Stevenson: At the heart of yesteryear

Neighborhood Profile

August 18, 1996|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In today's Real Estate section, the names of Felix Agnus Lesir and Felix Agnus are misspelled.

The Sun regrets the error.

Two miles north of the Beltway, between the noisy commercial corridor of Reisterstown Road and the residential developments along Falls Road, acres of pristine meadows and woodlands hug the origin of the Jones Falls waterway.

This is the Greenspring Valley, and in the heart of the valley, home of polo and fox hunting, is the village of Stevenson.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"We say Stevenson is from hill to hill. That is, from Reisterstown Road to Falls Road, from Chattolanee [known for spring water and a former inn] to the Beltway, an area about two miles wide," said Leona North, who has lived there 51 years.

"This whole area is not one of tremendous change. It has [risen from] old, old money with tremendous properties.

"We keep the valley basically as it is," she said, referring to her membership in the Greenspring Valley Improvement Association, which has been actively resisting development in the valley for more than 20 years.

"If we were to get water and sewer service, we would get change. We don't want change. This is a unique spot."

Stevenson's downtown is a clubby community, where first names are used and vacations are taken during the same week in August. The nucleus of Stevenson activity is probably the post office.

"We all go to the post office to pick up our mail. That's the fine tuning," said Mary Dee Beall, describing who is considered to reside in Stevenson.

At the post office, where the postwoman hands one's letters over the counter, there are 580 mailboxes and a home delivery route limited to about one mile north of the village.

Mary Dee Beall took residence in a three-story white country home in 1937, after marriage into the Beall family, which arrived here from Perry Hall in 1907.

The Beall family grocery expanded with her husband's Ford dealership, for 40 years a landmark on the corner of Stevenson Road and Old Valley Road.

Her husband gradually converted adjacent homes into storefronts. Each two-family home became two stores, and the tiny group became Stevenson Village.

Today, Stevenson Village is a cluster of upscale shops for books, interiors and accessories, flowers and garden statuary, plus a spa and small cafe. A veterinary office is to open next door. An architect's office occupies the former train station. Within sight of the post office sprawls a community member's personal menagerie of buffaloes, llamas and geese.

"I always tell my customers that we seem like the country, but we're a suburb, really. But no one would know that by the looks of the place," said Susan Yonkers, who remembers a childhood when dairy farms hugged Stevenson Road to the south, where housing and the Beltway are now.

Her first family car was purchased at Beall's Ford. Today, she and her husband, Bill, own the Bookshop at Stevenson Village, honored for "Baltimore's Best Gardening Books" by Baltimore Magazine.

"A lot of families have been here a long time. Land of any size are old families, old homes, from the the days when successful Baltimoreans had a home in the country: a large clapboard called 'the cottage' which had six or eight bedrooms and all that went with it. This was during the early successful days of the train, when husbands would go back to Baltimore on the train," recalled Mary Dee Beall.

Train service that began in 1832 through Stevenson to the spring and hilltop hotel at Chattolanee was limited to coal by the World War I and nonexistent by World War II. The tracks have long been removed.

A visitor to Stevenson would want a talk with Mary Dee's son, Preston Beall, owner of the Early Edition cafe, who delights in historical detail. For what's new is what's old in Stevenson.

A home built in 1929 on Stevenson Road, for instance, is an authentic reproduction of a 16th-century English country home of the Cotswold region.

The stucco exterior and swayback shake-shingle roof were maintained when the current owner added a wing to double its size. The living room contained wooden beams taken from the Cockey family home.

Named St. Anthony's Delight for the patron saint of animals, it was built by Felix Angus Lesir, a nephew of Rosa Ponselle and the first paid director of the Baltimore Zoo. He situated the home uphill of central Stevenson, overlooking his uncle's plot at Druid Ridge Cemetery. His uncle was Felix Angus, whose cemetery monument was deemed haunted and dubbed "Black Aggie." The home was valued at $280,000 in 1984.

Stevenson United Methodist church, a stone chapel at Greenspring Valley and Stevenson Road, was built in 1907 when seven residents each contributed $1,000.

Recently, Helen C. Cardwell, the first child to be baptized in the church, was laid to rest at age 88. She had just moved to the Baptist Home of Maryland, a senior citizens rest home north of Stevenson. Her father had farmed that estate and others in the valley.

"She'd gone back to her original home," said Mary Dee.

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