Generations of families proud to call it home

Neighborhood profile: Violetville

Many home styles, amenities found in small community

February 10, 2002|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you ask most people in Violetville how they came to live there, many times the answer is "family."

That's because the community, tucked away in Southwest Baltimore, is one of those classic Baltimore neighborhoods where several generations of one family live within walking distance of one another.

"There are a lot of third-generation families here," said Donald Warthen, who lives in the house where he was born.

Warthen is part of a five-generation family that lives in Violetville. On his street live his son, daughter, niece and in-laws. Warthen still runs Warthen Fuel Co., founded by his father in the 1930s.

"It's really a good place to live. It's changed a bit, but what hasn't?" he said. "Who else can drive 30 seconds to work and see all their grandchildren and children every day? It's just a nice and convenient place."

Shirley Mendez knew of the neighborhood because her mother lived near Violetville. What attracted her to Violetville was the 100-year-old Victorian that she and her husband, Frank, are restoring.

"I was surprised to find this house, even though I had been to the neighborhood before," said Mendez, a former president of the Violetville Community Association. "I like that there are still tree-lined streets and that there is such a large variety of homes. It's an old established neighborhood and a warm community. I like the people, and my neighbors are all very nice."

Violetville, just south of St. Agnes HealthCare, was named for the violets that were planted by a cemetery caretaker in the 1800s and used to grow throughout the fields.

The neighborhood's eclectic homes include old Victorians, brick rowhouses, duplexes, Dutch Colonials, Tudors and new construction.

"Most of the homes are townhouses and semi-detached," said Barbara Cavender, an agent with Community Real Estate Team in Arbutus. "Many of the townhouses are two bedrooms with the old-fashioned club basement and fenced-in back yard.

"It's a lot like many of the small Baltimore City neighborhoods. Most people in Violetville stay in Violetville. It's one of those family-oriented places. The kids grow up and buy a house there and have kids, and those kids grow up and buy there."

The homes have many of the amenities people look for, said Cavender, such as hardwood floors, porches and crown molding.

The Baltimore-Baltimore County lines runs through the neighborhood, with the majority of homes inside the city limits.

On the county side are many newer homes, consisting mostly of single-family split-levels and Colonials.

The community is bordered by busy Benson Avenue, Caton Avenue, Wilkens Avenue and Southwestern Boulevard.

Although those streets and many surrounding businesses can make for heavy traffic and noise, they also offer conveniences, said Carl Baker, who heads the Violetville Community Association.

"There are baseball fields, a tot lot, an elementary school, shopping centers nearby, St. Agnes Hospital and easy access to [Interstate] 95 and the Beltway," Baker said.

Even though Violetville is just off well-traveled streets and is surrounded by businesses, it remains a relatively untouched enclave of about 1,000 homes.

"People used to come out to Violetville from the city to get a little fresh air," said Fran Bartels, who is researching a book on the history of Violetville.

The area once was part of a 2,368-acre tract known as the Georgia Plantation, later called Mount Clare. In 1852, Elizabeth Caton Stafford, granddaughter of Charles Carroll, donated 30 acres to be used as a Catholic hospital that later became St. Agnes Hospital.

Another portion of the land was deeded to Henry Schaefer, who divided it among relatives. That section later became known as Violetville.

In the 1870s, a large portion of Violetville was known as the Joh farm. The farm was divided up for housing in the 1890s. Those houses, many of which still stand along Haverhill Road, were city-style rowhouses built of wood, rather than brick, and have front porches in place of white marble steps.

In 1929, Violetville Elementary School was built. The school, now an elementary and middle school, is a vital part of the neighborhood.

A small amount of strip mining conducted in the area left two deep ponds known as Blue Dam and Yellow Dam. Residents used them for picnics during the summer and ice skating during the winter. The ponds were filled in during the 1960s.

Bartels, who moved to Violetville after her sister moved there, found through her research that her great-great-grandfather was Carl Fritze, the cemetery caretaker who raised violets in his hothouses.

"I'm very proud of this neighborhood, not only because my relatives lived here but because the people care," said Bartels."[It] was known for having a very strong, feisty community association that stood up for their rights."

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