Lawyers Hill unites to slow development Neighbors seek historic-locale status ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

November 09, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Time was when Van Wensil went to the bank, she'd know everybody there. Now the familiar faces are gone -- and so is the small community she once knew as Elkridge.

"We've seen so much change," said Mrs. Wensil. "There's constant building. Everything's getting run over and every piece of acreage is getting chopped up."

But her Lawyers Hill neighborhood will be spared bulldozers -- or any new developments -- if its application for historic district designation is OK'd. Word from the National Register of Historic Places is expected any day now, according to Alice Ann Wetzel, county historic planner.

A $14,000 Maryland Historical Trust grant and the help of an ZTC architectural historian helped residents apply to list the entire neighborhood on the National Register. If their application is accepted, any project that requires federal money -- widening Interstate 95 through Elkridge, for example -- will be carefully scrutinized.

A short commute from downtown Baltimore, Lawyers Hill is tucked among majestic 100-year-old trees that hide new developments that constantly spring up in Elkridge, the county's oldest district.

"There's just been tremendous growth -- certainly an increase in the population, an increase in traffic," said Mary Nichols, a 50-year resident. "There are a lot of people now."

Lawyers Hill was originally a place of summer retreat for prominent judges and litigators who wanted to escape the heat of Baltimore. Judge George Washington Dobbin, founder of the Baltimore Bar Association, made it his home, as did John H. B. Latrobe, lawyer for the B&O Railroad and maker of the Latrobe stove.

The neighborhood became Baltimore's first fashionable suburb and boasts an array of homes from different architectural periods, from charming Victorians to manorly Georgians to quaint Gothics.

Now, those who move to Lawyers Hill stay and live there for a long time, passing homes on to their children. Residents say they want to see the neighborhood stay as it is for as long as possible.

"I would like to preserve the area and not have development encroach upon old, established homes that are back here," said Janice Menear. "It's not so much I want to get people out, but to maintain the homes."

"It's such a unique area," said Mrs. Wensil. "It really does have the feeling of yesterday. I like to see the flavor of the neighborhood maintained."

Not all residents want their homes listed under the national register. Three homeowners have complained, one saying Lawyers Hill had been changed or destroyed so much that other places -- including Savage and Relay -- would be better candidates.

But because all the application required was approval from a majority of homeowners, their request to be excluded was denied, Ms. Wetzel said.

Residents also are applying to the county planning and zoning board to have their neighborhood under the jurisdiction of a historic district commission, which would have power to approve or reject any exterior home improvements. Their application is expected to be presented in the spring.

While the community waits, it is planning to restore Elkridge Assembly Rooms, an 1870 brown-shingled building used as a meeting place during the Civil War. The quaint building, where poetry readings, plays and ice cream socials were held, is now the site of neighborhood potluck dinners and July Fourth picnics.

Lawyers Hill resident Gloria Berthold, a landscape designer, last month unveiled plans to redesign the landscape surrounding "the Hall," as it's known to residents.

"I hope it continues to serve as a perfect meeting spot for the neighborhood," said the 16-year Lawyers Hill resident. "The project represents an excellent opportunity to give back to the community I so love."

Her project includes building a school bus stop near the hall, constructing a wooden patio and clearing out a space for lawn games and planting vegetation.

Ms. Berthold plans to plant 22 trees, including dogwoods, willow oaks and Serbian spruces, and more than 100 shrubs, including sweet azaleas, rosebays and skip laurels. Perennial plants such as vines and bulbs will also be planted.

Residents say they'll volunteer their time and donate trees and plants to get the $80,000 project completed. They hope to finish in five years.

"It certainly will be an improvement over what is there now," said Anna Mae Walters, a 44-year-resident. "It will add a lot of beauty."

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