The Hebrew Orphan Asylum appears like a grand castle on a hill with rows Victorian Romanesque arched windows and turrets at every corner. The unique design is a credit to the architectural partnership of Lupus & Roby - composed of German architect and craftsman Edward Lupus and Baltimore born architect Henry A. Roby - but the building itself is a landmark to the history of philanthropy and social service in Baltimore's Jewish community. In February 1872, the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Baltimore organized to establish an orphanage for the Jewish community and local German Jewish merchant William S. Rayner donated the handsome Calverton Mansion - an 1815 country home used most recently as the Baltimore Almshouse - as a home for the new organization. Regrettably, the building burned down in 1874 but, despite the set-back, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum rebuilt on the same site, opening their new building in 1876. William Rayner spoke at the dedication, reflecting his hopes and aspirations for the Hebrew Orphan Asylum: "the Jewish community should regard donations as an investment that would bear fruit; some of the children in the future would contribute to the welfare of the community, and the rest would serve as the contributor's advocates in heaven." While a small group of wealthy German Jews first established and led the orphanage, a broad and diverse community of Jewish Baltimoreans supported the Hebrew Orphan Asylum with donations of all sorts and the Jewish children and families who depended on the Hebrew Orphan Asylum came from all across Europe. The history of the institution follows the history of the Jewish community in Baltimore, as the population at the orphanage grew rapidly along with the increased Jewish immigration from Europe during the late 19th and early 20th-centuries. Many older orphanages closed from the 1920s through the 1940s as care for dependent children moved away from large institutional homes towards foster care or smaller group homes and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum was no different, closing in 1923. A group of local doctors converted the Hebrew Orphan Asylum to the West Baltimore General Hospital, later known as the Lutheran Hospital of Maryland which remained at the site through the late 1980s. The building has been abandoned for over a decade but Baltimore Heritage and the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation are engaged in a continuing campaign to preserve and restore this landmark of Baltimore's Jewish history.
Watch our Five Minute Histories video on this building!