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To the Manor Borrowed

"There have been antiques shops on this street for 100 years," said Patrick Duggan, whose family opened the silver store the Imperial Half Bushel here in 1976. In his trove: archaic serving pieces (fish trowels! croquette servers!), saltcellars made during Baltimore's 19th- and 20th-century silvermaking boom and postage stamp-size, English smelling-salt boxes called vinaigrettes.

Other Howard Street merchants included Crosskeys Antiques, with three floors of chandeliers, carved chairs and oil paintings; and Drusilla's Books, which trades in antiquarian fare, such as a red leather-bound set of the complete works of Charles Dickens, Victorian fairy-tale books with richly colored illustrations and a 1901 edition of "Mother Goose." Around the corner, in an 1861 building on Read Street that once held a carriage factory, the two-year-old Antique Toy Museum contains goods suitable for Little Lord Fauntleroys or their sisters.

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Back at the manor, we dressed for dinner -- with no help from butlers or ladies' maids, worse luck. Our destination: the Brass Elephant, a haute Italian restaurant in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, which boasts digs (and a past) almost as posh as the Gramercy's. The 1850s townhouse -- at night a low-lit zone of gilded mirrors, Tiffany skylights and wood paneling -- once served as home to shipping magnate Charles Morton Stewart, father of the Gramercy's original owner. We sampled decidedly 21st-century fare such as a Southern-influenced quail and polenta "club" and scallop cappellini in a citrus-spiked sauce. Afterward, we inspected the turn-of-the-century Owl Bar at the nearby Belvedere Hotel (now a condominium complex). We sipped beers surrounded by two-story, patterned brick walls and stained-glass windows. A pair of wooden owls with flashing eyes perched over the bar. Legend has it they were used to warn of impending raids during Prohibition.

Soooo tired after our day of decadence (and perhaps the Owl Bar's microbrews), we headed back at the mansion and fell asleep watching another fire flicker in the room's hearth. In the morning, at the end of a stroll around "our" grounds -- with an organic herb farm (resting under huge tarps for winter), bucolic carriage house and frozen stream -- a fox rushed past us. Tallyho!

In the cream-walled dining room, we ate a refined, made-to-order breakfast of Italian bread French toast and herbed shiitake omelets. On the show "Manor House," the wannabe masters had trouble saying goodbye to their temporary country estate and the slow, luxurious life it represented. After breakfast, we too were sorry to leave the slower pace and pampering.

On our way through town, we stopped for one more taste of Mount Vernon's period charms. The original wing of the Walters Art Museum, open since 1904, beckoned with its columned, Italian palazzo-like interior. In addition to 19th-century paintings and sculptures, we also found jewelry and objects by Tiffany and Lalique. An ivory, enamel and gold orchid hair comb by Lalique seemed on loan from some Gibson girl.

Using a walking-tour booklet produced by the Mount Vernon Cultural District, we explored blocks that appeared much prettier and more opulent than from the car. We strolled past the area's statue-studded parks, hunting down structures like the turreted, chateau-like 1893 Graham-Hughes House and the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, a 40-room, pinkish limestone giant that took up nearly half a block on Mount Vernon Place. Around the corner I saw a "For Sale" sign on a brownstone -- though it looked a little big for us. But, hey, country lords and ladies need their city houses, too, right?

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GETTING THERE: Stevenson, Md., and the baronial Gramercy Mansion are less than a 20-minute drive from downtown Baltimore and an hour from Washington. From the Beltway, take I-95 north to I-695 west. Take Exit 23B (Falls Road north), then Falls Road to the second light and turn left onto Greenspring Valley Drive. Go one mile, through the light at Greenspring Avenue to the first driveway on the right. The historic Mount Vernon neighborhood is in central Baltimore, a few blocks from the Inner Harbor.

LODGING: The Gramercy (1400 Greenspring Valley Rd., 800-553-3404, www.gramercymansion.com) offers 11 rooms and suites, most with bathrooms, with rates of $75-$325, including a two-course breakfast. Many rooms have whirlpools, garden views and fireplaces. Special packages available, including one with spa treatments.

IN AND AROUND MOUNT VERNON: The Brass Elephant (924 N. Charles St.) offers upscale Italian for dinner daily; entrees $16-$24. The Owl Bar (1 E. Chase St.) is open daily for lunch, dinner and late-night drinks.

Stores on Baltimore's Antiques Row, mostly in the 800 block of North Howard Street, include Crosskeys Antiques at No. 801; Chinese export porcelain and American furniture at Dubey's Art and Antiques at No. 807; antiquarian kid-lit shop Drusilla's Books at No. 817; and the silver store Imperial Half Bushel at No. 831. Most shops are closed Sundays.

The Antique Toy Museum (222 W. Read St., 410-230-0580) is open Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and by appointment. Admission is $5. The Mount Vernon Cultural District publishes a self-guided walking tour of the area, available for $5 at the Walters Art Museum gift shop or the Maryland Historical Society (201 W. Monument St., 410-685-3750); it can also be downloaded for free at www.mvcd.org. The Walters Art Museum, (600 N. Charles St., 410-547-9000, www.thewalters.org) is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. Admission $8.

INFO: Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, 888-225-8466, www.baltimore.org.


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