School name comes up roses

Vincent family flower farm prevails in dispute over new elementary

October 31, 2006|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,sun reporter

Two turns away from Pulaski Highway's car lots and motels sits a flower farm where the Vincent family once grew dahlias the size of dinner plates. Although the property changed hands long ago, at least eight families in the eastern Baltimore County neighborhood trace their roots to the farm and even recall the scent of chrysanthemums that clung to workers there.

Now, they say, the family will receive long-deserved recognition when construction begins on a new elementary school named after the farm.

Baltimore County school officials have long favored names that referred to geography, and they originally wanted to name the school White Marsh Elementary. But the family has left such a strong mark on the community that it is only appropriate that the school - scheduled to open in two years on land once part of the farm - will be called Vincent Farm Elementary, relatives and school officials say.

"It's a name that's synonymous with this area," said Patricia Laro, whose grandmother grew up on the farm.

Yesterday, officials planted a sign with the name, and a rendering of the planned building's exterior, at the site, which borders Ebenezer Road and Vincent Farm Lane.

Since the school system bought the plot decades ago, it was marked on maps as the site of Vincent Elementary School. Yet when the time came to formally propose a name for the school last month, school officials suggested White Marsh Elementary.

Too generic, said Adam Paul, president of the White Marsh Civic Association. Paul, along with his wife, Sarah, whose deceased first husband was a member of the Vincent family, petitioned the school board to name the school after the farm.

In an e-mail to the school board, Paul explained why a string of proposed names was not suitable. Bird River Elementary was a poor choice because that body of water is polluted, he wrote. Naming the school after nearby Windlass Run was also a bad idea, he wrote, because that stream erodes the soil.

Paul reserved his strongest words for the White Marsh Elementary suggestion. "Do we really want our school named for a SWAMP?" he wrote.

He calls this rural pocket south of Bird River and west of Chase the original White Marsh. The area around the mall wasn't even called White Marsh until several years ago, he said.

For Sarah Paul, who grew up in the area and married Richard Gambrill Sr., the great-grandson of the farm's founder, the area around the farm will always be home. The Pauls live near Vincent Farm Lane and Gambrill Road. Their home is across from the greenhouses, which are now called Maryland Flower and Foliage Co.

Her son and his family live two houses down, in the century-old farmhouse where he was born. Her daughter lives next door. Paul's former brother-in-law and two of his children also reside on Vincent Farm Lane.

On the other side of the school site, on Ebenezer Road, two businesses, Mockin' Bird Hill Florist and Richardson Farms, are owned by distant cousins.

The history of the Vincent family is rather complex, in part because at least three key players are named Richard Vincent. The oldest, Richard Vincent Sr., immigrated to the United States from England in the mid-1800s along with his wife and son, Richard Vincent Jr. It was the son who moved to White Marsh and started the flower farm, along with his wife, according to a family history.

But the business didn't really take off until Richard Jr.'s son, Richard Alonzo Vincent, took over the farm in the early part of the last century. It was he who cultivated the gargantuan dahlias that attracted buses of flower fans from Pennsylvania and Baltimore in the 1920s.

After he died, the business passed to his daughter and her husband, a developer. They in turn passed the farm onto their sons, Paul's first husband and his brother.

While her husband worked in the greenhouses, Paul cared for their children in the house where her daughter now lives. She remembers the scent of flowers that clung to her husband. She recalled hearing the lunch bell ring out over the fields.

Her daughter, Lynn Roxy Green, remembers walking through fields of red canna flowers as a child. She used to earn pocket change watering flowers, stapling boxes and planting bulbs for her father in the barn.

"I still have a lot of dreams, really good dreams, that are set in that barn," Green said.

She and her family were taken aback when they heard that school officials were considering calling the school White Marsh Elementary. They had always assumed that it would be named after the Vincent family.

For years, school system policy prohibited naming a school after a person, but that rule was changed in 2005. Two schools connected with historical figures - General John Stricker Middle, named after a War of 1812 commander, and Powhatan Elementary, named after an Indian chief - were built before the policy went into effect.

According to new policy, a school can be named after a prominent, deceased person in rare cases. Harford and Carroll counties have similar policies, but Howard County prevents schools from being named after a person. A proposal to call a school Veterans Elementary recently sparked a debate there.

More than 40 area residents signed a petition asking that the school be named for the Vincent family farm. County schools officials say they relented after hearing the outcry from the community.

After fewer than five minutes of discussion at last week's meeting, the school board approved the name Vincent Farm Elementary School.

Vincent descendents say they are delighted by the decision.

Laro said that she is thinking about how the site should be landscaped.

"Now I'm hoping," she said, "that they'll plant at least one dahlia at the school."

Sun reporter Gina Davis contributed to this article.

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