I attended the wedding of a friend's daughter last weekend at Liriodendron, the magnificent Harford County mansion that was once the summer home of Dr. Howard A. Kelly and his family.
As they waited for the ceremony to begin, guests seated on chairs in front of the Palladian-style home listened to music played by a quartet at the rear of the lawn. Soft strains of Bach, Chopin and Mozart, dispersed by sluggish breezes, seemed to float through the humid, late-afternoon air.
Lulled by the incredible beauty of the house and its surrounding gardens, a visitor could easily understand why Kelly, one of the "Big Four" doctors who founded the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, chose to build a retreat in this most tranquil of places. He named it Liriodendron - Latin for tulip poplars, which still are abundant on the property.
Liriodendron was a world away from Kelly's winter residence and his private clinic, both in the 1400 block of Eutaw Place in Baltimore. It was a place to escape the searing heat of Baltimore summers. In this healthy rural paradise, Kelly's nine children rode horses and carts, swam in two pools he had built (the first in-ground pools in Harford County) and played in the nearby woods and streams.
Kelly, born in Camden, N.J., in 1858, studied natural science at the University of Pennsylvania and was urged by his father to pursue a medical career. "It offered greater certainty of a livelihood and fairer financial reward," Kelly wrote of his decision to become a physician.
He earned his medical degree in 1882 and completed his residency at Episcopal Hospital in Kensington, near Philadelphia. Interested in gynecology and obstetrics, Kelly established a women's hospital in Kensington in 1887, the sixth such clinic in the nation.
He headed the gynecological department at Penn for a year before coming to Baltimore in 1889 at the invitation of Drs. William H. Welch, William Osler and W.S. Halsted to head the department of gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He specialized in abdominal surgery and gynecology and pioneered radium treatment of cancer.
"He was one of the greatest surgeons of his day, he wrote over 600 books and articles, helped make the early reputation of the Hopkins, raised and wrote about snakes, collected minerals, knew Mencken and Madame Curie, posed for [John Singer] Sargent, served a stint as a cowboy, reared nine children, ran for governor of Maryland, crusaded tirelessly for God and against sin - especially the sins of drink and prostitution. The list goes on and on," wrote Christopher Weeks, a Harford County author and historian, in a 1981 Sun Magazine profile.
In 1897, Kelly and his wife, Laetitia, purchased 200 acres near Bel Air for $12,000 and commissioned Wyatt and Nolting, Baltimore architects, to design a spacious summer house.
The house, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits in a tree-shrouded park atop a hill and is connected to 21st-century Bel Air by a carriage way.
"The T-shaped building is symmetrical around an axis marked on the main (southwest) facade by a projecting four-pilastered pavilion," wrote Weeks. "This ... is reflected in the interior by a 26-foot-wide center hall."
The architects made functional use of the stem of the house to contain the home's service areas.
"Typically, the main section is more highly ornamented than the service wing and sports, on the exterior, corner quoins, a three-part classical entablature, and chimneys with string courses and dentilled caps. Even the drainpipes have egg-and-dart-moldings," Weeks wrote.
On the north side of the central hall is a parlor; a large dining room is on the south. Seven bedrooms on the second floor accommodated the large family.
"Wyatt and Nolting created the very model of a modern summer home: large rooms, cavernous halls, shady porches. Everything was designed to catch the breezes and hold the shadows," observed Weeks.
A terrazzo-floored veranda traverses the length of the house, and connects two side porches at either end of the structure. Wisteria clinging to an ancient metal trellis provides cooling shade as it soars over the veranda.
The late Friedrich H. "Fritz" Kelly, one of Kelly's five sons, described what a typical summer day at Liriodendron was like when he was a boy.
"We all had ponies and carts or horses and in the morning we would all gather and decide what we were going to do. If we left in the morning, we might not return until time for the evening meal," he wrote. "We would much rather go swimming in the ice pond and play in the mud or go over to a 10-foot hole on Winters Run at Lake Fanny."
In 1935, Kelly sold his summer home to Fritz, who in turn raised his family there. In 1972, Fritz Kelly sold Liriodendron to Harford County Parks and Recreation, which maintains its grounds. The nonprofit Liriodendron Foundation administers the house.
Howard Kelly died on Jan. 24, 1943, at Union Memorial Hospital. His wife, also hospitalized there, died six hours later.
"Both husband and wife had been unconscious for several days. They had been patients in nearby rooms in the hospital for a week, neither aware of the critical condition of the other," reported The Evening Sun.
"Dr. Kelly leaves behind him the memory of one, who, through his skill, did much for mankind, and who always had the courage of his convictions," said an editorial in The Sun.