Clifton Park is Baltimore’s fourth oldest country landscape park after Druid Hill, Patterson, and Carroll Parks. Around 1800, Baltimore merchant Henry Thompson purchased the rural property and began transforming the farmhouse into a federal style mansion called Clifton. In 1841, Johns Hopkins purchased the estate and hired William Saunders, a Scottish immigrant and professional horticulturist, to improve the grounds. Hoping his eponymous university would one day relocate to Clifton, Hopkins left it to the school.
During the Hopkins trustees’ tenure at Clifton, the landscape gardens were not well-maintained. Baltimore City condemned part of the estate to build a reservoir (now the site of a high school) and the impressive American gothic style valve house. In 1894 when the value of stock in the B&O Railroad plummeted, the trustees sold Clifton to Baltimore City for $1 million to raise operating expenses for the university.
In 1895, the Baltimore Park Commission began making improvements for a public park and invested in the rehabilitation of various gardens and roadways. The Olmsted Brothers 1904 report recognized Clifton as one of the city’s major parks that would anchor the system. The firm recommended that a comprehensive plan be prepared for Clifton, but instead, the Park Commission retained them to design a series of projects over the course of nine years.
The first project was an athletic ground in the southern part below the railroad, where an Olmsted era stone wall still remains. The Olmsted Brothers also designed a swimming pool, which at the time was the largest concrete swimming pool in the country. In addition, they planned a band shell, which was damaged by fire significantly in 1947. A renovated and stripped band shell stands in its place today. Later additions to the park that are also historically significant include Baltimore’s first public golf course (1916) and Mothers’ Garden (1928), originally dedicated to “The Mothers of Baltimore.”
Following decades of abuse, Clifton’s Italianate villa is stabilized and the current tenant, Civic Works, is restoring the interior.