The site occupied by Baltimore National Cemetery was an estate called Cloud Capped (or Cap), which occupied an elevated location adjacent to Frederick Road as early as 1750. The property was part of the holdings of the Baltimore Company and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Residents apparently observed the attacking British fleet sailing toward Fort McHenry in 1814, and sent a messenger to warn the city. In 1890, when Blanchard and Susan Randall acquired the estate as a summer home, its 90 acres were studded with mature specimen trees including spreading beech, white pine, Norway spruce, chestnut and walnut. This early 19th century brick dwelling was enlarged and additions were made over the years.
Nearby, the diminutive 5.2-acre Loudon Park National Cemetery was at or approaching capacity, and additional burial space was needed. At the same time that the War Department was assessing 33 possible sites in the Baltimore area as an extension of Loudon Park, it was also seeking acreage in the New York City, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., and El Paso, Texas, areas for new veterans' cemeteries. Once officials selected the gently rolling tract above Baltimore, Congress approved $100,000 for the project.
Conversion of the Cloud Capped estate to a national shrine was the responsibility of the War Department, with work accomplished under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era make-work program. The WPA undertook work at several national cemeteries during its lifetime in the 1930s and early 1940s. The Baltimore property — envisioned as Maryland's "Little Arlington" — was to accommodate 40,000 to 45,000 interments.
The government took possession of the 72.2-acre Cloud Capped in September 1936 at a cost of $95,000, provided in the Army Appropriations Act for fiscal year 1937. Between 1936 and 1938, nearly $400,000 was expended on WPA improvements to Baltimore National Cemetery. Funds were spent on "surveys, roads, gates, fences, razing old mansion, new lodge, utilities, out-buildings, preparing and monumenting grave-sites, and landscaping." An estimated 100-150 men worked on the project between early 1937 and August 1940.
The old mansion was demolished in 1937, and the superintendent's lodge, a two-story Federal Revival building similar to one wing of Cloud Capped, was constructed largely using salvaged materials, and was nearly completed the same year. The new lodge cost $90,000 including WPA labor. A Tudor Revival cottage, intended for an assistant superintendent, was renovated in 1940. The chapel was completed in 1939-40. The granite entrance gates and iron fence was erected in 1937-39 at a cost of $6,625. The first superintendent, G. B. Alexander, went on duty in March 1937.
The first interment was Dec. 18, 1936, although the cemetery was formally dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1941. The dedication ceremonies were to commence in the city's Lafayette Square, led by African-American veterans of World War I, affiliated with American Legion Post No. 14. Today the cemetery is comprised of 72.2 acres.