Paper trail points to a neigh­bor­hood’s past

Pre­served files trace the devel­op­ment of Cedar­croft

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Jac­ques Kelly jac­ques.kelly@balt­sun.com

Two paste­board file boxes, the type sold by Bal­ti­more’s old Lu­cas Broth­ers sta­tionery firm, were dis­cov­ered a few months ago tucked into the at­tic of a North Bal­ti­more home.

The boxes were filled with 538 typed busi­ness let­ters, in­voices and hand­writ­ten notes dat­ing from about 1922 to 1931. In pris­tine con­di­tion, the doc­u­ments pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the work­ings of the Cedar­croft neigh­bor­hood dur­ing a busy time — when its houses were be­ing built and new fam­i­lies were mov­ing in.

“I’ve scanned them all and pre­served them in the orig­i­nal or­der they were placed in the boxes,” said Stu­art Ha­ley, a Cedar­croft Road res­i­dent, his­to­rian and ge­neal­o­gist.

“They fill about file 20 fold­ers,” Ha­ley said of the trove. “For a rel­a­tively small neigh­bor­hood, a large body of his­tory has been pre­served by this happy ac­ci­dent.”

Devel­op­ment of the Cedar­croft neigh­bor­hood fol­lowed the death in 1908 of Ge­orge M. Lamb, who owned a sub­ur­ban es­tate of that name. Lamb was a com­mis­sion mer­chant in down­town Bal­ti­more; his father op­er­ated a board­ing school in what is now the Mil­ton Inn on York Road in Sparks.

Lamb’s heirs sub­di­vided Cedar­croft — about 40 acres — and laid out a curvi­lin­ear street plan from Git­tings to Lake av­enues, west of York Road and east of Bel­lona Av­enue. Home­own­ers bought lots and hired ar­chi­tects for their Dutch Colo­nial and Arts and Crafts-style cot­tages.

Lamb’s home, a big Vic­to­rian that looks lifted from Cape May, N.J., re­mains on Sy­camore Road sur­rounded by a na­tive perennial gar­den.

Let­ters in the file are ad­dressed to the Cedar­croft Main­te­nance Corp., whose mem­bers were the peo­ple who bought homes in the neigh­bor­hood be­fore and af­ter World War I.

Ha­ley said the mes­sages are “bor­ing, funny, ab­surd and pro­vide quite a nar­ra­tive on what it was like to de­sign, build and op­er­ate a com­mu­nity.”

The doc­u­ments re­flect how Cedar­croft’s res­i­dents con­trolled the life of their lit­tle com­mu­nity.

There are bills from the Grif­fith-Turner Seed Co.: a wooden rake for 60 cents, a $30 lawn mower and a $32 cast-iron lawn roller.

Of course, not ev­ery­one was happy all the time. An­nual neigh­bor­hood dues were $15 a year, and some found fault, for in­stance, when the snow wasn’t plowed to their lik­ing.

“For two years I waited for the com­pany to re­place two trees which were dead, so at the price of the trees I think the com­pany owes me money,” Clara Muller, a Pine­hurst Road res­i­dent, wrote in 1926.

The files also il­lu­mi­nate the touchy Cedar­croft res­i­dents Stu­art Ha­ley, left, and An­drea Tucker dis­cuss the trove of his­toric doc­u­ments of the Cedar­croft Main­te­nance Corp. dis­cov­ered in an at­tic. sub­ject of house de­sign and do­mes­tic aes­thet­ics.

“I think they wanted all the homes to be painted white with green shut­ters,” Ha­ley said. “The con­trac­tors com­plained and wanted to use a dar­ing color, like cream.”

Plans for any struc­tures, in­clud­ing garages, had to be ap­proved by the Charles Street ar­chi­tec­tural firm of Mottu and White. The ar­chi­tec­tural crit­i­cisms could be pre­cise — such as one in­struct­ing the own­ers to en­large a glass panel in a front door to ad­mit more light into the hall.

The files dis­close that in early 1928, Messrs. Mottu and White po­litely with­drew from play­ing ar­chi­tec­tural um­pire. The home­own­ers thanked them and paid $160 for cri­tiquing 16 homes.

Ha­ley doesn’t know how the cor­re­spon­dence found its way to the for­mer home of Ed­ward L. Hick­man, a Cedar­croft Road res­i­dent in­volved in a whole­sale busi­ness, where they were found.

“They sur­vived in an un­fin­ished part of the at­tic, in the open joists,” Ha­ley said.

The dis­cov­ery pro­vides an im­por­tant com­mu­nity re­source, said An­drea Tucker, an­other Cedar­croft res­i­dent and neigh­bor­hood his­to­rian.

“The mere fact that peo­ple had the pres­ence of mind to keep this is re­mark­able,” Tucker said.

“It is a trea­sure that was un­earthed. I hope to­day that peo­ple are think­ing about the fu­ture in the same way.”

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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