Snyder's Willow Grove

Vernon Snyder says flooding has forced him to close Snyder's Willow Grove, a restaurant and banquet hall in Linthicum that has operated for 77 years. The April 30 storm sent water from the nearby Patapsco River streaming into his restaurant. The basement was completely flooded and the water was a foot deep on the first floor. (Photo by Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun / May 7, 2014)

There will be no more wedding receptions, birthday dinners or high school reunions at Snyder's Willow Grove.

For 77 years, the Linthicum Heights restaurant and banquet hall hosted countless family and community celebrations and special dinners. But storms at the end of April forced the Patapsco River over its banks, depositing a foot of water and mud in the Snyder's dining rooms.

For Mother's Day, co-owner Vernon Snyder was preparing to serve 1,200 customers, a healthy crowd on one of the restaurant's busiest days of the year.

Instead, he spent the last week calling hundreds of customers to cancel their reservations, hiring crews to tear out waterlogged carpet, and setting up appointments with insurance adjusters.

For Snyder, this flood — the fourth in four years — was too much to bear.

He's closing his doors.

"I just can't go back in this building again," said Snyder, 78, whose parents — George "Bumps" and "Sis" Snyder — opened the restaurant in another building down the street when he was a baby. After a fire in 1944, Snyder's Willow Grove moved to its current location on Hammonds Ferry Road, with its green sign easily spotted from the Baltimore Beltway.

Snyder grew up in the restaurant and was living on the second floor with his wife, Helen, the first time the building was flooded — when Tropical Storm Agnes blew through in 1972.

The Snyders repaired and reopened after Agnes and again after two more major floods in the 1970s. The more recent floods in 2011, 2012 and 2013 were confined to the basement and required only a few weeks for repairs.

But the April 30 storm was another matter.

Snyder's was hosting two private parties and about 15 customers in the restaurant when the water started rising. The staff tried to go on with dinner and had just set out the banquet buffets when the water covered the parking lot and rose to the front steps.

The staff handed out carryout containers and encouraged diners to fill up before ushering them out the back door, where the water was lower.

Snyder stayed until the water hit the main floor at 9 p.m. before retreating to his home a few miles away.

When he returned, it didn't take long to decide it would be foolish to try and rebuild and reopen in the same location, just 200 yards from the Patapsco River.

"You'd have to gut the building and start over," Snyder said Thursday, standing in his restaurant, now with bare floors, stacked chairs and fans running constantly. Outside, the parking lot was being power-washed to remove the mud.

The mud and water have been pumped out of the building and the electricity works, but there's no gas. Couches and booths have been ruined, and even Snyder's desk in the office is starting to crumble from water damage. He expects once the floors dry out, the tiles are going to pop up in the kitchen and bar.

"We just had to make the decision to draw the line," he said. "It's going to get flooded again."

Snyder thinks the floods have become more frequent because of increased development along the Patapsco, with more roads and parking lots and rooftops sending rainwater gushing into the river, which too often swells over its banks.

"All that water has to run somewhere," Snyder said. "That's progress, you know."

Once things are settled with the insurance companies, Snyder is hopeful that he can reopen, perhaps in another location. He runs the restaurant with his wife, his brother Ellsworth, his son Vernon Jr. and his daughter Kimberly. His 60 employees are out of work, he said.

Many customers hope to see Snyder's resurrected. They've been offering their support on the restaurant's Facebook page and in emails.

Fran Schmidt, CEO of the Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, said the loss of Snyder's leaves a hole for many Anne Arundel families. She had been planning to go to dinner there Saturday.

"To lose them is pretty devastating," Schmidt said. "It's still one of the nice restaurants you could take your family and you could go for any occasion."

For many families, Snyder's was the "go-to" choice for special events. "People are now kind of looking at each other going, 'Where do we go?' " she said.

Snyder said he's touched by the support and said he's always loved serving customers and sharing their special occasions. He hopes that, eventually, he can serve customers once again.

"We'll just take it one day at a time and hope for the best," he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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