Where they want to stay 'undiscovered'

Bare Hills is one of those Falls Road neighborhoods that motorists, if not careful, can enter and exit within two blinks of an eye, and its residents seem perfectly happy with that.

Bare Hills, which dates to the 1830s and has one of Baltimore County's oldest African-American enclaves, is roughly defined on the west by Clarkview Road, on the north and east by Robert E. Lee Park and on the south by Hollins Lane.

"This is a neighborhood that resists being trendy, and we wish to remain undiscovered," said Sarah Fenno Lord, a writer and neighborhood activist who has lived in the area since 1972.

"We deliberately wanted to live on this side of Lake Roland, because [this] area is full of characters. We're on the wrong side of the light-rail tracks here, and proud of it," Lord said with a laugh.

Lord, considered something of a zealot when it comes Bare Hills, has a reputation of fighting to protect the area's unique qualities and history from developers and others who value its land and proximity to Baltimore and Towson.

"There is no uniform 'look' to the houses or the people who live here," Lord said. "But I defy you to find a stronger community -- anywhere. We feel a lot of respect and affection for each other here. Since the 1830s, Bare Hills has been where black folks have thrived, away from the inequities of the larger society around them, and white folks could hug all the trees they wanted."

Bare Hills owes its founding to the Rev. Aquila Scott, the son of a freed slave who saved his owner's life.

Scott, a blacksmith and wheelwright, moved to Bare Hills in the 1820s from St. Mary's County. He began buying property on the Falls Road Turnpike, today known as Falls Road. He settled there with his wife and 12 children.

He later established St. John's Church on Bellona Avenue in Ruxton in 1833. Scott, whose descendants still live in Bare Hills, died in his pulpit in 1858, and is buried in a small grave off Falls Road. His marble tombstone bears the inscription: "In memory of Revd. Aquila Scott, who passed away while in the church below, to join the church above."

In 1902, John Gardman, an in-law of the Scott family and for whom Gardman Avenue was named, purchased a large parcel in Bare Hills.

He farmed the land until 1925, when he had it surveyed for building lots which he sold only to African-Americans who were unable to buy land in or near the city.

"The land is made up of hills, valleys and streams. There were many dogwood and pine trees which furnished a haven for wildlife such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, owls and other birds," wrote resident Mary Turner in a monograph several years ago.

"From the high hills looking to- ward the city, one could see far in the distance. Often Mr. Gardman's friends would climb the hills just to look at the view in the distance and remark, 'What a pleasant view.'

"Consequently, Mr. Gardman heard the remark so often he decided to name the area Pleasant View," she wrote.

Gladys Reed, a resident since the 1950s and head of the Pleasant View Association, said, "When our house on Park Avenue was torn down for urban renewal in the 1950s, they were going to send us to Cherry Hill, and my husband said, `No way.' "

"So we came here. I grew up in a little town in Pennsylvania, and it reminded me of it," she said.

Reed's sister, Emma Bright, who retired as principal of the city's Hilton Elementary School, purchased a piece of property across the street from her sister in 1959 and later built a home there. The former Ashburton resident has lived full-time in Bare Hills' Pleasant View section since the early 1990s.

"It's quiet and peaceful, and that's what I like about life here," Bright said.

Cookouts recalled

"It really is a very harmonious community," said Bright, recalling lazy summer afternoons, cookouts with friends and family reunions held there over the years.

What concerns the two sisters and others, however, is proposed development and how it will affect life in the tiny community, where there is little turnover in houses.

"We have to keep our eyes and ears open as to what developers plan to do," said Bright.

What concerns residents is a proposed life-care community and what will happen to a large tract owned by Potts and Callahan Inc., a contracting company.

"Of course we're concerned about businesses creeping up Falls Road. This is a closely knit community, and we're worried about industry and other expansion and its effect on our property values," Reed said.

Bare Hills takes its name from the layers of serpentine rock that run underneath it. Such natural resources as chromite, first found there in 1810, copper mining and quarrying presaged an industrial boom. Until 1850, Bare Hills held a worldwide monopoly in chromite, the chief ore of chromium.

Other changes came in 1831, when the whistles and chugging locomotives of the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad and later the Northern Central Railroad could be heard through the trees lining the Jones Falls Valley.

In 1910, the Northern Central came under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Today, the steam whistles and roar of Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives have been replaced by the gentle ding-ding of the light-rail cars that thrum to a halt at Falls Road, near the entrance to Lake Roland, to discharge and pick up passengers.

Gunpowder factory

"In fact, these neighborhoods predate the tracks," Lord said. "In the early 1800s, the Bellona Gunpowder factory, which once rivaled DuPont, used to blow up regularly and was apoplectic about this newfangled thing, the train, coming through so close by, throwing sparks."

The damming of three streams that created Lake Roland, engineered by Col. Robert E. Lee of the Army Corps of Engineers, before the Civil War, later became Baltimore's first public water supply.

Summer homes began lining the shore of the lake in the late 19th century, a respite for the wealthy from summer in the city.

Oldest county school

At Coppermine Terrace and Falls Road stands the oldest Baltimore County public school building.

Erected in the late 1800s, the formerly all-white school, which forced nearby African-American students to go schools elsewhere until the 1960s, is still in use.

Another local landmark, across the street from the school and up a slight hill, is a Victorian confection owned by Marie F. Cooke, a Baltimore attorney, that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cooke and her former husband purchased the 19th-century Carpenter-Gothic structure in 1978. The house, distinguished by a Mount Vernon-esque cupola, was in disrepair when the couple began restoring it.

"It was in terrible disrepair and had vines growing inside of it," said Cooke, who said the house was built by Dr. Horatio Gates Jameson Jr., a physician, in 1856.

Union vice admiral

"It was later the residence of David Dixon Porter, a Union vice admiral who lived there during the Civil War. He is, as far as I know, the only Baltimore County resident ever to appear on a postage stamp," she said.

"What's interesting about Bare Hills is that it has been an industrial-residential community throughout its history. Yet, it's still very rural and very private. You don't feel isolated here," said Cooke, who likes the access to the city, nearby highways and that it is just 20 minutes from her office in Owings Mills.

"It's a stable neighborhood that's been integrated since its inception. There are still Scotts living here and houses that were owned and lived in by freed slaves that date to the 1830s.

Enclave preferred

"It's a pro-active neighborhood, and residents want to keep it the enclave that it is," Cooke said.

"It's one of Baltimore's great untapped secrets and is extremely convenient," said Whit Harvey, a Realtor with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, who has sold houses in the area.

"It really is a fabulous area. A real little secret."

Bare Hills

Average commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Public schools: Rodgers Forge Elementary, Dunbarton Middle, Towson High School

Shopping: Greenspring Station, Greenspring Shopping Center, Lake Falls Village

Places of interest: Robert E. Lee Park, Northwest Ice Rink, Meadowbrook Swim Club

ZIP code: 21209, 21210