Deal keeps them in the hunt

Land: The Elkridge-Harford club's 125th season opens happily as word that 35 acres it uses are to be preserved.

November 02, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

When the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club launched its 125th anniversary season yesterday, the mood was a bit more ebullient, thanks to recent news that a piece of land they hunt on, which was headed for development, is to be preserved instead.

The 35-acre property, owned by Sterling Lytle at Jarrettsville Pike and Hess Road, is being purchased in a deal struck by the Manor Conservancy, a preservation group that has saved more than 10,000 acres from development in western Harford and northeastern Baltimore counties since it was formed in the 1990s.

"That's what I wanted," said Lytle, a 72-year-old retired businessman who was born in Norrisville and ran the Hess family's country store with his wife, Nancy Hess Lytle, before her death two years ago. "It's nice to look out over these fields."

The Elkridge-Harford club has roots that date to 19th-century hunts that met at the Washington Monument in Baltimore. It has hunted on the Lytle property for decades, said Albert "Jay" Young, a lawyer who is president of the club, in part because it offers riders an alternative to crossing busy Jarrettsville Pike, he said.

Attorney James Constable, president of the Manor Conservancy, said the property's main importance, though, is its connection to preserved parcels to the north, south and west.

"To have the ridge developed would really impact not only the willingness of other landowners to [preserve their land] but also be highly incompatible with the viewscapes as well as the agricultural use of the land," Constable said.

The conservancy has cobbled together funds to purchase the land, including two buyers, private donations and an application to the Harford agricultural land preservation program.

The county is expected to pay $3,500 an acre to purchase three development rights, said program administrator William Amoss. Although the number of rights is small, he said, the property's location among other preserved farms increases its value to the program.

County Executive James M. Harkins, who made the decision to allow the farm to come into the program after this year's deadline passed, said he believed the county needed to move quickly to seize the opportunity, especially since the land had been put up for sale and subdivision.

"This is a real success story that we're able to do it," Harkins said. "We're going to keep that whole green space through there intact. It's how we want our [agricultural preservation] program to work."

Because the property is not expected to reach settlement until spring, neither Lytle nor the conservancy wanted to offer specifics about the seven-figure purchase price.

But Young, who is also vice president of the conservancy, said the group could not match the original asking price "in excess of $1.5 million."

Development plans

The land is well-known to commuters along Hess Road, a popular route between Jarrettsville Pike and Route 152. For months, bright yellow signs for a planned "Tomintown" development have attracted the attention of passers-by.

Lytle said some of his neighbors were upset when the land was put up for sale for development. "This will make everybody happy," he said.

The Hess family history is best told through Nancy Hess Lytle's cousin, Edwin Hess, who is 80 and lives near Jarrettsville. He said Conrad Hess and his son, Henry, moved from Germany in the 1800s and settled in western Harford County.

Country store

Henry Hess had six sons, including Edwin Hess' grandfather St. Clair and his great-uncle Adam, who bought the property at the corner of Jarrettsville Pike. At one time, the six Hess brothers owned most of the land along Hess Road between Route 152 and the pike, Edwin Hess said.

He said Adam Hess opened a country store on his property, which was passed on to his son, Adam Hess Jr., and then to his daughter, Nancy Hess Lytle.

Young, the hunt club president, remembers the Hess Store as a place with "a lot of charm, a lot of character." As a teen-ager, he drove a tractor from his family's farm just over the Baltimore County line to the store, greeting residents in lawn chairs as they shared coffee and gossip. Other folks, he said, stopped in to buy groceries and pick up their mail.

The store is leased today by the Royal Farms convenience store chain.

The hunt tradition in Maryland dates to the Colonial period. Elkridge members at one time in the 19th century met at the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon for their hunts, Young said. As the city grew, the hunt club moved north. In the late 1800s, members met at Mondawmin estate, owned by George S. Brown, father of investment company founder Alexander Brown.

The Elkridge club moved to its present site on Pocock Road off Jarrettsville Pike in the early 20th century, and merged with the Harford hunt club in the late 1920s, Young said.

Today, the club has about 150 members and attracts a range of riders, including students, hunters of modest means and the descendants of Long Island hunt families that bought second homes here in the last century, Young said.

A community effort

Constable said the horse industry has been an instrumental force in the work of the conservancy, which was started in the mid-1990s as an offshoot of the Manor Area Association, but added that the group's work transcends any single interest.

"It's really a community effort," Constable said, that has united farmers, landowners and segments of the local horse industry with the single goal of protecting farmland and open space in the two-county area.

Although the group's original goal was to preserve properties in My Lady's Manor, an 18th-century land grant made by Lord Baltimore to his fourth wife, Constable said, "we passed that a long time ago. We've had a good run."

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