Evergreen's roots run deep into bygone era

February 03, 1991|By James D. Dilts | James D. Dilts,Special to The Sun

Nobody seems to know how the tiny wooded enclave off Cold Spring Lane called Evergreen got its name.

It might have come from one of the old estates with similar titles on either side, or perhaps it was the large pines interspersed among the mature trees that distinguish its rolling topography. For whatever reason, the neighborhood was designated Evergreen about 1877, when the first real development occurred.

Many visitors think the neighborhood is part of Roland Park, but in fact Evergreen predates the larger and better-known neighborhood, for which it became a staging and service area. Many of the artisans who built Roland Park's larger and more expensive houses, as well as Edward H. Bouton, general manager of the Roland Park Co., lived in Evergreen while Baltimore's premier residential neighborhood was under construction.

A stranger would not easily confuse Evergreen's more modest homes with those in Roland Park, but he would probably be impressed with their architectural diversity.

Most are two or 2 1/2 stories high, detached or semidetached, with flat or pitched roofs, but they include everything from California-style bungalows to log cabins. Some are stone or brick, but the majority are wood clapboard and shingle. Victorian front porches with elaborately turned posts, scrolled brackets and gingerbread are common, and some of the homes have L-shaped porches wrapping around the side.

Evergreen, tucked between Charles Street and Roland Avenue, is bounded by Cold Spring Lane to the south and Oakdale Road on the north. Maynadier Road, an alley behind Hawthorne Road, where Roland Park begins, marks the western border, while Stony Run establishes the neighborhood's eastern edge.

About 1890, when the first plat of Roland Park was being developed, a couple of promoters decided to turn the narrow-gauge Maryland Central Railroad that ran along the stream's banks into something grander.

At the time, the Maryland Central's southern terminal was in the Jones Falls Valley at North Avenue, Baltimore's major rail junction. The railroad followed Stony Run from where the stream empties into the Jones Falls below 29th Street to the city line. Then it veered off without much evident purpose, first to Bel Air and finally to York, Pa.

NB The entrepreneurs' idea was to convert the Maryland Central to

standard gauge and connect it at one end with the Baltimore harbor and at the other with Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley Railroad, a major coal hauler.

However, while the conversion to standard gauge was completed, the railroad, later to become the much-beloved Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, never did get beyond York.

The Evergreen station was near Cold Spring Lane. Elinor Bennett,born on Wilmslow Road, remembers a lumber and coal yard there, behind what is now the Royal Farm Store. She rode the train for 15 cents to her job at Black & Decker in Towson, and down to the North Avenue Market. She also made rail excursions to York.

"It took four hours to get there -- you went through every little cow pasture -- and we took a bus back," she recalls. "It was a nice little train; a lot of people rode it."

The trains stopped running after World War II, but in the Evergreen section of Stony Run Park portions of the ballast-covered right-of-way, an occasional tie, or the concrete base of a signal tower remind visitors of the community's railroad heritage. So do the day and nighttime train whistles that still echo up the valley and through the neighborhood from the North Avenue junction of the Amtrak and CSX rail lines.

The park was a 1904 creation of the Olmsted Brothers' firm. Theywere the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City's Central Park.

They were by then employed by the Roland Park Co. as planners. They conceived a system of stream valley parks for Baltimore, and Stony Run was one of the more successful ones.

The park today is frequented by residents as well as hikers from the surrounding area, and its improvement has become a major effort of the Evergreen Community Association, which holds its well-attended annual picnics there.

Michael Beer, a biologist who lives nearby and is head of the association's park committee, has worked with volunteers for six years to create "an attractive arboretum of native plants, a place where young growth replaces the old trees."

After they got the city to stop mowing the park, which cut off new growth, the volunteers used $800 in funds raised through the community association to buy and plant shrubs, wild flowers, and some 200 trees comprising 100 species, including oaks, locust, hickory, ash, sycamore and "a lovely collection of native trees," says Mr. Beer.

The group now selectively mows the park and saves the city money, using a tractor mower donated by a local philanthropist.

On the corner of Wilmslow Road and Cable Street is Evergreen's old Roland Park Stables, built in 1900 and recently converted into offices.

"In those days, if you lived in Roland Park and wanted a horse and carriage you called the stable and they sent one over," according to Philip W. Chase Jr., chairman of Chase-Fitzgerald & Co. Realtors. Another distinctive community building, the 1894 Evergreen Methodist Episcopal Church, is now owned by a sculptor.

Today there is little turnover in the roughly 20-square-block area, according to Mr. Chase. Prices average about $180,000 compared with $250,000 for Roland Park, he said, and have remained stable over the past year. He summarized Evergreen's attractions: Victorian houses, old trees, quiet and no through streets.

Rail tickets to Towson cost 15 cents.

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