Flowers, yes, but Guilford architecture also a treat to behold

  • The mansion at Sherwood Gardens, like many other houses in Guilford, is notable for the careful upkeep of fine millwork and trim and carefully aligned brick and stone.
The mansion at Sherwood Gardens, like many other houses in Guilford,… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
April 10, 2010|By Jacques Kelly

A trip to Sherwood Gardens is a spring ritual worth repeating. I've been going there all my life, and it never gets old. If anything, on a recent warm evening, nearing nightfall, it seemed fresh, fertilized and healthy. The place was full of families who were there for the same reason I was. It was a chance to take in the glories of a Maryland spring.

I am not sure I would want to be surrounded by all those pinks, purples and yellows year-round. But in April, after what we endured in February, give me all those tulip beds, flowering trees and shrubs.

I would also add it's a spot to behold some pretty spectacular Baltimore domestic architecture. The Guilford mansions of about 1915 to 1940 have been the recipients of some amazing upkeep. I like to walk along Greenway, as well as Stratford, Highfield and Underwood roads. Why does the brickwork seem so precise, the Falls Road stone walls so perfect, the brasses so polished and the window millwork so finely painted? I think the answer is hard work and pride of ownership. No deferred maintenance here.

You would be hard-pressed to spot a loose roof slate. What I noticed on a trip through the gardens and Guilford this week was a renewed determination to keep what is an amazing neighborhood in superlative physical condition. The place looked as if a crew of film production technicians had been buffing and tweaking for weeks.

I credit the owners. This is far from a gated community. Through a community association, these people pay for the upkeep of what is essentially a shared asset. I've never seen a contribution bucket or flier asking for funds.

In the early days of Guilford, about 100 years ago, the slight depression at Stratford Road and Greenway was a marshy area with a shallow lake. Guilford's creators planned a small community park here, and perhaps a pavilion.

But enter John W. Sherwood, the oil burner and gas station magnate. He built his showplace home on Highfield Road and bought the adjoining lots. He created a private greensward that today bears his name. Tended by what are essentially his neighbors in the community association, it has long been Baltimore's premier spring garden treat.

That slight dip in the ground allowed the garden to occupy a shallow bowl so the facing houses rise around it. The effect, as glimpsed through the fresh green of the trees, is amazing.

I was going through the garden with a friend who lives nearby. He explained that the rough winter and its wet snows had pulled down shrubs around some of the homes. This somewhat cleared the view and had the effect of exposing more architecture. He also related the story of the Highfield Road owner who didn't think much of the adjoining home. When it came on the market, he acquired it, razed it and enlarged his garden.

I often emerge from an early morning or post-supper walk through the gardens and Guilford, full of curiosity about the 1920s grandees who built these homes. Were they all bank presidents and railroad moguls? After a little research, I find they were just as often industrious grocery store owners who worked hard, opened a dozen branches and sold out - well - to the A&P.

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