Residents of English Consul seeking to restore recognition to community

May 20, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

"Welcome to Baltimore Highlands," proclaims the weather-beaten sign at Annapolis Road and Arbutus Avenue.

"That sign's not in Baltimore Highlands, it's in English Consul. We're forgotten in this part of the county," complained Frances Holmes, a partisan for the historic identity of her tiny community.

Mrs. Holmes, a native of England, declares her vestigial national pride in the history of English Consul but, like other residents, feels it is being subsumed by Baltimore Highlands, which is actually an adjacent area.

Local business people plan to renew the sign, and some residents say they may campaign to get the name of English Consul included.

"The English Consul identity should be perpetuated; Baltimore Highlands doesn't have a past that goes back to Colonial times,"' said Charles R. "Bob" Courtney, 58, president of the English Consul Volunteer Fire Department -- which actually is based in Baltimore Highlands. "Maybe we can do something about getting the name up there. I'd like to try," he said.

Spoken of locally as "English Council," the name comes from the estate and mansion built in 1818 -- on what is now Oak Grove Avenue -- by William Dawson, appointed in 1815 as the first British government representative in Baltimore after the War of 1812.

Consul Dawson died in 1820 and is buried at Old St. Paul's Burial Ground, on West Lombard Street near University Hospital. His descendants operated the estate, which was a farm, and businesses in Baltimore for decades afterward.

The name English Consul was applied to the area after the subdivision of the 254-acre Dawson estate began about 1908. Once there was an English Consul Station on the Baltimore-Annapolis rail line, but today only two institutions perpetuate the name, the fire company and the English Consul Christian Church.

The pastor, the Rev. James Duke, a member of the parish since 1929, said he, too, would like to see more public acknowledgment of English Consul. "When I was a boy, the area was well-known as English Consul, but it seems the name is being lost. Those who carry the name are very proud of it and wouldn't drop it for anything," he said.

Consul Dawson's 17-room, three-story, Federal-style hilltop mansion, still towers above the surrounding single-family bungalows and cottages. The house, known as The Mansion, is in one of its phases of restoration after being divided into apartments and once proposed for conversion to a nursing home.

The estate is replete with legends of tunnels for runaway slaves and of an annual whipping for a brother of Consul Dawson for an unspecified offense committed in England.

County historian John W. McGrain, who wrote extensively on the Dawson estate for the Maryland Historical Magazine in 1989, pooh-poohs the tales.

"They were more likely to have been slave owners," Mr. McGrain said. The young man in the alleged whipping was Frederick Dawson, the consul's son -- not his brother -- who was only 14 when his father took up the Baltimore post.

Two years later, Frederick went into business in Baltimore with an older brother, William, "leaving little time to disgrace himself in British society," the historian said.

If the legends have any factual basis, did they leave ghosts in the Dawson mansion?

Mary Laukaitis, 83, whose father-in-law, Ambrose Laukaitis Sr., bought the farm in 1923, doesn't think so. But nonetheless, she recalled being home alone while pregnant one night about 65 years ago; "I didn't feel comfortable so I sat out on the front porch until the others came home."

Marjorie Laukaitis Schultheis, 64, was born and grew up in The Mansion, owned by her grandfather. "It was beautiful. There was a fireplace in every room and those high ceilings. It made you feel it was some place," recalled Mrs. Schultheis, who now lives on Magnolia Avenue, a few blocks from her old home.

"I would like everyone to know that this was the oldest part, the beginning of this area. If the young people moving in knew more of the history, they would do more to preserve the name of English Consul," Mrs. Schultheis said.

Roland and Remedios Plummer bought the house in 1963. Until recent physical disabilities overtook them, they worked steadily at restoring it as close as possible to its original appearance.

Much of the original decoration, including ceiling moldings and escutcheons, remains in place, and concealing paint has been stripped off silver doorknobs. A three-story balcony on the west side of the house was removed years ago after it was damaged by fire.

Mrs. Plummer also disclaimed a belief in the supernatural, but said the sound effects produced by strong winds across the tall chimneys can be disconcerting. "You can hear the whoosh," she said.

"When I first saw this house, I couldn't believe my husband had bought it. I couldn't feature it as a home. It was in very poor condition," Mrs. Plummer said. Now the walls are covered with paintings and native art collected on the family's international travels.

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