A house in the woods in the middle of a city sounds like the stuff of real estate fantasies. But one such home is up for sale in a hidden community located in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park.
Real estate listings are rare in the tiny enclave called Brick Hill, which counts about 20 historic homes within its boundaries — nine of which were owned by a single family for decades. The Brick Hill community is technically considered part of the Woodberry neighborhood, but the cluster of houses are notched into the northeast corner of Druid Hill Park.
The location has kept the community preserved for years as a forest-draped secret, except to the handful of people living up there over the years.
Most of the brick duplexes in Brick Hill were built around 1870 for the men and woman who worked in the Woodberry Manufacturing Co.’s Meadow Mill. The industrial development is one of the few intact mill-house communities in the country, with many of the homes added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, The Baltimore Sun reported in 2005.
Baltimore native Lex Davis and his mother inherited nine of the homes from the Depfer family — which first purchased a house in Brick Hill for of $5 in 1926. For years, Davis and his mother worked with Ray Depfer to rehabilitate the historic homes and convert them to rental listings. When Depfer died in 2014, he bequeathed the properties to the duo.
Since then, Davis has been working to clean up the properties, some of which were packed to the brim with keepsakes, historical items and junk, he said. They’ve placed one of the homes — 3420 Seneca St. — up for sale in hopes the profits will allow them to finish restoring their other properties in the community.
“It's this nice little vibrant community that nobody knows about it except the people who live there and the people of Woodberry who walk dogs there,” Davis said.
Davis and his family previously rented a home in the community, which is how they met Depfer and developed a close friendship. Depfer’s parents William Cooper Depfer and his wife, Rosa Gill Depfer, were among the first private owners to purchase a home in Brick Hill from the mill companies in the 1920s. The couple later bought eight additional Brick Hill properties and bequeathed them to Depfer and his brother Will.
Depfer, a Baltimore police officer and Korean War veteran, operated a number of mechanical- and construction-based businesses with his brother out of the tiny community over the years. Some footprints of their handyman skills remain, like the light switch located inconveniently outside the bathroom in Depfer’s house, Davis said.
However, Depfer was a child of the Great Depression and avoided spending money on home updates unless necessary, according to Davis.
“The biggest challenge is the thing I keep learning is true of Baltimore townhouses anywhere — the more lived-in, the better the condition,” he said. “He had houses abandoned for 20, 30, 40 years. Those houses were in rough condition. The more you pick things apart, the more you learn is broken beneath them.”
More than one of the former Depfer homes have yielded odd finds, including several trash cans full of Equal artificial sweetener, antique toys, dead grenades, family photos, a copy of the Quran and some KKK memorabilia, Davis said.
“I think it's a microcosm of Baltimore and a part of history,” he said of the finds. Most of the items have since been donated to appropriate entities or auctioned off.
Still, the Depfer family’s antique tools and machinery from years of enterprises are still in Davis’ care. He hopes to one day put them on display in the community along with a plaque showcasing Brick Hill’s industrial roots.
The proceeds from the sale of the Seneca Street house will go toward fixing up the last two homes Davis owns that are in dire need of repair.
As for a buyer, Davis said he isn’t picky. He just hopes the house goes to someone who can appreciate the history of the community.
“I think it's interesting to see who in Baltimore comes out [to see the house],” he said. “I like the idea of leaving it open to chance. This house will find its person.”