by Mary Bahr, Curator, Elkridge Heritage Society
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Who’s On First? But Where’s That?
Roads on the Hill were laid out differently as early maps reveal. The intersection, now at the roads of Lawyers Hill and Old Lawyers Hill, was at one time non-existent. The two roads were one dirt road which ended on a steep descent to Elkridge Landing somehow over the Thomas Viaduct trestles. So the second half of the current Lawyers Hill Road, lying just beyond the intersection and circulating down to a blocked driveway that exits on to it, and that has in its nearest vicinity a watering trough for horses, was part of a later extension, binding the Hill on its South side in a continuity that ends at the Viaduct at ground level. This is my supposition from looking at an early 19th c. map. This also explains that the old estates and their outbuildings, including Edgewood Cottage, were located along the North end of the former dirt road which led down to Latrobe’s Fairy-Knowe and the watering trough, which road now ends in a driveway exiting onto Lawyers Hill Rd. Are you following so far?
Now the Cottage was a pre-Civil War “gardeners cottage” in service to Thomas Donaldson’s main house of “Edgewood” (see illustration no. 1) connected to it by a carriage road down a south slope to the stable, and also by a path which ran under a rustic arbor covered with honeysuckle.
He was married to Mary E. Pickering Dorsey, of Boston, and had a special love of English poetry and a thorough knowledge of Shakespeare, delighting to play Shylock and King Lear in Assembly Hall plays, apparently comparing equally well with professional actors. Records also show that Thomas, also being a distinguished Baltimore attorney and leader of the Howard County bar, was made a vestryman in 1845 at Grace Episcopal Church.
That places Donaldson in Elkridge before that year and maybe living at “Edgewood,” which supposition would reasonably date the gardener’s cottage to around that time or a little later. But really, without further research, I don’t know who built what and when.
The cottage was “done over” for his son, Frederick Donaldson and Fred’s wife, Sophie Davis. She was the daughter of Arthur B. Davis and his wife, Charlotte Proal (of Arles-sur-Rhone), who lived next door in “Glenholm,” a home obtained by the Davis family from Thomas Donaldson’s wife, Mary Dorsey. Connecting the family dots, Charlotte Donaldson was either Thomas’s daughter or Fred’s daughter who married Jim Hemphill (of Davis & Hemphill), and they lived on the other side of the cottage in a home Hemphill built called the “Red Hill House.”
Meanwhile, it was Fred and Sophie who appropriately named the cottage “Edgewood Cottage,” for our 3.5 acres contained three large meadows edged with woods, extending down and over that later extension of Lawyers Hill Road and further down into a deep ravine.
Fred was a social favorite and Sophie was a homemaker and mother. There was always an insufficiency of money, but affection was there and the family enjoyed country life in the community of Lawyers Hill, including acting in plays and other society gatherings at the Assembly Hall.
Later, the main house of Edgewood was bought by Marion B. Davis and razed. Parts of the house were used constructing a new home for the Davis family. But “Edgewood Cottage” came into the ownership of Allen White before it was purchased in 1947 by my maternal grandfather, and gifted to my parents (Leonard and Florence Bahr) according to the deed. And the way I understand it, that gift was made over my dad’s d**d body, because he paid back every penny of his father-in-law’s purchase. We moved from Baltimore City to Elkridge that August, when I was eight months old.
“Big deal – I’m here already, so where’s the In’juns?”
Publishers suggest that a writer should talk of subjects about which they know. Here’s, for chuckles, my portfolio of recollections and minute observations. And because I lived and “breathed” Edgewood Cottage for 18+ years, I do have stories to tell. But other family secrets will cost ya’ one dollar.
Edgewood Cottage from the east front, including the south porch on the left.
Notice the tall-backed benches on either side of the front porch door and the yellow
day lilies. Unfortunately, the only windows I drew were for the upstairs bathroom
because I didn’t make the front facade wide enough.
An Environmental English Muffin
Now when I say “breathed,” I mean when close enough, I could smell the wooden timbers, musty closets, damp plaster walls and anything else my olfactory sense would nose-dive into. How many kids can say they smelled house parts and enjoyed it? It may be a peculiarity to be intensely aware of surroundings, but my relationship with my environment and its mysteries was important for stability, familiarity, as well as change. I was redecorating it, in a journey with it, but never alien to it. If I was the butter to its English muffin, I would be in its nooks and crannies.
Everything is an environment for something. We try to control it, but sometimes that isn’t the answer. It’s less a feeling, more a prophetic communication.
Environmental prophecy works both ways. For instance, I visited a boy friend living in Norfolk — a Naval officer, very attractive, very decent and fun. But for some reason I became truly and intensely aware of the boring blandness and sterility of his window blinds and that doomed us for any future together as far as I was concerned. His environment spoke for him. I didn’t belong in it. His surroundings suffocated me. Suffice to say we parted in different directions. ‘Nuff said. Hope he doesn’t accidentally READ THIS.
So in the Cottage, which our family referred to as “The Old House,” I found a lot of my youthful time and attentive curiosities gladly taken up with the details of any house parts that caught my eye — be it an intricate design on the door’s metal hinges, grandmother’s velvet ladies chairs, the shapes in torn wallpaper, the huge transom window above the stairs, the depth and darkness of closets, the musical squeak on a weak floor board outside my sister’s door, the dank stone basement, the sherry in abbey-labeled bottles not hidden well enough behind a door to the back kitchen stairs, or the distortion of my vision looking through blown glass marquis-diamond-shaped windowpanes — just to name a few attractions.
And speaking of torn wallpaper! Our mother didn’t actually say NO, so my brother Len and I drew cartoons on the papered walls using the paper’s peeling shapes as bodies of characters. Mother could or would not redecorate over our doodles because she claimed they were too cute. We thought so.
Over the years, my parents and I created various portraits of our habitat:
Beth’s room with diamond-shaped windowpanes, papered walls, and Tisa sleeping.
© Colored woodcut by Florence Bahr. Courtesy of the Elkridge Heritage Society.
© watercolor by Florence Bahr. Courtesy of Bahr Estate
Edgewood Cottage bathroom.
© oil painting by Mary Bahr. Courtesy of Bahr Estate
Our bathroom was also known to us as my dad’s “visit to Aunt Minnies.”
She was my great aunt, but I never met the woman.
Trumpets and Glory
The acreage around The Old House contained many types of trees, some wild and some domestic. There was a host of apple, ash, cherry, black locust, cedar, dogwood, holly, maples, mimosa, Norway spruce and other pines, peach, pears, various poplars, and oaks, to name a few, including a seedling from the Wye Oak.
My mother was territorial about leaving the acorns to sprout, as it were, and I had a time reasoning that a certain plan of growth was in order to keep the shrinking meadows from being further overwhelmed. On the other hand, thanks to a neighbor’s intercession, theft by a West Virginia logger was stopped. He was caught in the act of taking down trees on our lower property next to Lawyers Hill Road. These types of property attacks shocked my mother no end.
© photos by Leonard Bahr. Courtesy of Bahr Estate.
Our parents also fostered bamboo, English boxwood, forsythia, hollyhocks, iris, jonquils, lilac, day lilies and tiger lilies, lily-of-the-valley, rose bush varieties, sunflowers, tulips, wisteria, yucca, and gorgeous zinnias. Our dad kept the lawn carefully mowed, but in those wide areas, he protected the buttercups, bluets and daisies. After mowing around them, he took photographs.
© photos by Leonard Bahr. Courtesy of Bahr Estate.
Along with the wisteria, the trumpet vines and Morning Glory grew beside The Old House. We had bushes of honeysuckle with an ancient lineage. Some of their tendrils were so thick and long they stuck out like tree roots from one side of the yard to another, impossible to rid. Dad also hacked away at the many plots of wild saw grass, which varieties are popular for ornamental gardens. He whacked them down short with his scythe and dug out their roots so that they wouldn’t continue to spread.
And to think that with a little hard work, and WITHOUT the use of toxic chemicals, he kept the place looking naturally beautiful ! How many young men today have ever heard of a “scythe” or know what it looks like?
A view from the Lower Meadow.
© oil painting by Leonard Bahr. Courtesy of Bahr Estate
© pastel by Mary Bahr. Courtesy of Bahr Estate.
By the 1980′s, I was swinging an axe on dead limbs, hedge clipping bushes, and pulling grape vines too. Watching dad burn out bag worms with newspaper, I learned to do it myself. I cut poison oak, ivy and sumac as best I could without its contact. Mother took the hard route when she raked a pile of poison ivy and burned it. She ballooned up so big, red, and with her eyes almost swollen shut, I didn’t recognize her. Apparently she didn’t know you can’t burn it without some serious consequences.
All illustrations in this article are copyrighted.
Don’t miss “Portraits of Edgewood Cottage” Part 2 of 2 next time:
- Redecorate or WHAT?
- All Creatures Great and Small
- Growing Up Amused
- Hark! A Vagrant !
- This Land is Your Land, This Land is…