Joppa Wisteria Finds Its Way Back To Baltimore Mansion

Another Vine Cutting Will Replace 1936 Slip Lost At Evergreen

April 19, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Harriett Rogers is doing her part to repeat history.

In 1936, the83-year-old woman's father, J. Alexis Shriver, gave a cutting of a wisteria vine at his family's Joppa estate to the owners of the famed Evergreen mansion in Baltimore.

Tomorrow, Rogers will see a small portion cut from the same vine for replanting on the grounds at Evergreen, which currently has no wisteria.

The vine at Evergreen, now owned by the Johns Hopkins University, was torn down along with a tea house in the estate's gardens about 20 years ago, said Christopher Weeks, Harford's historic preservation planner.

It was Weeks' idea to replace the vine with a cutting from the original. After Rogers agreed to donate a cutting, he began making arrangements for tomorrow's clipping.

"(My father) did it, so why shouldn't I?" Rogers said. "He'd think it was fine."

Shriver, who died in 1951 at age 79, pioneered the development of the county's first telephone and electric companies. He also owned two rail lines in the Baltimore area.

The entrepreneur, considered Harford's greatest historian, researched the path of American and French troops in the county during the Revolutionary War. Shriver also persuaded the state to place signs along roadways to mark historical sites.

The Shriver family has owned a 264-acre estate, Olney, off Old Joppa Road since the 1860s.

The 18-room Federal mansion was built in 1810 but was radically remodeled by Alexis Shriver in the first half of the 20th century.

Shriver took four 18-ton columns from the Atheneum Club in Baltimore before the structure was demolished and had them installed at the back of his home, overlooking the gardens.

A picture of the Atheneum Club hangs in the parlor of the mansion amongthe portraits of the Shriver family.

One of those portraits is ofRogers.

The artist suggested that Rogers pose for the portrait inan evening gown, she said.

Instead, she wore an everyday dress and sat with two cats and a dog.

"I wear a formal evening dress maybe twice a year," she said. "Nobody would know who it was in the portrait."

Rogers and her husband, Holden Rogers, now live at Olney, which has been put in the state's agricultural preservation program.

But the Rogers, married for 24 years, don't have much time to sit back and enjoy their surroundings. They're often busy preparing for theSenior Olympics.

The two have won numerous medals for their performances in the Senior Olympics.

Harriett Rogers competes in the shot put, long jump, 1,500-meter race walk and 1,500-meter run events.

Rogers' two children, Dr. William Howard and Frances Flatau, have their own homes at the estate.

The family raises about 50 Shetlandponies, which Rogers began raising professionally in 1921.

Over the years, the luster of Olney has faded, but the grandeur remains.

The home is sturdy, much like the wisteria vine that twists around the pillars of the home's 40-foot front porch.

"It looks pretty andit smells wonderfully," Rogers said of the vine, which will bloom with lavender flowers in May.

Shriver took the vine from Montebello,a Baltimore estate that was demolished in the early part of the 1900s.

The estate was at the site of Lake Montebello.

Back in the 1930s, Shriver was a friend of diplomat John W. and Alice Garrett, whoowned Evergreen, which is located at Charles Street and Cold Spring Lane.

John Garrett willed Evergreen to Hopkins following his deathin the 1940s.

His widow left the university an endowment for the maintenance of the estate.

John Garrett, grandson of the founder of the B & O Railroad, was born at Montebello, and Shriver thought Evergreen should have the wisteria vine from Garrett's birthplace.

The couple, known for its patronage of the arts, turned Evergreen into the center of Baltimore high society of the 1920s. Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway and Henri Matisse were some of the regular guests at the estate.

Rogers and her family also were regular guests at Evergreen, attending classical music concerts.

Rogers recalled that she dressed up her son, then 5 years old, for one of the concerts.

"(Evergreen) was just a house, like this is just a house," said Rogers, sitting in Olney's dining room with a view of the canopy of wisteria.

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