When you haven't moved in more than 50 years, home is full of warm memories

WHERE THE HEART IS

March 20, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

When Emily Johns talks about her home of 67 years, she talks about Christmases past and the warm memories that linger.

For more than 60 of those Christmas Eves, Mrs. Johns, now 93, has invited neighborhood children into her home to see the Christmas garden and to hear her read the Christmas story. Some years, as many as 50 youngsters have come to her Roland Park home.

While the Census Bureau reports that almost half of all Americans have moved since 1985, Mrs. Johns has stayed put since 1925. She is unusual, to be sure, but not unique. In many Baltimore neighborhoods, there are residents who have lived in the same house for five or more decades.

Like Joan Williams. Sitting in the front room of the house she was born in 59 years ago, she says, "I've always been here. . . . I'm going to stay as long as I can." The plain white house in the Carroll-South Hilton neighborhood of West Baltimore was Ms. Williams' grandmother's, and at least four generations have lived there.

Ms. Williams' sentiments are shared by others who have lived long years under the same roof. They're happy to be where they are, they say, and they're making no plans to move.

...

George Rebstock When George Rebstock was born in 1908, his family's rowhouse the house near the south end of Light Street in which his father was born in the 1880s -- had no bathroom, no central heat, no electricity.

He remembers heating the second-floor bedrooms with kerosene and going to a "bath house" near Cross Street Market. He recalls that his mother cooked over wood and coal in the cellar where the family spent most of its time.

As a young man, he says, "it seemed odd when we moved from the basement upstairs" after a kitchen, bath and another bedroom were added to the rear of the house.

Mr. Rebstock, 84, remembers when the B&O trains weren't far from his front door. "When the trains would stop for signals, people would be knocking coal off the cars," to take home for fuel or to sell to others.

He remembers when trolleys ran to the end of Light Street and when "a policeman would tend traffic until 10 o'clock at night at Light and Cross streets."

"Things has changed a lot," says Mr. Rebstock.

But not his address.

"I've been single all my life. My brothers and sisters went off and I still stayed there with my parents." One sister lives next door; she's been there at least 25 years.

"We still have a lot of the old neighbors. I'm the next to the oldest in the block."

Though he gave up driving years ago, Mr. Rebstock still gets around the neighborhood, eating often at the market and walking to his hangout, the Allen Center for Senior Citizens at Holy Cross Church.

He says the old house is too big for him. But, he adds, "I wouldn't know how to move."

Peggy Spear

Peggy Spear's father dreamed of a place in the country, but he died before he could move his family from Lexington Street in downtown Baltimore.

"My father always wanted to go out the York Road. He wanted to have a little farm and raise flowers," says Miss Spear.

So his widow carried out his wishes, moving her six children to a bungalow in a new area west of York Road in the early 1920s. Miss Spear, the second youngest, won't say how young she was when the family moved to Govans. But that was 69 years ago, and Miss Spear hasn't moved since.

It wasn't a farm, but it wasn't populated, either. "The whole street was nothing but wild flowers -- daisies, roses. At a certain point in the [street car] ride up York Road, you could smell the flowers.

"It was sort of a country place in the city. We were one of the first two [houses] in the development," she recalls. "They sold like hot cakes."

Many of the single-family homes set back from the narrow street that ends at the Loyola College campus appear to be copies of Miss Spear's. Only the colors are different.

Although the houses haven't changed much, the people have. Just a couple of the old-timers are left, says Miss Spear. She doesn't know the new folks very well.

Despite the traffic along York Road and the fast-food restaurants within walking distance, "I don't think the neighborhood's changed that much," she says. "It's a nice, home neighborhood."

Miss Spear says she's thought about moving and almost gave up the four-bedroom house for a smaller place in Columbia.

But the family home was always "headquarters" for her brothers and sisters, she says, and she's comfortable there.

"We had a good home. I'm tickled to death to be here. It just seems like yesterday that they started leaving."

Joan Williams

"She's still the same old house. She cries and creaks just like I do," Joan Williams says of the square six-room duplex on Leeds Street, just north of Frederick Avenue.

"She's got to be 100 years old," says Ms. Williams, who inherited the house from her paternal grandmother, Matilda Blanks. "I always stayed with my grandmother; she had me since I was 6 months old," when Ms. Williams' mother became ill.

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