THE PRESENT COUNTY AREA
The county boundaries have remained the same since the annexation that took effect on January 1, 1919, following a referendum in 1918. The 1920s saw some suburban expansion, but that boom was partially thwarted by the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Housing for war workers created a boom in the early 1940s, and housing for everyone exploded after the war ended and building materials became available again. Not only were more families formed but old families fled the inner city as African Americans were suddenly able to afford row houses. The last quarter of the 20th century saw prosperous African Americans buying suburban houses in Baltimore County. Racial groups are not fleeing from each other as in the past.
Randallstown people are now fascinated by the mixture of ethnicities.
Prosperity in the 1920s made it possible for large numbers of people to enjoy frame cottages and bungalows. The 1924 legislation that created the Metropolitan District made it possible to share water and sewer lines with Baltimore City and spare new residents the need for privies, privy pumping, and well-digging. By 1929, some 11,000 houses were linked to the extensions. More compact suburbs could be laid out once city hook-ups available. More suburbs could be platted out between the radial roads fanning out from the city. Places like Fullerton and Carney could be built up with block after block of private housing.
Oliver H. Laine in his 1953 dissertation on the growth of Towson stated:
Although the creation of the Baltimore County Metropolitan District enhanced the integration of the City-County sewerage and water supply systems, population expansion was completely uncontrolled.
Laine quoted an article from the Evening Sun of April 22, 1940, by Clark S. Hobbs:
Much of the long, gangling city [the Metropolitan District] has sanitary, public safety, and traffic conditions which are little different from those of Baltimore itself. Yet it is almost completely without the benefit of plan, without effective control of land use—a casual, impromptu, unorganized and undirected sort of thing. In this unnamed city you can build a cow stable or a mansion pretty much where you choose, dump your garbage and trash in the nearest gully, establish an automobile graveyard where it suits your convenience, lay out streets in a subdivision without any relation to a master plan…
In 1939, the General Assembly passed a bill to establish zoning regulations within the Metropolitan District, and in 1941, Senator James J. Lindsay supported a bill to extend zoning to the entire county. Some people were vehemently against zoning, even in the city. There were those who argued that zoning was unconstitutional, and the Sun of September 29, 1928, had carried the story, “Zoning Laws Communistic,” quoting Baltimore city attorney Isaac Loeb Straus.
A usually ultra conservative Towson weekly newspaper supported zoning:
For several years the Jeffersonian has been consistently in favor of a zoning law for Baltimore County — now one is before the Legislature for consideration, and what becomes of it is of vast importance to local home owners. As it now stands the home owner in this county has no protection whatsoever from unscrupulous or inconsiderate builders and promoters of commercial enterprises. He bought a lot, built a home, and took his chances as to what would develop around him…. the wonder is that we have as much building order in our towns and villages as we do, for the gate of restriction has been wide open (March 3, 1939).
Two upscale suburbs were Stoneleigh and Anneslie, where large estates survived close to York Road, not far north of the city line, although in the second carfare zone of the transit system. The two estates had centered around great villas of the 1850s or so and those mansions survived for a long time. Anneslie mansion still exists while Stoneleigh lasted until 1955. Stoneleigh houses were depicted in drawings and photographs in the Sunday Sun real estate sections and many of them can be attributed to notable city architects. The Sun of March 4, 1927, reported that in the previous year, 50 stucco houses had been built, seven of individual design by the city architect Harold Appleton Stilwell; the contractor was Peyton B. Strobel Company. Stoneligh retained many old trees; along the York Road frontage, there was a buffer strip and a street parallel to the main road. Stoneleigh has been accepted for the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district.
Anneslie was a development of the Charles H. Steffy, Inc., started in June 1922, built out to 160 houses by 1929. Anneslie allowed frame and shingle bungalows, which cost only $650; the better stuccocoated Italian villas cost $5775. Buyers had to pay ground rents, which was a great source of steady revenue for investors. The Stoneleigh Corporation under its principal Irvin E. Butler laid out the suburb of that name and they used the title “Stoneleigh District” on a brochure, “district” being the code word for Guilford and Roland Park and their restrictions and architectural qualities. Stoneleigh began in 1923 aand was more expensive than Anneslie with numerous architect-designed houses, some in French provincial, some in Georgian Revival.
Wiltondale south of the old Towson was laid out on the horse farm and private racetrack of Wilton Greenway after Mrs. Jessie Hillis Greenway sold out for about $33,000 (Sun, May 30, 1926). Pinehurst was being developed on the old Schwarz estate and its street plan was shown in the Sun, May 17, 1925. Another section of Pinehurst developed by Blenheim Realty Corporation replaced the University School for Boys (in 1927).
West of the Towson courthouse was a suburb on a hilltop called Southland Hills developed by J. Elmer Weisheit using plans made by the Roland Park Company’s engineer (Sun, April 24, 1924). The Jeffersonian of May 2, 1925, carried a full-page advertisement for Southland Hills and showed Tudor and Spanish style houses in line drawings. All the streets had Southern-type names: Dixie Drive, Alabama Avenue, Florida Avenue, Carolina Avenue, etc. Houses here included 1920s stucco types and Georgian Revival houses, many of brick, many gambrel-roofed, very well built, with slate roofing. In places the houses faced the large premises of the Grafton M. Bosley Mansion (1869), which became the Presbyterian Home in 1928. Many identical bungalows were built in West Towson on East Susquehanna Avenue, and two streets worth of them sprang up near Hillen Road in East Towson.
Murray Hill was developed by the Murray Hill Corporation on the former Bowman estate at Charles and Bellona southwest of Towson. A number of elegant houses were designed by Edward H. Glidden of Baltimore (Sun, August 28, 1928).
Fieldstone was plotted out on the lands of Seymour Ruff of Randallstown, and the houses were indeed of fieldstone, or at least Butler quartzite. The original plat is by William Whitney, 1927. The houses were constructed by J.K. Ruff and Son, who also built notable churches and college buildings around the Mid-Atlantic. Fieldstone is the only 20th century suburb to be accepted as a Baltimore County Historic District (B. C. Plat Books WPC 7:66).
Catonsville was always growing, and Prospect Avenue and Edmondson Ridge Road became fully built out with almost identical frame and shingle bungalows in the 1920s. Other parts of Catonsville expanded into more expensive detached houses, especially around Edmondson Avenue and on South Rolling Road, and all around the Gary family’s Summit mansion, creating the area called Summit Park. There was also growth in Pikesville and around Gwynn Oak, Parkville, and Arbutus.
Lodge Forest was the name assigned by Bay Front Development Company to 300 acres of uncut forest near Sparrows Point as reported in the Sun of April 20, 1924. This had been a gunning and ducking club when advertised in the Sun, March 31, 1854, and the Post Office Outing Club was still providing recreation on the adjoining property when the development began. President of the development company was James Cary Thompson. The residential area was served by the North Point trolley line that went to Bay Shore Park.
Gray Manor near North Point Road was a 1926 subdivision laid out on the land of James A. Gray, a 158-acre tract shown in the 1915 atlas.
Maryland Manor was developed on the eastern edge of the city west of Rosedale by Cityco Realty Company, the design by J. Spence Howard, surveyor, plat filed in September 1922. The names Biddle Street and East Oliver Street are still shown on maps near the Rosedale Industrial Park. Neither Biddle nor East Olive Streets connect with the city streets of those names. The strangely numbered 62nd to 64th Streets also survive on the ADC atlas map.
Kensington north of Wilkens Avenue and east of Saint Charles College was developed by the A.J. Watkins Realty Company in 1926 from a plan by J. Spence Howard. The company’s prospectus was titled Gateway to Gladness. The ground had belonged to Robert W. Rasin in the 1877 atlas and his large Italianate villa called Kensington was sacrificed to the plan.
Sluggish Business in the 1930s
Growth was slow in the 1930s but Baltimore County was able to get Federal aid from the Work Projects Administration, which provided $560,0000 for water and sewer lines, the projects finished in February, 1929, when the economic recovery was getting back to normal.
Towson Estates on the north side of Joppa Road east of Goucher Boulevard was fairly isolated when constructed in 1933 by Walter C. Mylander. Most of the houses were in fieldstone and secluded in trees. The centerpiece of the small subdivisison was a carved, 600year-old stone fountain imported from Setro Fiorentina in Italy, the villa of Count Cenami. Towson Estates had no public transportation other than the erratic Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad.
Probably the largest suburban development before World War II was Rodgers Forge, built by the James Keelty Company, introducing row houses to the county. Most of Rodgers forge was near the city line and more strategically, it was at the place where trolley car passengers had to start paying an extra fare to reach Towson. The earliest Keelty rows on Hopkins Road were discovered by the assessors in 1934. Houses on Dunkirk Road were listed in 1936 — that street named well before Dunkirk became famous in World War II. The whole area was named for a blacksmith shop that stood on the SW corner of York Road and Stevenson Lane until it was torched by golf course caddies in 1946. The houses were in a sort of massproduced Georgian Revival, cheery red brick, with white wood trim. Some rows incorporated a bit of brick and stucco. End houses were more desirable and had three walls with windows rather than only two. Keelty’s architect was Frederick E. Beall.
Eastern Terrace was platted in 1941 by Maryland Housing, Inc., on the former property of Henry Ruhl.
North of Towson, developers bought up the once enormous Ridgely estate of Hampton and laid out extra-large lots on Hampton Lane and St. Francis Road. Those houses were being built in the early 1940s and were still Georgian Revival. The bungalow and the American Four Square house had gone out of style by the early 1930s.
Row houses sprawled all over the War of 1812 country around North Point Road. Those houses were more stripped down than the ones at Rodgers Forge but at least had the cheery red brick walls. North Point grew in response to the need for war time housing when city and county were big producers in the “Arsenal of Democracy.” The 1940 period saw great growth of cottage housing near the Glenn L. Martin plant, but those neighborhoods would not meet the definition of suburbs until the houses were spun off to individual buyers after the war. The same can be said of Turner Station, much of which was war time housing, although the area started as a few streets of individual houses even before World War I. Near Essex there were several areas of row housing close to Josenhan’s Corners, including Tall Oaks and Kingsley Park. Those areas were not quite suburbs because they continued in the hands of investors until acquired in a single purchase by Baltimore County with the intention of demolishing them. Kingsley park was two very long blocks of connected red brick apartment houses facing two streets, with a little variety thrown in when the houses turned a corner near Middle River. The pre-demolition photos showed remarkable rythmic patterns of red brick walls and white framed windows stretching into the distance, almost like the row houses of Georgian Dublin.
The suburbs were still clustering close to the city when the Baltimore Beltway was opened in 1962. The only place where a large number of residential houses had to be sacrificed to the project was in the High Victorian and Queen Anne style area of Eden Terrace east of the Catonsville downtown.
In 1943, the space between the Aigburth estate in Towson and Loch Raven Boulevard was almost entirely taken up by large estates or institutions like the TB sanitarium called Eudawood. One passed meadows and fields and livestock on the way to the ice cream bars at Loch Raven and Taylor Avenue. Shortly after the war, those areas grew up into row houses, apartments, and freestanding houses, supporting an enormous population. The area was able to support a library branch of its own and a number of churches and innumerable stores and a cinema.
Four Winds west of Towson was developed in 1946 by Four Winds Corporation under its president Robert Van Horn, the plan laid out by Dollenberg Brothers of Towson. Four Winds was a re-platting of the unsuccessful Kalmia Park planned early in the century by the Boyce family. Klamia, is of course the Greek word for “beautiful.”
A booklet titled Looking Ahead in School Planning was issued by the Board of Education in 1947 and presented a map with large blooms of sudden growth including a long blob stretching from north Towson to Cockeysville and another NW of Parkville, around Pikesville, along Liberty Road just past the city line, and around Rosedale and Colegate, Cottage Grove, Patapsco Neck, Sollers Point and a big blob east of Dundalk. Two early airports were devoured for housing: Logan Field in Dundalk and the Curtiss- Wright Airport on Smith Avenue.
Tollgate near Owings Mills was planned by James S. Spamer and developed by The Ulm Corporation in 1953. Cambria overlooking Loch Raven was developed on the Blythenia Cambria tract in 1955, planned by Whitman, Requardt and developed by the Cambria Corporation. The name Cambia, meaning Wales, dates from a manor surveyed in 1705.
Around Catonsville there were extensive row house neighborhoods such as Academy Heights, and similar houses faced the Baltimore National Pike. There were countless small cottages in the Levittown design, many around Timonium in the early 1950s. There is a scenic stretch of wooden cottages that can be glimpsed from the Beltway somewhere in Arbutus where the identical houses can be seen ascending a hill. Whole new areas were added to Baltimore Highlands, cumulating in more row houses in the early 1960s. In the 1950s, a place with row houses came along under the name Towson Park, occupying former Ridgely Plantation lands, obliterating the old African American neighborhood called Sandy Bottom. The split-level house made its appearance about 1955 and soon there was a profusion of them around Lutherville and around Riderwood; the earliest models were priced at about $16,000. Near Pikesville there was Williamsburg, developed on the former F.I. Ferguson farm starting in 1957 by Hayward Realty, Inc., with other sections planned by Commonwealth Construction Company; the name probably reflects the restored colonial capital of Virginia.
The Planning Office was created in 1947 and yet it took until 1972 to get a master plan adopted. Growth had been just as chaotic during the elephantine incubation of the master plan as it had been before zoning was adopted in 1939.
In 1956, the citizens voted to abolish the County Commissioner type of government and to install a County Executive and a Council. Only 17 years before, the county commissioners were without even zoning power, and now the executive and council were clothed with broad powers that could be expanded step by step. The remarkable thing is that they failed to take control of development for two decades.
In 1974, Earl Arnett of the Sun wrote an article entitled, “Towson, Like Topsy ‘Growed’ On and On and Is Now a Mess.” Arnett skewered the hideous tall buildings all jammed together on East Joppa Road and the traffic nightmare their occupants added to already inadequate roads.
To an incredible extent, most of this astounding growth has been unplanned. Towson accepted the multitudes, embraced the prosperity and trusted to providence politicians and developers to guide its future. With typical xenophobia the refugees and old timers determined to guard their property from all outside threats. Better individual chaos than social control.
The expanded master plan adopted July 26, 1976, set the goals to channeling growth into White Marsh and Owings Mills, both of which have been done. But tremendous growth has also taken place around the once bucolic Granite area and in Perry Hall, once the vegetable growing belt of Baltimore County. The category of zoning called RC-5 made it possible to build expensive single family houses all the way to the York County line on what had always been farm land. “RC” was supposed to mean “Resource Conservation” when devised but has proved to be an environmental destruction zone.
One might ask if any of the scores of developments were designed with any imagination and or constructed with quality materials? Certainly Fox Chapel near Loch Raven and Summer Hill and Dumbarton next to Pikesville could be mentioned. Only in Dumbarton do we find good modern architecture in the International Style, although that section is mostly occupied by Tudor revival houses, French Provincial designs, and Cotswold style houses in stone; the lots were laid out in 1924 by the Dumbarton Development Corporation; two houses designed by E.L. Palmer, Jr., were reported in the Sun, May 24, 1945, but the area was not fully fleshed out with houses until about 1948. Some curvilinear streets can be found in Anton Woods, Garrison Farms, Halcyon Gates, Belle Farm Estates to name a few. “Halcyon” is certainly a neglected word today; the Halcyon Gates plan was filed in July 1961, drawn by Wilson P. Owen and developed by Robert & Harry Myerhoff Building Company. Four Winds, mentioned before, should also be included under quality developments.
It is possible to find the original plats to see who was responsible for the best planned developments. For example, Garrison Farms, Inc., under its president Leroy Peters filed the Garrison Farms plan in 1951 (Plat Books GLB 17:38). Fox Chapel, Section 1, was recorded in 1958, the plan made by James Spammer & Associates of Towson, surveyors and engineers working for Bay Country Developers, Inc. More corporate presidents could be given credit, but their signatures on plats are usually illegible. The late Gordon E. Sugar can be credited with some imaginative development, especially around the Pomona mansion in Pikesville (1971) where he constructed apartments designed to equal Cross Keys in the city and also laid out large single home lots at “Long Meadows at Garrison,” 1957. Summer Hill was planned by Matz, Childs & Associates of Towson for developer G. Preston Scheffenacker, Inc., in 1971. The cluster of two-story garden apartments constructed in Butler quartzite opposite the entrance to Goucher College — not strictly suburbs — was built by the Locksley Hall Company, Inc., starting in 1950. Kings Point west of Randallstown was designed by Matz, Childs and Associates in 1968 for developer Morris Sosnow.
Two company towns were broken up into individual lots in the age of historic preservation: Oella and Ashland, thus becoming true suburbs. Oella was developed by the last treasurer of the W.J. Dickey Company textile manufacturing concern, Charles L. Wagandt, 2d., starting about 1976. Ashland was rehabbed and expanded by developer Kim Strutt in the 1980s; that ironworks had been out of business for almost a century but the workers’ houses had stayed in one ownership and for a long time belonged to Mano Swartz, the Baltimore furrier; rents were very modest in old Ashland but there was no sewer service until the redevelopment was completed. The mill town of Dickeyville, lost to Baltimore City in 1918, was also suburbanized about 1935.
Most suburbs built since 1945 are ordinary, and their houses display a minimum of architectural design. Most row houses after Rodgers Forge were ordinary, and the later Keelty, Knott, Myerhoff, and Posner rows scrimped on detailing and tried to have window sashes of just one pane of glass instead of inserting homelike small panes with wooden muntins and mullions. The least designed houses were probably the flat-roofed boxes along the Washington Parkway approach to the city; those houses were nominally brick, but hundreds of bricks were saved by having whole front walls of plate glass. At least people of modest means had a roof over their heads.
The quickly flung up shopping centers started to fall apart at about age 25. Most of the houses that are now being rehabbed by the Community Conservation program are post-war construction. However, the neo-townhouses such as those at Mays Chapel are a cut above old city row houses with a variety of facades and irregular planes in front. Possibly the first Baltimore County project to imitate such retro-design villages as Kentlands will be Kingsley Park in the eastern part of Essex, the replacement of the old, worn-out Kingsley Park. The proposals and idealized elevations have been the most admired designs in many years, but only actual construction will prove whether comfortable, friendly, and walkable neighborhoods can be created by governmental influence.
It certainly became fashionable to hate suburbs in the mid-1960s, when there was a song about the pointlessness of living in identical tickey-tackey houses. Yet in 2006, there are still people moving to city locations like Hampden and Canton and still other people moving to places like Mays Chapel, places on golf courses, or places newly established on last year’s working farm.