or some Tiffany creation in one form or another. Alice collected paintings, and art by Picasso, Raoul Dufy, Mondigliani, Degas, Zuloaga, and others were on display throughout the house.
The Far East Room housed John’s collection of Japanese laquer, netsuke and inro. The inro were small boxes carried by Japanese men whose traditional clothes did not have pockets, the netsuke was the counter weight that would help keep the inro in place. In 1899, John went on a trip to the Philippines and stopped en route in Japan. This brief trip so impressed him he was a lifelong collector of Japanese art, all of which he bought through a broker by mail.
The house had four libraries. One in John’s childhood bedroom converted to a study/office. This is where most of his books relating to his work and personal papers were housed. The second floor hallway was lined with books, one side taken up entirely with children and young adult books. These were left over from John’s parents’ collection.
On the first floor was the Reading room, fairly small and cozy lined all around with books and the Main or Great Library, a larger room, also lined with books. More than 30,000 books were housed at Evergreen and 8,000 were in the Main Library. In this room was a portrait of John Garrett by Ignacio Zuloaga. The portrait showed John with his two most favorite things, books and coins. He had a large coin collection that was bequeathed to Johns Hopkins University along with the estate when he died. The collection sold for 25 million dollars.
The book collection was impressive. One section included about 160 books printed before 1500. Another section housed the John James Audubon books on Birds of America (1827-1838), Audubon’s Quadrupeds of North America, and American Orinthology (1808-1813) by Alexander Wilson.
Lawrence Hall Fowler was a local architect, born in Towson, Maryland in 1876. He designed the Reading Room in teak shelving and paneling and the Great Library in walnut paneling. They were both warm and inviting rooms. Lawrence Fowler’s collection of almost 500 historical architectural books was in the Great Library along with his papers and drawings.
Other gems found in the library included reports from Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook, literary works from the English Renaissance, along with rare American Revolutionary War broadsides and books relating to colonial Maryland. There was also a large collection of early bibles dating back as far as one printed in 1497 by Anton Koberger in Nuremberg.
Today the house is surrounded by 26 acres of gardens and lawns. Weddings are performed in the courtyard and receptions in the Carriage House. Tours are available on the hour and docents are knowledgeable Johns Hopkins University students. Alice’s theater is still used for performances open to the public. The library is still a working library. People can view the books on-site by appointment.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.