Lawyers Hill: an historic place

January 03, 1994

When faced with the possibility of historic designations for their properties or communities, homeowners and business people often fight like mad. They argue that such a designation robs them of control over their own structures, allowing some local committee to give thumbs up or down to any paint job or addition a building owner might propose.

The folks in the Lawyers Hill section of Elkridge feel differently about historic designations. For the past few years, in fact, residents have sought to have their community officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Not long ago, they learned their campaign had paid off: Lawyers Hill is now on the esteemed register. Residents and businesses become eligible for state and federal tax breaks.

In addition, any federally funded project planned for the 650-acre historic district would be subject to review by the Maryland Historical Trust. That's not exactly an ironclad guarantee against unwanted development, but it should allow the community a strong say in maintaining the area's historic character.

What makes Lawyers Hill worthy of this designation? For one thing, it was one of the first commuter suburbs in the United States, established 150 years ago as the summer address of Baltimore judges and attorneys.

Nowadays, the approximately 100 upper-middle class residents -- including some lawyers -- live in the shady, hilltop community through the year. Their homes, mostly original structures from the 1800s, are done in a smorgasbord of architectural styles, from Victorian to Italianate to Gothic Revival, even to Sears mail-order.

Not content with just the National Register listing, the people of Lawyers Hill also have asked the Howard County government to put the neighborhood under the jurisdiction of the local historic district commission. The commission would thus control exterior work on the houses.

Before that can happen, though, the county's zoning board would have to give its approval. The board will hear a petition in the matter early in this new year.

Building owners mounting an effort to surrender so much control of their properties? Sounds unusual. But it shows the depth of commitment by today's Lawyers Hill residents to preserve what a 1924 Sun article called "a neighborhood which clings affectionately to the traditions of the past."

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