Cylburn as a Mansion
Jesse Tyson, a thirty-seven-year-old Quaker businessman, purchased land north of Baltimore city along the Jones Falls to build a summer home to share with his recently-widowed mother Hannah Tyson. From the time of the Revolutionary War, generations of Tysons had been millers in Pennsylvania and Maryland, but Jesse’s father Isaac Tyson chose to study chemistry. He made his enormous fortune mining chromium, copper and iron at Bare Hills and Soldier’s Delight—and Jesse Tyson and his brother James Wood Tyson, both educated at Haverford College, followed in their father’s footsteps. James ran mining operations that expanded to Pennsylvania, Vermont, Georgia and California. Jesse, as President of Baltimore Chrome Works (later Allied Chemical), oversaw manufacturing and sales.
Though his mother died in 1866, Jesse, who spent winters in his family home at 6 East Franklin Street downtown, completed the Cylburn mansion by 1868 and summered there with a niece and several servants. In 1866, James built Ruscombe next door on 300 acres.
Architecture & Grounds
Cylburn was designed by the young and upcoming George A. Frederick, who was also the architect for Baltimore’s City Hall. Victorian Renaissance Revival in design, Cylburn was built of gneiss quarried locally and was noted for its inlaid floors, marble baths, leaded glass, plasterwork, tall windows and wide porches. Formal gardens and lawns with trees planted by Jesse Tyson himself were surrounded by natural woodland filled with wildflowers, wildlife and native and migrating birds.
Jesse & Edyth
At the age of sixty-one, Jesse Tyson, a confirmed bachelor, met and married Edyth Johns, a nineteen-year-old debutante so lovely that she was included in a mural of Baltimore beauties that hangs still in Shriver Hall at the Johns Hopkins University. A gala winter wedding was planned with 1,000 invitations issued, but two days before the wedding, Jesse’s sister-in-law Elizabeth, wife of his brother James, died. At 11 a.m. on January 26, Edyth and Jesse were married quietly in the Lanvale Street home of her parents. Following the funeral the afternoon of their wedding day, the couple left for a honeymoon in New York—and returned to spend eighteen happy years together, enjoying mansion and grounds and engaging in the life of Baltimore.
News of “Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Tyson” filled the society columns of Baltimore newspapers for two decades. They attended concerts, operas, plays, and lectures. They danced at the Bachelor’s Cotillion, the Christmas German, and the Matriarchs’ Assembly, The couple, who bred and raised horses in Virginia, could be seen at the Hunt Ball, the Maryland Horse Show, and the races at Pimlico. The Tysons were well-travelled. They had friends to stay at Cylburn where, from May through November, they hosted luncheons, teas, and elegant dinners. The Baltimore News American reported on June 14, 1891, that “Cylburn, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Tyson, is a delightful place to meet charming people. Every Wednesday in June, after four, Mrs. Tyson is at home.”
In his lifetime, Jesse Tyson served as treasurer for the Children’s Aid Society, the Baltimore Association for Moral and Educational Improvement of the Colored People, The Manual Labor School for Indigent Boys, and the Maryland Industrial School for Girls. He also served as director or commissioner or vice-president at Dime Savings Bank, the Union Railroad Company, the Maryland Union Commission, the Peabody Fire Insurance Company, and the Board of Prisoners Relief.
Edyth was Chairwoman of the Executive Committee of the Assembly for twenty-five years. She was a noted patron of arts and music—and active in the League of Women Voters, the Board of Colonial Dames, Union Memorial Hospital, the Mt. Vernon Club and the Women’s Fund for the Medical School of the Johns Hopkins University. Along a woodland trail, there was a cemetery for Cylburn pets; devoted to animals, Edyth served on the Baltimore County Humane Society and the Anti-Vivisection Society. At her death, she left a bequest of $100,000 equally to the Maryland Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Home for Incurables.
The Death of Jesse Tyson
On November 28, 1906, Jesse Tyson died at Cylburn of pneumonia. He is buried at the Friends Burial Grounds on Harford Road in Baltimore.
Edyth & Bruce Cotten
In the lobby of a Virginia hotel, a military officer named Bruce Cotten from North Carolina, caught a glimpse of Edyth Tyson, dressed in black mourning. “She was my fate,” he told a friend. In January 1910, he arranged to meet her in Baltimore where he was stationed at Fort McHenry. In the summer, he followed her to Europe, and on August 4, 1910, they were married at Tunbridge Wells in England.
Together, Bruce and Edyth further developed the Cylburn estate. For thirty-two years, their busy lives were chronicled in the society sections of the Baltimore Sun and the News American. Bruce’s mother Sallie Cotten, noted for her study of Virginia Dare and as one of the Lady Managers of the North Carolina pavilion at the 1893 World’s Fair, wrote letters from the family home Cottendale that illuminate Edyth’s and Bruce’s happy marriage.
The Death of Edyth Cotten
Edyth died on April 12,1942, a year after having a stroke. She was 73 years old.
Cylburn as a Children’s Home
After his wife Edyth’s death in April 1942, Bruce Cotten put the Cylburn property and furnishings up for sale. The estate was purchased at auction for $42,300 by the City of Baltimore. Bruce Cotten moved to a carriage house on Hamilton Street, and lived there until his death on April 1, 1954.
In keeping with a 1903 study by the noted landscaping firm Olmsted Brothers, the Cylburn property was to be used for parkland. But in April 1943, the Park Board lent the Cylburn Mansion to the Department of Public Welfare as a home for forty neglected and abandoned children. The first five children, brothers and sisters ranging in age from 4 to 11, came to the mansion on June 11, 1943.
Ahead of the Times
More children arrived in the following months, all of them white. In August 1945, plans were made to renovate a 14-room tenant house, to be called the Talbert House, for neglected Negro boys. However, it burned down before renovations could be completed. In the spring of 1954, integration began at Cylburn, first with the staff, then with the children, who had no trouble accepting integration even when churches, theaters, ice cream shops, scout troops and other organizations did.
In December 1957, the children living in the mansion were moved to a new home for children on Cold Spring Lane. Cylburn children still write letters filled with happy memories of growing up in the mansion, and on occasion, they visit.
Cylburn as a Park
In 1954, at the behest of Elizabeth Clarke, who worked for the Board of Recreation and Parks, the City founded the Cylburn Wildflower Preserve and Garden Center. The purpose was two-fold: to enable adults and youth to understand and enjoy the out-of-doors and to preserve the existing natural beauty and facilities of “Cylburn Park.” Volunteers designed twelve miles of trails and later, with a grant from the Sears Roebuck Company, restored the formal gardens. In December 1957, when the last of the children housed at Cylburn by the City departed, the rooms in the mansion became offices for the Cylburn Wildflower Preserve and Garden Center.
A private estate that for more than a century had seen the unfolding of Baltimore history became a public site for the study of natural history—a rich repository of Baltimore’s geologic and ecological and horticultural past.
By virtue of its long history and its contribution “in the fields of science and education,” the Cylburn mansion and most of the land were designated as an historical and architectural preservation site and were placed on the National Register in 1971.
Cylburn as an Arboretum
Frederick Law Olmsted noted that different kinds of parks achieve particular purposes. On January 7, 1982, the Cylburn newsletter announced that the Cylburn parkland had been renamed Cylburn Arboretum and the volunteer group the Cylburn Arboretum Association. Read about the transition in the 1982 Baltimore Sun article.
The name “arboretum” acknowledged the rich natural resources of the Cylburn property and the long history of careful stewardship of its lawns, gardens, planted trees and natural woodland.
Since 1982, Cylburn has flourished as an arboretum, a park, and an education center. Today it retains a little bit of each part of it’s history:
- continues the social legacy of Jesse and Edyth Tyson with special events, concerts, and performance
- still offers a special home for Baltimore children where they can learn and experience nature together
- maintains and expands the gardens and tree collections started by the Tysons and cared for by volunteers, Baltimore City, and the Cylburn Association
Focus on Education
Today the Cylburn Association uses the gardens and surrounding nature as the staging area for educational programs and activities for all ages.Visitors to Cylburn have can learn on every visit by taking advantage of
- printed resources like maps, guides, and brochures
- identification and self-guided tour for the tree collection, gardens and grounds
- education programs, workshops, lectures, nature walks, and more
- special events in art, music, and nature
- special activities for children and families and the Nature Science summer camp
Between 2008-2010, Cylburn constructed 2 new buildings. The Vollmer Visitor and Education Center (Vollmer Center, for short) was built utilizing many green building techniques. It features modern solutions to reduce the building’s impact on the environment like composting toilets, a “living” green roof, and geothermal heating and cooling. The Vollmer Center has a Visitors Desk, a lobby area, and a 250-meeting hall and theater. There is also a back patio and a natural outdoor amphitheater. The other major project was a new greenhouse classroom for education and workshops.