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Leafy Ten Hills in West Baltimore eschews fences in favor of friendliness

“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote the late poet Robert Frost. Ten Hills might prove him wrong. Fenced lots are rare in the leafy historic enclave in West Baltimore, where most every yard melts into the next, and folks tap on their neighbors’ back doors more often than the front.

“Most of our property divisions are just shrubs,” said Chelsea Arthur, president of the Ten Hills Community Association. “Fences aren’t frowned upon, we just don’t have them. If someone has a fence, it’s a little bitty one for the dog. Here, people just walk out back to the neighbors’ to hang out and chit-chat, like in the old days.”

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Arthur, 38, moved here with her fiance three years ago and embraced the community of single-family dwellings on the spot.

“We loved [the area] so much that we cancelled our wedding venue, got married on our front porch and had our reception in the back yard,” she said. “I’m told that we weren’t the first to do it.”

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Here, residents — an eclectic and integrated mix including judges, professors, lawyers, CEOs and federal workers — gather often to socialize. There are block parties and impromptu porch parties where, come evening, homeowners hang disco lights on their porches to signal neighbors over to mingle. Ten Hills has its own garden club, two book clubs and a knitting club, which was started by its younger residents.

“It’s affordable and community-oriented — like Roland Park, only cheaper,” Arthur said of the locale, a tasteful melange of more than 20 styles of homes ranging from English Tudor to Greek Revival to Spanish Colonial.

“There are lots of big old houses, green space and trees,” said Bob O’Hatnick, 78, a retired architect who, with his wife Suzanne, has lived here 48 years. “When I came home from work and turned into the neighborhood, I could feel the temperature drop by five degrees.”

History

Rooted in an agrarian past, the 144-acre tract first served James Dorsey, a farmer and slave-owner who bought the rolling landscape in 1829 and built a manor house, from which one could see the Baltimore harbor. In 1855, the farm was purchased as a summer retreat by Henry Willis Baxley, who founded the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery and with whom former President Barack Obama shares his Irish forebears.

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Baxley named the estate “Bellevue” and, 10 years later, leased it to Philip Chappell, president of the Third National Bank of Baltimore. His son, Thomas Chappell, bought the property in 1877, renamed it Ten Hills and used it for fox-hunting gambits until family squabbles over his late father’s estate put the land up for public auction in 1909.

Ten Hills was sold for $66,400 to a syndicate led by developer Charles Steffey, who carved 250 half-acre lots from the tract. He built a diverse mix of large summer homes, some with multiple kitchens and as many as seven bedrooms for well-to-do city dwellers, while preserving many stately old trees and even a fruit orchard.

Steffey himself bought the first residence, at 502 Chapel Gate Lane, which still stands. In 1918, the community was absorbed by Baltimore City. The Ten Hills Civic Association first met in 1927. Residents have included Lynette Young, chief of staff to onetime Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, and Denise Koch, former news anchor at WJZ-TV.

Physical space

Ten Hills is bordered on three sides by Edmondson Avenue, Rock Glen Road and Uplands Park, a welcome, if marshy, buffer zone. Community leaders contend that the southern boundary is the Hunting Hills Swim Club on Nottingham Road, but city officials claim that Ten Hills extends further, to Frederick Avenue, and encompasses several apartment buildings.

Things to do

The swim club boasts a six-lane pool, has a large playground and holds regular crab feasts and ice cream youth nights. There is one church, St. Bartholomew’s (Episcopal), a handsome century-old stone sanctuary. The lone non-residential establishments are a quaint bed-and-breakfast (The Sharon Elaine) and the Bee Friendly Apiary behind the home of Bill Castro, who sells his honey to sweet-toothed passersby.

Demographics

In 2010 the community’s population was 1,416, according to an analysis by Baltimore’s planning department, and the median home value was $387,400. In 2018, the median household income in Ten Hills was $87,719 and the age of homeowners skewed older than the norm for Baltimore: 30 percent of residents were at least 65, compared to 24 percent for the city. There were two shootings in 2020 but no homicides. There was one homicide, a shooting, in 2019.

Transit and walkability

Ten Hills’ walkability score ranks 32 out of 100, according to Live Baltimore. The MTA (No. 77) serves the neighborhood via multiple stops along Edmondson Ave.

Issues

“Crime isn’t a huge problem, but we’ve had some carjackings [three in 2020],” said Arthur, who’d like to add security cameras to the streets thereabouts.

While there are a few speed bumps in the community, more are needed to discourage cars racing by on cut-throughs to Route 40 or Frederick Ave.

Abandoned storefronts on the cusp of the community are worrisome.

“The city needs to develop small businesses to fill those sites in and around Edmondson Village,” Arthur said. “We can’t continue to exist as a bubble in Ten Hills.”

Leadership

Chelsea Arthur, Ten Hills Community Association president; Kristerfer Burnett (D), Baltimore City Council, District 8; Jill Carter (D), Maryland State Senate, District 41.

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