In 1889, John Gilman, prosperous banker and industrialist, commissioned a mansion in Mount Vernon, Baltimore’s most prestigious neighborhood. He chose architect Charles Carson for the job, a master of design who had recently completed Baltimore’s Grand Masonic Venue and the opulent Methodist Church. Gilman asked Carson to build him a house to speak of wealth, power and taste, from its inlaid floors to its turreted slate roof. But Gilman also wanted a home. Its rooms should be intimate, its fireplaces welcoming, and its tall windows should frame the charming streetscape.

The mansion was raised on the leafy corner of Biddle and North Calvert Streets, neighbored on all sides by handsome brick and stone residences. But as fate would have it, Gilman did not live to enjoy his new home, dying suddenly just before the house was complete.

Mrs. Gilman lived at the the Biddle Street mansion for several years, then sold it to a man named William Painter, and his amiable wife, Harriet. William was a wildly successful inventor, a holder of more than 100 patents, and the president of the Crown Cork and Seal Co., manufacturer of bottle caps, corks and closures of all kinds. The Painters were very sociable and philanthropic, hosting luncheons and bridge parties, dedicating parks and statues. The Painters and their three children divided their time between the house on Biddle Street and an opulent summer home in Guilford. Father and son were great fans of the work of Baltimore native Edgar Allan Poe, and made sure to send birthday flowers to his grave every year.