Greenspring Montessori School will soon be growing — and building on a history that links the school's campus to one of Baltimore's most successful businessmen.
Construction is scheduled on a $7 million project that will bring a thorough renovation of the school's instructional areas, known as "villages." The addition of a new building, also part of the project, is in the planning stages.
The campus, about 7 acres at the northwest corner of Falls and Greenspring Valley roads in Baltimore County, has an unusual history. When the school opened in 1977, it occupied a former dairy farm that had been owned by Capt. Isaac Emerson, the millionaire who marketed the headache remedy Bromo Seltzer so successfully.
Over four decades the school grew to its present 250 students, who attend the low-rise compound of former barns, stables and agricultural equipment outbuildings.
Emerson, who died in 1931, lived on Eutaw Place during the winters but spent his summers at this sprawling Greenspring Valley estate. He lent his name to the fabled tower at Eutaw and Lombard streets — as well as a downtown hotel that has since been demolished, and the Emersonian apartment house overlooking Druid Lake.
His daughter, Margaret, married Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who perished in sinking of RMS Lusitania in 1915. Their son, A G Vanderbilt Jr., owned the other fabled Greenspring Valley estate, Sagamore.
The cluster of Emerson farm and dairy buildings that became the Greenspring Montessori School somehow escaped the historic profile of his better-known urban properties. The school happily embraced the idea that its library would be within a silo's curved walls and that children would learn Spanish where families once ordered vanilla ice cream cones and quarts of milk.
The school is well aware of its legacy. Officials promise the spirit of this storybook country estate will be preserved as it moves forward with the classroom refurbishment and building addition.
"It has to stay charming," said Tamara Balis, head of school. "We all feel blessed to spend our days in a beautiful and serene setting."
Old news stories say Captain Emerson was proud of his prize-winning Guernsey herd at the farm. His cows had names like Lady Fifi, Buttermaid and Hyacinth.
The intersection of Falls and Greenspring Valley roads was popularly known as Emerson Farm, but the formal name on its glass milk bottles was Brooklandwood Dairy — located in Brooklandville.
The dairy buildings were a popular Sunday driving destination in the post-World War I years. In November 1948, The Sun reported the sale of the dairy herd and said the farm had "attracted thousands of visitors since it was established in 1911."
A 1936 lightning strike destroyed Brooklandwood's largest structure, a huge cow exhibition barn. It was not rebuilt.
In 1948, the herd included three bulls, 78 cows, 19 heifers and 12 heifer calves. One of the bulls was named Audacity at Edgemore. The herd was auctioned by Baltimore County's John Merryman — the Guernseys brought $45,000 — and the tract went on to another use.
In 1948, a theatrical troupe, Hilltop Theater, moved in and held several seasons of summer theater. Its members, led by Donovan "Don" Swann, fixed up one of the barns for what was then called straw hat theater.
The barn sat 325 patrons who enjoyed dramas such as "The Moon is Blue" on July evenings.
In 1952, the Brooklandwood manor house, built by Charles Carroll of Carrollton for his daughter Polly Caton, was sold to St. Paul's School. At that time, the school's enrollment was about the same size as that of Greenspring Montessori. The estate was so extensive the school occupied its northern side while the southern portion, with its dairy buildings, was subdivided.
When Greenspring Montessori arrived in 1977, the summer theater had disappeared, but many of the well-constructed barns survived.
"One of our little boys calls our school 'The pretty place,'" Balis said. "He's got it right."