Rustic oasis thrives in midst of the city


January 16, 1994|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

Drive the speed limit along Edmondson Avenue in the far reaches of Southwest Baltimore, and you're likely to miss it: A three-way intersection where graffiti-covered buildings and flat asphalt give way to a hilly community of grand old homes on half-acre lots sheltered by century-old trees.

The small collection of 250 homes where Cooks Lane, Baltimore National Pike and Edmondson Avenue converge is called Ten Hills. It looks as though it belongs to the 19th century, not the 20th.

Most single-family homes here -- two and three stories high -- were built almost 90 years ago. Their Palladian windows and sun parlors look out over no town homes, condos, convenience stores or gas stations, by order of the community association. All that residents see are the Tudor, Colonial and Georgian-style homes of their neighbors, surrounded by yards of trees and stone fences.

Newer homes of brick and wood siding, built after the 1960s, are not as stately. Still, the lack of commerce, and the twisting, dipping roads and wooded ravines give Ten Hills a country feel that few people expect to find just three miles from the center of Baltimore.

"The homes are very lovely and very well-maintained," said Enotha Bennett, an agent with Century 21 in Randallstown. "I think the people who live there have lived there for many years. It doesn't change."

Newer three-bedroom houses sell for about $110,000. Older four- to six-bedroom homes go for about $175,000.

Robert and Katherine Dwyer and their children, Timothy, 15, and Elisabeth, 12, have lived in Ten Hills for nearly 14 years. They share their old Dutch Colonial, built in 1911, with two cats and two dogs.

But the Dwyers, both in their 40s, find that the richness of their community more than compensates for any lack of room.

"It is a very strong neighborhood," said Mrs. Dwyer, a kindergarten teacher in the Baltimore public schools. "One of my friends who was visiting us was just amazed when I ran out of potatoes for dinner. Instead of running to the store, I just called around to my neighbors until, eventually, we had enough."

The Dwyers take part in Ten Hills community events, like an annual summer block party that attracts 250 or more residents, and holiday caroling jaunts through the neighborhood.

"We feel like we're in the country," Mrs. Dwyer said. "People walk ZTC up and down the streets, and everybody stops to say hello. It's not that we're nosy. We're friendly."

Geography lesson

"The people who move here, I think, are people who are romantics at heart, who would like to have been alive just prior to World War II," said Betty Newcomb, a 67-year-old Ten Hills homeowner who is president of its community association. "Ten Hills reminds me of what life was like when I was 16 years old."

According to Edward Orser, a professor with the American Studies program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a resident near Ten Hills, the community owes its country quality partly to its separation from the city.

Ten Hills was built in 1911 on land that slopes gradually east and down to a ravine cut by Gwynns Falls. The river served as a natural border, separating Ten Hills from developing urban Baltimore. Uplands Parkway, extending the full length of Ten Hills on its eastern border, also acted as a buffer. For many years, Edmondson Avenue was the only real access east or west.

"It really was built on an elite scale, with large homes and lots, curving roads, and wild, hilly terrain," Mr. Orser said. "It was very much by itself."

Ten Hills' geography also insulated it from the racial integration that surged through urban areas in the 1960s and '70s, Mr. Orser said. Ten Hills became integrated like its neighboring communities, but at a much slower rate.

"In the last 10 years, they've become much more integrated, and in a much more gradual and healthy way," he said. "There wasn't the kind of panic and unsettling atmosphere there and a much greater degree of acceptance to integration."

Ms. Bennett said she has shown properties in Ten Hills to people of all ethnic backgrounds. While she believes that the neighborhood is racially and ethnically balanced, she said, it is not the type of community that changes quickly.

Three groups

But Ten Hills is changing. Mr. Orser said three groups of people live in the community. The first is people who have lived in Ten Hills for 60 years or more.

Another group moved to Ten Hills during the 1960s, when property values in the city were very low and people were leaving in droves. "This is a group that was committed to the city and made a conscious choice of moving into the city," Mr. Orser said. "It was a wonderful bargain for them, and the option was to move way out into the sterile suburbs."

More recently, he said, a third group is moving to Ten Hills, a generation both black and white, employed by city and state government and the University of Maryland.

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