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About Davidge Hall

John Beale Davidge
John Beale Davidge

Named after its founder and first dean, John Beale Davidge, Davidge Hall was constructed as the founding medical school building and since then has been meticulously restored into the marvel it is today. Davidge Hall is recognized as the oldest medical facility in the country continuously used for medical education. To date, all of the 17,000 students educated by the University of Maryland School of Medicine have passed through the doors of Davidge Hall.

Situated on the northeast corner of Lombard and Greene Streets, amidst rolling fields on the western outskirts of the city, the medical college in the early 19th century commanded an unbroken view of the Patapsco River. It is said that from the porch one could watch the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814. The building was very large for its day, but no matter how elegant, life inside for medical students and their mentors often left much to be desired.

The building, heated by stoves close to the ceiling, was dank and drafty in the winter. It was poorly illuminated and polluted by the stench from poor embalming practices of the period as well as from the chemical experiments performed in the lower lecture hall. However, it did provide refuge from the angry mobs that would riot outside and protest against dissecting cadavers, as medicine was not truly understood and the general public opposed the teaching of anatomy.

Anatomical Hall
Anatomical Hall

The first floor lecture hall, called Chemical Hall, is a semicircular theater, which gets its name from the brick kiln-like niches built in its front wall, where chemical experiments were performed. The room can accommodate more than 200 people. Directly above Chemical Hall on the third floor is Anatomical Hall, which has two rows of rising circular seating much the same as Chemical Hall. Along the top of the hall is a railing where the overflow of students stood to listen to lectures and watch dissections. Still visible today are the initials of some of these students carved into the railing. The domed ceiling has a beautiful decorative network of semicircles and rosette patterns. Exiting Anatomical Hall through a narrow passageway toward the front of the building, the lecturing professor could make his way to a small lounge, which overlooks a private dissection lab.

Although traditionally attributed to Robert Cary Long, Sr., an important Baltimore builder and architect, the blueprint of the building exhibits characteristics found in the architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Thomas Jefferson, who helped introduce classical revival style to the New World. Evidence suggests the French architect Maximilian Godefroy, with Latrobe’s assistance, may have been involved with the design.

Completed at a cost around $40,000, Davidge Hall stands on land purchased from John Eager Howard of Revolutionary War fame. It fell to the doctors teaching medical classes at the time to fully finance the construction of Davidge Hall, which illustrates their dedication. The building remains as the only tangible evidence of how medicine was taught in the early 19th century. Additionally, it houses a collection of medical artifacts, including a mummified human, paintings, and instruments.

Chemical Hall
Chemical Hall

In 1974, Davidge Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1997, the U.S. Department of the Interior named the building a National Historic Landmark. Last year Congress approved a bill that allocates $348,000 to fund further restoration of Davidge Hall. Maryland Senators Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski played key roles in securing the funding, which comes from the Save America’s Treasures program.

Davidge Hall was a focal point of the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s bicentennial celebration, which spanned an entire calendar year, commencing in January 2007 and ending on December 18th, the date that the Maryland General Assembly enacted legislation to establish the medical school.