Lawyers Hill's 'traditions of the past'

November 19, 1992

It is nice to know, in this material age, when society rushe from one season to another, that there is still a neighborhood which clings affectionately to the traditions of the past . . .

That assessment of the Lawyers Hill section of Elkridge, in eastern Howard County, was offered by a Sun writer in 1924. Nearly 70 years later, the words still ring true, as evidenced by the efforts of Lawyers Hill residents to have their community listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Finding a more likely candidate for the register would be difficult. One of America's first commuter suburbs, Lawyers Hill was established 150 years ago as a summer community for Baltimore judges and attorneys. Nowadays, the approximately 100 upper middle-class residents live there year-round.

A prime charm of hilly, tree-shaded Lawyers Hill is its variety of houses dating from the 1800s. The styles constitute an architectural smorgasbord that includes Victorian, Italianate, Gothic Revival and Georgian. There's even a Sears mail-order model.

"When you enter the area, you're surrounded by these old houses and trees, and it feels like you're stepping back in time," says Lawyers Hill community association president Gary Ticknor, who works in Baltimore as, fittingly enough, a lawyer.

Notwithstanding its echoes of the past -- its architecture, July 4th picnics and monthly potluck dinners -- the neighborhood is kept from being a complete throwback to olden days by the proximity of Interstate 95 and encroaching development. In fact, the fear of further construction near Lawyers Hill led residents to seek the historic designation, which would effectively block the use of federal and state money for projects that would harm the historic character of the community.

Howard's historic planner, Alice Ann Wetzel, says the designation is no guarantee against development. But, she adds, "It gives the community a good say in projects proposed for the area."

For extra protection, the residents have asked the county's planning and zoning board to place Lawyers Hill under the jurisdiction of the county's historic district commission. The commission would thus gain control over any exterior work on the houses -- the sort of thing building owners usually fight because they want to avoid just such a loss of power over their properties.

"An outsider might find it hard to understand why a community would put itself under such control," says Mr. Ticknor. "I think it just shows our strong desire to preserve what we have here."

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