Fairy tale land ready for tour

October 06, 2002|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Morning explodes on York Road.

Fire engines roar down the street. Techies race to get the closest parking spot at Best Buy. The line bursts through the door at Starbucks.

But tucked a couple of blocks away, 4-year-old Blaire Miran is treating her teddy bears to tea on her front lawn, surrounded by majestic trees. Stately old homes watch her with rectangular, glass eyes. The noise is absent. Only a few crickets, a trickling pond, an occasional lawn mower and singing birds break the quiet.

It's called Historic Lutherville. Through the effort of its residents and plenty of debate, Lutherville has held onto its 150-year-old flavor and has been on the National Register of Historic Places for 30 years. Residents are celebrating by opening more than a dozen historic homes and buildings to the public Saturday.

"This place is a fairy tale for my daughter," said Blaire's mother, Debby Miran, whose 1866-vintage home is one stop on the tour.

Debby and her husband, Alec, loved their home from afar, long before they bought it. They had been living around the corner in a house they'd outgrown when they heard through "contacts" that their current home was going up for sale.

The Mirans bought the 4,100-square-foot, Downing-Vaux-styled "cottage" two years ago. Visitors will see soaring ceilings, peaked roofs, three fireplaces (one in the kitchen that's used every night in colder months), a curving-covered side porch that's great for their cat, two gardens and a pond. During the fall, a visiting great blue heron flies through the neighborhood and stops by to gobble down an $80 koi carp.

Blaire's grandmother went so far as to construct a dollhouse that's a replica of the home - right down to about 1,000 hand-cut shingles on the roof.

Debby Miran's two older sons have even caught the fever.

"I can tell my boys like it because I'll hear them giving tours of the house to their friends," she said. "I'll hear them telling their friends things that I say about the house."

Barbara Sterne, who has lived in a white Queen Anne Victorian house in the historic area since 1972 and has five sons, said she moved there because "we wanted lawns, air and space. We had five boys wrestling around." On her property, she has two outbuildings that serve as a pottery studio and a storage area for her pottery and kilns.

For-sale signs are hardly necessary in the area, as homes often sell by word of mouth. Residents often find notes in their mailboxes from interested buyers. And neighbors don't hesitate to tell one another if they're interested in buying.

An architectural committee reviews plans for additions and renovations. Heated debates over issues such as traffic congestion, pathways and street routing have flared over the years, but residents have worked through them to preserve the flavor.

That's not to say it's perfect. Don't expect to take a leisurely drive through the area. Chances are you'll be tailgated by someone cutting through on his or her way to the suburbs beyond. Some residents say the new, one-way streets relieved congestion on those streets, but funneled more traffic onto other streets, particularly Seminary Avenue.

History

Just about everyone in Lutherville is a historian of some degree.

Residents know everything from the founder's name to what colors were popular during the era of construction. They can quote their home's former occupants down to the builders. Familiar local names, such as Cockey and Ridgely, often come up in conversation. Film director John Waters grew up here.

Dr. John Gottlieb Morris and Dr. Benjamin Kurtz are considered founding fathers, coming to build a Lutheran seminary for women, surrounded by a village of summer cottages, which now encompasses much of the historic area.

Morris and Kurtz purchased a 2,000-acre farm for $7,051 and in 1853 established the Lutheran Female Seminary (later the Maryland College for Women). The large white complex (though not the original seminary) remains on Seminary Avenue. It's now the College Manor assisted-living facility. It will be open for tours, along with the homes, and is known for its stained glass by artist Maxfield Parrish.

The Lutheran community had a lasting impact on the area (including its name). Several of the houses are converted Lutheran eating halls, boardinghouses and church meeting buildings. Streets were named after church fathers and centered around St. Paul's Lutheran Church, which occupies the same location, though it's a newer building.

The railroad also helped Lutherville thrive in the early days. When the North Central Railroad opened, Lutherville Station helped the town become a summer retreat for Baltimore residents. It also enabled people to live outside the city and commute there by train. Railroad tracks still mark the western boundary.

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