As a young boy growing up in Baltimore County, Walter Engle remembers climbing the ruined tower of a medieval-style castle on the banks of Loch Raven Reservoir.
His mother may have believed her 6-year-old had a slightly overactive imagination. But in 1928, when he made the hike with a Boy Scout troop, pieces of a reproduction castle called Glen Ellen were still standing in the woods beside the reservoir.
jTC "I tell you, when you go to see a castle and you're 6 years old, your eyes are wide open. I still remember it vividly," says Mr. Engle, whose Towson home sits on property adjoining the Glen Ellen site. "I remember I was walking up wooden steps that spiraled around inside the tower. And I remember there was plaster on them that had fallen off the walls. I got up about a story before some of the older kids told me I had better come down."
Although the tower has since crumbled, the ruins of Glen Ellen continue to fascinate visitors who make the hike to the site. Pieces of the foundation remain, as well as part of an old stone staircase and evidence of a nearby springhouse that was most likely used for storing milk. Old photographs of the property show two gnarled Osage orange trees near the mansion, which still grow near the remaining foundation.
"It's a true ghost," said Carol Allen, executive director of Historic Towson, which sponsored a lecture and several hikes to Glen Ellen this spring.
Even at the time of its construction, Glen Ellen was designed to evoke thoughts of times past.
The three-story early Gothic Revival mansion, with towers on three corners, was meant to resemble Abbotsford, a Scottish castle owned by Sir Walter Scott. Glen Ellen's owner, Robert Gilmor III, had visited Abbotsford, itself a replica, during a stint in the foreign service in the 1820s, according to local historian Charles J. Scheve. To design his new home, Gilmor called in Alexander Jackson Davis, a famous American architect, who traveled from New York to Baltimore to oversee the project.
Built in 1833, Glen Ellen is believed to have had a guest house in the form of a Greek temple and a gatehouse that was designed to look like a Gothic ruin, Mr. Scheve says. The entire project cost Gilmor about $175,000, which converted to today's dollars would equal about $1.8 million.
In the 90 or so years that Glen Ellen was inhabited, the home looked out on farmlands and a valley, which was cut by a small creek connected to the Gunpowder River. But by the turn of the century, the growing city of Baltimore was making increasing demands for larger water supplies, and attention began to focus on the lands surrounding Glen Ellen.
In 1921, the Gunpowder was dammed, Mr. Scheve says, and Loch Raven Reservoir was born in the front yard of Glen Ellen. What appears as a hill on an old map of the property became an island, and many of the outer buildings were covered by water.
Today, the edge of the reservoir reaches within a few dozen feet of the site of Glen Ellen's front door. Occasionally, when the water level in Loch Raven has dropped severely, boaters report seeing fence posts and an old chimney above the surface.
For a time, the city, which had purchased the property before the damming, considered using the mansion as a resort for poor women from Baltimore. But its proximity to the water made a septic system impossible and Glen Ellen began to decay. During Prohibition, a still was set up in the building, Mr. Scheve says, and Glen Ellen started to become a problem for the city.
"It was becoming a nuisance. College kids were having beer parties out there, and kids had started going out with roller skates and using the floor of the ballroom," he says.
So in 1929, after much of its lumber was removed, Glen Ellen was dynamited to the ground. Some of the windows and doors are now part of the Cloisters Children's Museum on Falls Road, Mr. Scheve says.
Thanks to Historic Towson, there is renewed interest in Glen Ellen and talk of clearing parts of the site to make it more accessible to visitors. Today, two ash trees have grown up on either side of an 8-foot piece of marble that most likely marks a small patio at the front entrance to the mansion. The clean lines of the trees give a visitor some feel for the majesty of the mansion that would have towered above them.
THE ROAD TO RUINS
The ruins of Glen Ellen may be reached by taking Beltway Exit 28 north (Providence Road). Follow Providence Road almost until it dead-ends at Loch Raven Drive (about 2 miles). Parking is permitted at the top of Dogwood Hill Road (about an 1/8 of a mile before the dead end) and on Providence Road where not prohibited by signs. The trail begins at the southwest corner of Loch Raven Drive and Providence Road. It goes through an open field and past a stream (about a 1/4 mile after the field). Bear left at the first fork (1/8 mile after the stream). At the next fork (a 1/4 mile later), bear left again. The trail crosses a second stream about 60 feet later and continues around to the right. The ruins are a little more than an 1/8 mile farther and are down a slight drop off the left side of the trail. Look for bricks and pieces of slate roofing and stucco. Walking time from the beginning of trail is about 50 minutes.