Grand estate up for auction Mansion: Called one of Baltimore's great houses, Cliffholme will be auctioned Thursday. It is expected to bring between $1 million and $1.5 million.

September 13, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Cliffholme, the 14,000-square-foot Green Spring Valley estate on 9 1/2 verdant acres scheduled to be auctioned Thursday, has been described by architects and historians as one of Baltimore's great houses.

The three-story house, capped by three large chimneys, sits atop a ridge with a spectacular view of the valley floor and environs. The home, with nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms and seven fireplaces, looks as though it could be a setting for a Jane Austen novel or a "Masterpiece Theater" production.

"It's a home that is extremely unique to the Baltimore landscape, and its architecture is paralleled by that found in Newport, R.I., or Greenwich, Conn.," said Karen Bisbee, a vice president of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA. "There are only a handful of houses in Baltimore as beautiful as Cliffholme."

It's unclear how the home -- on which construction began in 1848 -- came to be known as Cliffholme. But Bisbee, who specializes in the sale of large homes and farms, said, "It's very clear that this is a home that has lots of personal history and has seen plenty of love and laughter through the years."

"Cliffholme is a contributing house to the Green Spring Valley Historic District, which since the early 1980s has been on the National Register of Historic Places," said James T. Wollon Jr., a Havre de Grace architect.

Since 1959, the house has been owned by Reuben Fedderman, a retired East Baltimore furniture-store owner, and his wife, Beatrice. They lived in the house until this spring, when its contents were auctioned off by Alex Cooper Auctioneers Inc. The venerable Baltimore auction firm will now auction off the empty house.

"We liked it, and we were young. We had children when we bought it, and we also liked the privacy and security that it afforded," said Fedderman, 85, who ascribed his youthful attitude to the "good country air" he found there.

During a public preview last week, Fedderman, dressed in a crisply pressed seersucker suit, white shirt and carefully knotted tie, squinted in the orange glow of the late summer's afternoon. He looked wistfully at the old house and said to no one in particular, "It's beautiful. It's still beautiful."

A young visitor standing in the 70-foot-long reception hall blurted out to his mother that he thought it would make a fine setting for roller-blading.

In the butler's pantry, an annunciator -- an electronically controlled signal board or indicator -- still squawks out its demanding buzz for a maid or butler, while an old Kelvinator refrigerator sits unused.

In a square metal box attached to the kitchen wall is the Garrison Automatic Fire Alarm System that once protected the house and its valuable contents. Still clearly marked, it advises in case of an emergency to dial "Towson 923."

Deep in the multichambered basement, reinforced concrete beams support the three-story structure.

In a large chamber, still connected to a chimney, is the old unused coal-fired Eagle Range. In the furnace room sits a Pacific Steel Boiler Corp. boiler, big enough, it seems, to power an ocean liner.

Flow of visitors

"There has been a steady flow of visitors to the house since it was first opened for inspection. Interest has been high," said Paul Cooper of Alex Cooper, who expects the home to fetch a price of $1 million to $1.5 million.

For all of its size, Cliffholme sits unnoticed by passing motorists on Park Heights Avenue at the end of Stewart Road, a winding lane, barely a car-width wide, in Stevenson.

Along the quiet, pastoral lane are estates, many still occupied by descendants of Charles Morton Stewart, the Baltimore shipping merchant who made a fortune bringing Brazilian coffee to the city aboard his fleet of barkentines during the 19th century.

Stewart purchased the Cliffholme property in 1872 from Robert North Elder.

"Charles Morton Stewart bought Cliffeholme as a summer house. At the time, it was 'a square, deeply walled old house, rather plain in appearance inside and out.' But in a brief time it became a large, expansive, and hospitable home, brimming over with children, friends, and distinguished guests," wrote Dawn F. Thomas in "The Greenspring Valley: Its History and Heritage," published by the Maryland Historical Society in 1978.

Surveyed in 1702

The property was once part of Green Spring Punch, a 386-acre tract surveyed for Thomas Bale in 1702, and was subsequently owned by the Randall, Kelly, Appleton, Ross, Norris and Elder families.

In 1832, James Howard, son of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard and Margaretta Chew Howard, purchased the 168-acre estate for $10,000.

Howard was president of Franklin Bank and the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad from 1833 to 1835, later the Northern Central Railroad. The railroad constructed the Green Spring branch and erected a small station at Eccleston, near Cliffholme.

Construction of the house began in 1848, and six years later, after the death of Howard's wife, Catherine W. Johnson Ross, the property was offered for sale.

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