Its modern transformation has built high hopes for Hagerstown's future.
In its past
In 1790, the site of the new university was the site of The Globe Tavern, which is said to have entertained President George Washington and other statesmen who traveled from the Washington, D.C., area, according to the "History of Western Maryland," by J. Thomas Scharf, first published in 1882.
The Washington House was built in place of The Globe Tavern in 1853, said Alan N. Clingan, author of "The Baldwin Story," a yet-to-be-published history of the hotel.
Clingan, 62, of Hagerstown, is a retired minister who became interested in The Baldwin House after he decided to research an unrelated fire that happened when he was a child. He said he plans to present "The Baldwin Story," which will be his first published work, at the university's April dedication.
Clingan said that The Washington House maintained its ground at the site for 26 years before it burned down May 29, 1879. A year later, The Baldwin House - owned in part by C.C. Baldwin, president of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad - was built.
The Baldwin House opened its doors to guests in September 1880. In its first year of business, it entertained 16,176 people, according to the book.
The 110-room hotel was furnished "throughout with solid walnut furniture of one pattern, and handsome Brussels carpets, and (was) supplied with hot and cold water and gas throughout," the book states.
It had "all the appurtenances of a first-class hotel in one of the larger cities," according to the book.
Attached to The Baldwin House was the Academy of Music, which had the capacity to seat 800 people, at the site of the Christian Winters' restaurant, according to the book.
But in 1914, The Baldwin House met a fate similar to its predecessor, The Washington House, and was extensively damaged by fire, according to a Historic Sites Survey catalogued at the Washington County Historical Society.
Since the fire, the building has been known by a number of names: The Arcade Building, The Academy Theater Building, the Leiter Brothers Department Store and Routzahn and Sons Inc., according to the Historic Sites Survey and Clingan.
Clingan said The Academy Theater, which brought entertainers such as Al Jolson and John Philip Sousa, was torn down in the late 1950s.
He said Routzahn's continued in business until the mid-1980s. The building was vacant after that, Clingan said.
About 10 years later, The Baldwin House was described as Hagerstown's "largest eyesore" during The Herald-Mail's coverage of negotiations between City of Hagerstown officials and developers vying to purchase the vacant building.
According to the newspaper articles:
· In 1993, private developers' efforts to get financing for the rehabilitation of The Baldwin House failed.
· In 1994, it was sold at a tax sale. The city later bought the building.
· In May 1995, it was announced that The Baldwin House would become an upscale apartment and retail complex, but that plan later fell through.
· The city council debated whether to move Hagerstown Police Department headquarters from Burhans Boulevard to the vacant building in February 1998, but that idea didn't go much further.
· About a year later, officials debated heavily where to locate a possible university center, but then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening eventually decided upon downtown Hagerstown as the site. The Baldwin House was chosen.
To date, the renovation of The Baldwin House building and the public park next to it, University Plaza, has cost about $16 million, according to C. David Warner, university executive director.
The building is painted in pale yellow and has large windows facing West Washington Street.
The views are in deep contrast with The Baldwin House's appearance a little more than 10 years ago. After a March 1993 renovation fell through and the building's facade was draped in plastic, a 20-foot-by-60-foot plywood wall was put across the storefront of the former hotel and painted white. A mural, which remained until the beginnings of the university renovation, colored that wall with washed images of people inside fake windows.