Some think that the waters of Loch Raven cover a castle. This is almost true, but not quite. A castle did stand at one time close to the waters of Loch Raven's Hampton Cove and for a time could be seen rising to the southeast above the lake's shore. Now, however, only its ruins remain. This was Glen Ellen castle, built by Robert Gilmor III (1808-1874).
Robert Gilmor III was the son of William Gilmor and nephew of Robert Gilmor, Jr., the renowned Baltimore art collector. He grew up at his parents' Baltimore County estate, the Vineyard, in Huntingdon near the present Waverly. It should be kept in mind that at that time the northern boundary of Baltimore City was Mulberry Street.
He attended Harvard University and graduated in the class of 1828, having as one of his classmates Oliver Wendell Holmes. His father being too ill to attend the graduation, he was joined by his uncle Robert, who apparently regarded him as a favorite nephew. After graduation he went to Paris as an attaché there in the American legation. He then continued his grand tour of Europe.
In England he visited the impressive residence of Sir Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill, built in the Gothic Revival style then in vogue. He met Sir Walter Scott and was invited by him to visit his home in Scotland, Abbotsford, another Gothic Revival residence, built as a castle on a hillside above the river Tyne. Both of these residences so impressed him that he determined to build his own residence in America along these lines.
He returned to Maryland and married the beautiful Ellen Ward, daughter of Judge Ward of Baltimore. She was 21; he 24. In 1832 he purchased a large tract of land, about 900 acres, from Priscilla Ridgely White, daughter of Captain Charles Ridgely, which lay along the southwestern shore of Gunpowder Falls just north of the Ridgely's Hampton and Northhampton estates. Here he decided to built his home, a castle resembling Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford. He chose a similar setting, a wooded hillside overlooking a stream, Peterson's Run, which flowed down the valley and joined the Gunpowder.
According to the plat which he had drawn up, a copy of which is in the Baltimore County Courthouse, he divided his estate into two sections, giving each a name. The hilly and wooded section to the east he named Ravensrock. The fields to the west he named New Market. He decided to build his mansion on the western margin of Ravensrock. He named the place Glen Ellen after his wife and the beautiful little glen that graced the hillside there.
This estate would stretch today from the present lower dam over the Gunpowder to the eastern edge of Pine Ridge golf course.
For the mansion he employed as architect Alexander Jackson Davis of the New York firm of Towne, Davis, and Hastings, and over the next few years Davis supervised the construction of the castle. A projecting platform of stone and earth was erected on the hillside. Stone was quarried from the hill, and the castle built on this platform to a height of three stories.
The first floor was a partial basement containing some bedrooms, storerooms, and kitchen with an open hearth fireplace for cooking. At the kitchen end, across from the fireplace, was a stairway leading down to a windowless cellar that served as a springhouse and may also have functioned as an icehouse.
The second floor, the main floor, at the south end contained a large drawing room that stretched the entire width of the house, about 43 feet. Parallel to this were three rooms: an entrance hall, a ballroom, and a library.
The entrance hall, about 20 by 12 feet, had a large oak door opening onto the drive that ran parallel to the house.
The ballroom was octagonal in shape and about 20 feet in diameter. It was crowned with a dome that rose to the height of the third story and was lighted by a lantern window above the roof. Just below the dome, at the level of the third story, a gallery for musicians surrounded the ballroom.
The library, about 20 by 20 feet, ended on its west side with a large semi-hexagonal stained glass window overlooking the valley.
From the ballroom, a hall stretched the length of the house with a door to the outside at the north end. Along the hall to the left was the wide stairway, then the dining room, above the kitchen. To the right were bedrooms.
The third floor comprised bedrooms on either side of a central hall. In the original plan by Davis, the bedrooms would have been the same height as the rooms of the second floor. But here they are compressed in height with dormer windows projecting from the sloping slate roof.
Several towers rose above the house. The northwest tower undoubtedly served as a chimney for the kitchen below. Several other towers on the opposite side of the house must also have functioned as chimneys for the fireplaces in the rooms below. The tallest and most impressive tower, the southwest, about 65 feet in height, contained a spiral stairway leading to a lookout at its top, from which the valley to the west, south, and north could be viewed.
This valley, New Market, was squared off into fields, orchard, vegetable garden, and barnyard. Alongside Peterson's Run a millrace led to the grist mill (or mills, as tax records indicate). But the most important section of this valley lay between the vegetable garden and the barnyard, a series of paddocks for horses. Gilmor had a passion for horses and equestrian sports. For several years he was the publisher of a sports magazine, The American Turf Register, devoted largely to horses. He had a racetrack, possibly two, that lay beside Gunpowder Falls, along the northern edge of Ravensrock. He rode about the country in a coach and four. And he ornamented his home with paintings of horses, some by well known artists. As a country squire and gentleman farmer, what he had in mind to operate was before all else a horse farm.
Ravensrock, the other half of the estate was quite hilly and largely wooded. It probably served as a hunting preserve with trails for riding.
In addition to the mill(s) and barns several other buildings lay about the estate. North of the castle stood a stone and wood carriage house with entrance onto the road that led past the mansion. Its basement served as a stable with stone floor and stalls for horses. Across the valley, near Old York Road to the west, stood a guest house designed as a Greek Temple. The entrance to the estate off Old York Road had a gatehouse, we are told, beside a picturesque half-broken arch. The remains of a stone structure in the orchard area can still be seen at low water in Hampton Cove. It was possibly a building housing a cider mill. One can still see traces of a stone-paved road leading from it to the mansion. He also had a dairy. Although we know that Gilmor had slaves, we are not sure of their number or of the location of the slave quarters.
At Glen Ellen, Robert and Ellen Gilmor raised 11 children: 9 boys and 2 girls. Three of the boys attained public renown. The eldest, Robert, IV, became a well-known Baltimore judge. William became a railroad president. But the most famous was the glamorous Harry, the famous Confederate cavalry colonel who in 1864 led his battalion across Baltimore County to burn down the railroad bridge over the Gunpowder River at Magnolia.
After the death of Robert, III, in 1874, the Glen Ellen estate was divided among his heirs. Harry was given the portion containing the castle and lived there until his death in 1883. His father's grandchildren and great-grandchildren enjoyed their stays in the castle, especially during summer vacations, as noted by his grand-daughter, Ellen Gilmor Buchanan. What child would not enjoy living in a castle?
The castle and its grounds were sold in 1883. The last one to own them was Henry (Christian) Brack.
To supply Baltimore City with water, a dam was erected in the 1880s across the Gunpowder, following the suggestion of Robert's son William, who had acquired the Summerfield estate across the river. He also suggested the name for the resulting lake, Loch Raven. In 1914 a larger dam was erected and enlarged in 1923 to a height of 240 feet above sea level. The spreading lake gradually flooded the New Market portion of the Glen Ellen estate and came within a few hundred feet of the castle. Since the latter relied on a septic system and was so close to the reservoir, it could no longer be used as a residence. Parts of it were removed to adorn other houses elsewhere, most notably the Parker's home The Cloisters on Falls Road. After its timbers were removed for recycling elsewhere, its walls were tumbled down in 1930. Only its foundations mark its outline today. An inglorious end for a once glorious castle.
By Dr. Charles J. Scheve, Historian
Historical Society of Baltimore County