A CEDARCROFT HISTORY.

On June 18, 1911, there appeared in the Baltimore Sun a story regarding a new subdivision north of Govanstowne and outside of the city limits of Baltimore. Entitled Beauty at Cedarcroft, the piece was part of a larger report covering a building boom then in progress in and around the city. The report, entitled Another Busy Week For Baltimore Builders stated that

“the expansion of factories, the awarding of several {big contracts and the reports of new apartment house  XYZXYZXYZ”

It is one of the first mentions of the neighborhood that would come to be known as Historic Cedarcroft in the Baltimore Sun. But the story of Cedarcroft, which celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2009, goes much deeper, connecting people and places across centuries of Baltimore history.

Lord Baltimore and William Govane

According to documents filed with the United States Department of the Interior nominating the original 54 acre subdivision called Cedarcroft to the National Frederick Calvert, Register of Historic Places, the story of Cedarcroft goes back at least to the late 18th century. In 1755, Frederick Calvert, sixth Lord Baltimore and the next to last Lord Proprietor of colonial Maryland, sold several hundred acres of land, part of which is now Cedarcroft, to William Govane. A well-to-do importer and ship owner in the Annapolis area, Govane sought to establish himself closer to the port of Baltimore. Becoming a landowner in the countryside north of the city not only gave him access to Baltimore’s lucrative port, it granted him a place at the table in the colonial power structure. William Govane is the namesake of the neighborhood that is today known as Govans.

Eventually, Govane enlarged his holdings by purchasing adjoining land called “Friends Discovery” from Job Evans. A portion of the land was later sold by Govane to Samuel W. Hopkins, who in 1848 constructed the first house, a five-bay Federal style building, on land that is now known as Cedarcroft.

Five years after Hopkins died in 1858, his family sold the house and surrounding property to Henry Ernest Theodore Schwerdtmann, owner of a downtown Baltimore retail outlet for imported goods such as toys, paint, wallpaper and assorted fancy goods. Schwerdtmann enlarged the property by purchasing an adjoining parcel from Richard. J. Gittings in 1859.

Besides becoming a prominent Baltimore merchant, Theodore Schwerdtmann played an central role in launching one of the world’s great toy dynasties, the Schwarz brothers. The first Schwarz to arrive in Baltimore immigrated from Germany in 1860. Soon after he arrived, Henry Schwarz found a job working for Schwerdtmann. Brothers Frederick August Otto, Gustave, and Richard followed separately. All of the Schwarz brothers worked for Schwerdtmann at one time or another, and Schwerdtmann made F.A.O. a partner in 1862, having done the same for Henry some years before. A success at Schwerdtmann, F.A.O. left the company in 1870 to open his own retail business at 765 Broadway and Ninth Street in New York city. The F.A.O. Schwarz Toy Company went on to become one of the most famous toy companies in the world. A year later, the Baltimore store became known as Schwerdtmann & Schwarz. By 1872, Henry owned the business outright. Each of the other brothers found success in the toy business in different cities around the countries. Schwartz Avenue, just south of the York Road Plaza near Cedarcroft, is named for Henry Schwarz, misspelled by the addition of a “t.”

Already by 1863, the convenience of travel along York Road made it possible for people like Schwerdtmann to live as 19th century commuters, a kind of landed gentry who could operate businesses downtown and return to rural estates any evening—45 minutes along York Road and passing through the crossroads village of Govanstowne—to a bucolic and rolling countryside far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Baltimore. Schwerdtmann lived in the Hopkins house; Schwarz lived just outside of the city. In 1863, Schwerdtmann re-styled his house in the Italianate fashion.

The development of Cedarcroft owes much to its access to convenient transportation, first the railway and then the automobile. The Hopkins house was built around the same time that horse-drawn street railways called omnibuses began connecting the four corners of Baltimore city with its first mass transit system. Introduced in New York in 1832, by 1863, horse-drawn omnibuses were moving people up and down York Road from City Hall to the Baltimore County seat in Towson. As was the case throughout the city, the York Road omnibus line was subsequently converted into an electric trolley car system. The “Number 8” line eventually lent its name and number to the gas-powered bus line that replaced it by the mid-20th century.

The crossroads village of Govanes Town

Established in 1783, Govanes Town was the first crossroad village along the York Road, a toll road that took its name from the Pennsylvania town at its northern terminus. Govanes Town, named for its first known resident, William Govane, was by the early 19th century, home to a tavern, an inn, a horse race course, and a tollgate located near Rossiter Avenue.

Shops along the York Road catered to rural residents of the area. They sold farm implements and riding goods. They offered blacksmithing and other services. Rodgers Forges, a neighborhood north of Cedarcroft, is named for a blacksmithing operation owned by George Rodgers that was located at the southeast corner of York and Stevenson Lane.

In 1841 Govans hosted the first livestock show of the Baltimore County Agricultural Association. By 1844, Govans was connected to Baltimore by daily omnibus service. Ten years later the village had daily mail service and omnibus service was moving northward, opening the way to further development.

For the first half of the 19th century, the greater Govans area was a farm community made up mostly of estates such as Cedarcroft, Linden Farm, Evesham, Anneslie, and small truck farms. An 1857 map of Baltimore County showed several of these estates, including

Cedarcroft, within the greater Govans area. Like Cedarcroft, most of the estates were the gentleman farms, hobby farms, and summer homes of Baltimore’s elite.

Large homes dotted the road above and below “Govanstowne,” as it had come to be known, including the notable McCabe Mansion. This impressive marble building, located at 5209 York Road in Govans, was built around 1850 by Colonel Lawrence McCabe is one of the few large houses on York Road that survive from the 19th century. McCabe and his brother were construction engineers who specialized in bridges and tunnels. At one time the largest bridge and tunnel contractors in Maryland, they built the North Avenue and St. Paul Street bridges and the tunnel for the B&O Railroad in Baltimore. Sadly, the Colonel’s defining project was the troublesome and unprofitable Holland Tunnel in New York City. Losses from the project forced him to sell his mansion and move across York Road to spend the rest of his days living quietly in a small cottage.

From bucolic estate to real estate venture

In the 1870s, Lake Avenue extended east only as far as Bellona Avenue. Most of today’s Cedarcroft and much land to its south was owned by a man named George Presstman. A number of houses had already been constructed along York Road on property belonging to others, and a small graveyard lay in the northwest corner of the neighborhood. In 1885, the Schwerdtmann property passed into the hands of George M. Lamb, Sr. It was Lamb who named his estate Cedarcroft, “croft” being the Scottish word for “farm.” And in 1892, he enlarged his holdings by purchasing an adjoining parcel of land from George Presstman’s widow, Mary.

In a Baltimore Sun article dated January 17, 1960, Newton M. Johnson — whose family lived nearby in one of the houses at Normanton, an estate owned by a man named Benjamin W. Corkran who was in the meat packing business with Lamb—recalled Cedarcroft of the 1890s — the “Gay Nineties” — as an expanse of rolling meadows in the country, dotted with grazing horses and cattle. Johnson’s father worked as a caretaker at Normanton, located at Lake and Bellona avenues. As Johnson remembered it, the pastoral silence of the place was broken only by “an occasional passing of a horse and rider and the distant sounding of sheep bells.” Cedarcroft’s barn with stables stood on what is now Blackburn Lane. Apple, plum, and peach orchards; open fields and woods; and ponds stretched from behind the barn west to Charles Street and beyond.

Lamb purportedly reveled in the life of Cedarcroft and its country charm. It was rumored that he had bought the place for his son, Philip. However, in the 1911 volume, Men of Mark in Maryland, David Carroll and Thomas Boggs assert that Lamb was “a great home lover, and [that] his chief pleasures were found in his country home, where it was always his greatest delight to dispense hospitality to his friends with family gathered around him.” The Cedarcroft estate was the original site of the Govane’s Town Race, which brought large crowds up York Road from Baltimore by omnibus, private carriages, and buggies to fill the local hotels, taverns, and inns and gamble on horses. The large Italianate Cedarcroft home at the head of a country lane off of York Road would have provided a welcoming destination for anyone with an invitation to the festivities.

Living on large, essentially self-contained country estates and farms, Johnson recalled, most area residents raised their own chickens, milked their own cows, and grew their own vegetables. Three quarters of an hour by omnibus and more by buggy over the rough, rolled stone surfaces of York Road and Charles Street, Cedarcroft “may as well have been 50 miles” from Baltimore, according to Johnson. Except for those who worked in the city, people only ventured into Baltimore for such major purchases as furniture, fine clothing, or specialized farm and home equipment.

As residential development spread north from the city core, property owners in rural Baltimore County began to recognize the opportunity in subdividing and developing their estates into residential communities. Land for what would become Guilford was sold in 1907 to the Roland Park Company, which had already seen success in 1895 with the purchase and development of Roland Park. They would also go on to develop Homeland and Northwood, two more of north Baltimore’s notable neighborhoods.

The Lamb family had also prepared for these changes. In May 1909, following George Lamb Sr.’s death, his widow, Annie R. Lamb, deeded forty acres more or less to Charles L. Applegarth and William H. McGee. The same day, Applegarth and McGee deeded the land to the Cedarcroft Land Company a newly formed entity with George M. Lamb, Jr. serving as company president and younger brother and attorney, Philip, named secretary and attorney. Other prominent men were part of the new company, including noted Baltimore architect Edward L. Palmer, who, in addition to designing several Cedarcroft homes, is credited with the design and development of Homeland, Roland Park, Guilford and many

of the buildings within the Dundalk and Wawaset Park historic districts. Because of the irregular shape of the original Cedarcroft estate, a few small parcels within the boundaries of today’s Cedarcroft were not originally included in the development.

By 1911, after lines for gas, water, and electricity had been completed, the Cedarcroft Land Company installed sidewalks and lined them with maple trees. This work initially covered Cedarcroft, Hollen, and Sycamore roads, all in the eastern portion of the subdivision. The same facilities were installed later for the western section. The boundary between these two sections of Cedarcroft was still recognizable in 2009 by sycamore trees lining streets that define the newer, western portion of Cedarcroft. Also in 1911, the Land Company sold three lots at the intersection of York and Cedarcroft roads to a society that was to become the Church of the Nativity congregation. Lots 35, 36, and 37 were purchased on the south side of Cedarcroft Rd. on Feb. 9,1911 for $5,000.

Work in and around the newly subdivided Cedarcroft had gained enough momentum by this time to catch the attention of the Baltimore Sun, and the paper prominently discussed Cedarcroft in a 1911 report on real development in around the city of Baltimore.

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“…On Cedarcroft Avenue are five pretty and complete homes which establish the general character of the development. In addition, Mr. D. A. J. Peck has under construction a fine house which will cost in the neighborhood of $7,000. Mr. James Briscoe, Jr. has a nine-room shingled cottage [309 Cedarcroft], which he expects to occupy by the end of June, and Mr. H. W. Adams finished his bungalow type cottage on June 17. A new idea is at present being carried out by the [Cedarcroft Land] company, which is building four Colonial brick cottages and, by arranging them in the form of a court

[406-412 Cedarcroft Road], gives unusual light and window exposure. These cottages are to have solid brick walls laid in Flemish bond, with a wide black mortar joint. The general appearance has the effect of a piece of tapestry. The permanence of this form of construction is at once apparent, and comment has been made on the idea of practically fireproof homes.”

A part of Baltimore County until 1918, Cedarcroft lay between the city line to the south at North Avenue and Towson to the north, the Baltimore County seat and soon to be the site of a new “normal” school for the training of teachers, today’s Towson University.

The Church of the Nativity

Work in the new development of Cedarcroft continued apace. During the summer of 1912, Nativity moved to the offices of the Cedarcroft Land Company across Cedarcroft Road from the land the church

Making way for the church

From about 1864, a family named Fisher had lived and worked Linden Farm, a dairy farm located directly across from Cedarcroft on the east side of York Road. When the home they rented from Linden Farm’s owners burned in 1902, the family moved to a log cabin that still stands at 6205 York Road. This building, known in the Fisher family as the “cottage,” is easily recognizable because it is oriented perpendicular to York Road just north of Cedarcroft Road. Molyneaux Fisher, Jr. bought the house that sat on the spot where the church was to be located from George Lamb for $100 on June 21, 1909 and had it moved to its current location at 603 Cedarcroft Road (then known as Linden Avenue). The cost of moving the house, contracted to Thos. S. Spicknall & Co. of Fulton Avenue, was $200. This same house sold in 2008 for $187,000.

Before the house could be moved across York Road, the movers—several of them family members—had to wait for the last trolley to come down for the night from Towson so
they could lower the electric trolley lines and roll the building to its new site. John and Annie Fisher moved into this home in 1913 and lived there until 1942. Like so many other estates, Linden Farm was eventually whittled down to just a couple of acres that included the house at 603 Cedarcroft Road and the lots of the next four or five houses, which were themselves subsequently subdivided into city lots.

Originally erected in 1889 as Emmanuel Church near the town of Bayard, West Virginia, the new Church of the Nativity building was delivered stick by stick to its new location in Cedarcroft. Dismantled in Garrett County by James A. Wolf of Oakland, Maryland, the same man who built it originally, the church’s poplar exterior, hemlock framework, and oak and ash finishings were loaded on flatbed railroad cars and transported 240 miles on the Western Maryland Railroad to its crossing on Lake Avenue. From there it was moved by horse-drawn wagon to the site on York and Cedarcroft roads, where Wolf built the church a second time. The exterior was stuccoed. In 1922, the addition of a Parish House required that the church building by moved again. This time, building movers turned the church 90 degrees and moved the entire building toward York Road to make room for the Parish House to the west of the church building.

Cedarcroft and the dawning of the “American Century”

The turn of the 20th century in America brought about many changes in attitudes and expectations. In American homes, the Montgomery Ward and Sears catalogs were the second most popular books after the Bible. The first decade of the century saw the advent of flight with the Wright brothers and welcomed Henry Ford’s affordable Model T automobile, one of which can be seen parked across the street from 308 Cedarcroft Road in an undated photograph. Americans began adapting to the “aeroplane” and the automobile was soon to become part of everyday life.

Families found entertainment in baseball, silent films, the radio and music from hand-cranked Victorolas. Newspapers saw the advent of sports pages and multi-frame cartoons. The publishing world introduced classics such as L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful World of Oz. It created a stir with books like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Susan B. Anthony’s History of Woman Suffrage, and Ida Tarbell’s The History of the Standard Oil Company.

Relatively easy access to outlying, rural land made possible by trolleys and train combined with rising wealth gave birth to a new self-reflection in American life. An ideal of middle class living began to coalesce around ideas expressed by such architectural thinkers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustav Stickley.

With its emphasis on domestic architecture, Stickley’s Craftsmen ideal, in particular, struck a aspirational chord among America’s rising middle class, who sought domestic refuge from an increasingly industrial society in hand built home of traditional quality. Craftsman ideals espoused a lifestyle based “upon the simplest and most direct principles of construction,” said Stickley in The Craftsman, his magazine that from 1901 to 1916 gave voice to this new style of American domestic architecture. Such ideas were in full expression throughout Baltimore in the first part of the 20th century, as bungalow, American foursquare, Dutch colonial, prairie vernacular and other styles dominated the domestic building. These blended nicely with the federal and colonial styles echoing Maryland’s historical roots as one of the original colonies. Architecturally and philosophically, Cedarcroft was born in these ideals.

With a population of about 550,00, Baltimore in 1909 was the seventh largest city in a nation of just over 90 million people, the vast majority of whom lived east of the Mississippi River. In Baltimore, the Great Fire of 1904 had leveled much of downtown. By 1906, Johns Hopkins University had begun to move from its downtown location between North Howard and North Eutaw streets north to land pieced together around Homewood, site of an estate built in 1801 by Charles Carroll Jr.

Cedarcroft was growing, too, albeit slowly. Lots had been subdivided and utilities and streets installed by 1911. However, by 1921, there were still only 35 homes in Cedarcroft’s 135 parcels, all to the east of Pinehurst Road. Remaining lot prices ranged from $1,800 to $2,500. In a June 27, 1971 article in the Sun Magazine, Mrs. Isobel E. Flack remembered that “around Cedarcroft, from 1912 to the beginning of the 1920s, childhood was a simple, slow-paced experience.” Streetcars connected Baltimore and Towson. “On York Road,” she recalled, “the streetcar line ran along the side of the road, and we rode the streetcars to and from the Towson State Elementary School.”

Living at 306 Cedardroft Road during this time, Flack recalled roller skating on Sycamore and Hollens roads and “riding Lawrence Ament’s horse-drawn ice wagon as he made the rounds, eating hunks of ice he chipped off for us.” A grass tennis court occupied the site of what is now 308 Cedarcroft Road.

“Nine lots, having a combined frontage of 615 feet, have been purchased in the development by William Person, builder, through Albert P. Strobel, Jr., & Co., brokers. The land was acquired from Howard P. Skinner for a consideration of approximately $25,000 it was said. Four of the lots are on Cedarcroft Road near Bellona Avenue; three at the northwest corner of Oak Lane and Lake Avenue and two on the opposite side of Oak Lane Avenue. The purchaser was to improve the plots with a number of homes to be built in the approximate cost of $15,000, it was said. Construction probably will begin in the spring.”

Neighbors of the period enjoyed the rural quality and relative sparseness of the neighborhood. Mrs. Betsy Hedeman, who lived on the south side of Cedarcroft Road in the 1920s and 30s, recalled the many empty lots in the neighborhood. Her recollections are included in the Cedarcroft Memories section of this document.

Maintaining historic character

Covenants and agreements governing property use go back to the beginning of the neighborhood. In order to preserve the residential character of the development, the Cedarcroft Land Company in 1909 prepared original deeds conveying title to the lots in Cedadrcroft. These deeds contained certain substantially uniform covenants and agreements made binding on each lot and upon the successive owners and occupants of each lot.

These binding covenants and agreements became increasingly important as homes were added, and the neighborhood began to fill in. A large ledger book, part of the Cedarcroft historic record held by the Cedarcroft Maintenance Corporation, provides an extraordinary 36-year running account of dues payments, receipts and disbursements, and notes from Cedarcroft Board meetings between 1924 through 1960.

Notes of a meeting of the Board of Directors, dated January 31, 1927, states that “motions for the general good of the community such as repairs to streets, pruning of shade trees, modern sewerage, and better street car facilities were discussed and adopted and the President agreed to take these subjects up with the proper authorities promptly. Messrs Mottu & White were reappointed as consulting architects to the Board.”

Prominent Baltimore architects of the day, Mottu & White advised the Board on architectural issues raised by the covenants and agreements. Most of the Board meeting notes in the 1924-1960 record pertain to plans submitted, plans rejected, and projects approved. On March 24, 1932, for example, “Mr. Spenser reported the conditions regarding the addition and improvement to the property on Lot #97, displaying an architect’s drawing of the changes which had already been made. The recent improvement to the property consisting of an open porch converted into a brick inclosed [sic] sun parlor was passed on by the Board as satisfactory.”

Mottu & White’s strong Arts & Crafts inclination made them good judges of Cedarcroft architecture. The firm also had several area Episcopal churches and parish houses in their portfolio, including the Parish House of the Church of the Nativity on Cedarcroft Road. Many years later, the church leadership would seek out the firm’s original Parish House plans to draw inspiration for new additions to the facilities.

At the Cedarcroft Annual Meeting on May 6, 1938, Mr. Arthur Spencer included among the past year’s accomplishments the “installation of ornamental street lights by the City, [and] which were turned on for the first time on December 7, 1937.” For appreciating the day-to-day growth and development of Cedarcroft during the 20th century, this large ledger book is a vital resource.

Historic Cedarcroft

Down through the years, the neighborhood would continue to be mentioned periodically in the Sun. At the turn of the 21st century, Cedarcroft’s place as an historic neighborhood was confirmed when, in 2002, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

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And, in its bicentennial year, neighbors and friends had every reason to be proud of the efforts down through the years to preserve and enhance Cedarcroft’s beauty, tranquility, and architectural integrity.

Other histories of Cedarcroft provide additional perspective into the lives of residents at various times in the 20th century, and these histories are included in this document. As Historic Cedarcroft enters its second century, there will be many opportunities for more memories and histories to continue and renew the story of this historic and beautiful neighborhood.

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