60-foot falls quiets critics


Cliffhanger: There was a reason the Ten Hills house lot never sold. But a 60-foot waterfall and Japanese garden turned steep adversity into a beautiful attribute.

November 18, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In 1921, when the West Baltimore community of Ten Hills was being established, a newspaper advertisement listed the "10 reasons why" people should move to the neighborhood.

Among the benefits, the ad said, were "an unmistakable air of refinement," 100-by-200-foot lots that can accommodate a "spacious bungalow or cottage" with surrounding lawn; "ultra-modern conveniences," such as gas and sewer lines, 50-foot-wide paved streets and phone service.

The ad also noted the nearness of schools, churches and shopping, and a trolley that took you downtown in just 25 minutes.

Eighty years later, those attributes pretty much hold true for Ten Hills residents Jeff and Sheila Teeters. The community is near schools, stores and the Teeters' church. Quiet, tree-lined streets reflect peaceful, suburban living.

And although no one has seen a trolley on Route 40 lately, the community sign retains the image of one, Jeff Teeters notes.

The couple say the ad copy was right when it said that Ten Hills has an "air of refinement."

"What appealed to me is the diversity of the neighborhood and the area. There are some beautiful, majestic homes here," Jeff Teeters said.

The community captured his heart in 1986 when the flight attendant was transferred back to his hometown of Baltimore.

"When I came back, I started looking around for land to buy to build a house, and at first I was looking in Howard and Carroll County," he said.

But his parents still live in his boyhood home in Hunting Ridge, a community near Ten Hills.

One day, after visiting his parents, he decided to drive around the area and came upon a lot for sale in Ten Hills.

"It was just this lot that was left over and never sold," he said. "I figured that instead of living way out and having to drive in to work, the responsible thing to do would be to buy this lot and live in a close, established city neighborhood."

Though he bought the lot, he was in no hurry to build on it.

That is, until he fell in love with a flight attendant named Sheila and married her. When he told his bride about his plans for the Ten Hills property, her first reaction was a defiant one: "I told him, you're not building on that lot."

There was a good reason why the lot was never sold decades ago.

A large portion of the property was a muddy, steep hill. Building a house there would be like building on a cliff.

"There wasn't a flat spot on it," she said. Also, his bride wasn't from Baltimore, so she equated living in the city with living in a crime-infested area.

Of course, now she knows better. "I do feel safe here," she said.

Although it didn't have the choicest lot, the Teeters' new home had its advantages, he said.

"I get to live in a great old neighborhood, in a house that does have more than one bathroom, large closets and modern amenities," he said.

But then there was that back yard.

Friends used to joke that Sheila Teeters never went out back because the yard was so dismal, she said. Many suggestions for improving it were made, including filling it in.

But Jeff Teeters had come up with another idea: a 60-foot waterfall.

"I wanted to use what was already here," he said, and began reading about gardening, a subject he admitted he knew little about.

Then a book from a pilot turned him on to Japanese gardens.

Japanese gardens have four key elements: water, stone, wood and metal, and Jeff Teeters used all of them in building stone walkways and erecting a metal trellis and a multilevel wood deck.

But the centerpiece was the waterfall pouring into a pool, with a gazebo nearby. Now, when guests arrive, they gravitate to the backyard oasis that Jeff Teeters has created - instead of suggesting he fill it in with dirt.

Inside, his wife has made the home equally inviting.

"I call it my dollhouse," she said. "I've tried to make it cozy and comfortable."

That includes keeping comfy throws in the living room, little baskets of lotion in the guestroom, and having a mini-kitchen in the downstairs family room.

Their "dollhouse" seems to work for adults as well. "Do you know how many people ask ... to move in here?" she said.

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