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Blurred property lines draw up old hostilities

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Matabel Hammond has spent a lifetime fighting to protect her Magothy Beach home.

In headier days, Mrs. Hammond, 65, toted a gun around the yard and even spent a day in jail after barricading a public road. She has been to Circuit Court three times and, in 1962, to the Maryland Court of Appeals defending her small corner at Center Street and Riverside Drive.

Her tormentors for 46 years have remained the same: the tavern next door and the muddled property lines in her waterfront community.

Last week, the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals gave Harry C. Paesch, owner of the Magothy Inn, permission to build a 647-square-foot shed behind the tavern to store empty kegs and equipment if he meets certain conditions.

Mrs. Hammond and her sister Regina Keller, who owns a house on the opposite side of the bar, opposed the tavern's expansion, in part because of the noise it already generates. But they say they are most concerned that the board's six-page decision inaccurately describes the bounds of Mr. Paesch's property.

"They keep upsetting me over my ground," Mrs. Hammond says. "I don't want to cause Harry any trouble. I just don't want any noise and I want to protect my ground for my children."

Independent move

Mrs. Hammond was 17 when she married Robert Kenneth Hammond and moved into his parents' bungalow along the Magothy River. Unhappy under her mother-in-law's thumb, the young woman used the money she received for wedding gifts as a down payment on the corner lot across the street and immediately began converting her father-in-law's chicken coop into a small home with 2 1/2 rooms.

The trouble began when she and her husband, a federal employee, returned from his assignment in California to discover their neighbor, Margaret Cuffley, had converted her home -- about 20 feet from their own -- into a neighborhood tavern.

Relations became really ugly when Mrs. Cuffley turned in Mrs. Hammond, who had opened a snowball stand in her yard to help her husband make ends meet, to police for operating without a license.

"I must have been cutting into her soda business," Mrs. Hammond bristles nearly five decades later.

Not long after she obtained a business license, she first noticed surveyors eyeing the line between their properties, Mrs. Hammond says. The border war had begun in earnest.

Mrs. Cuffley claimed that the Hammonds' home/chicken coop was on her property. It was the start of a legal battle that would rage for 12 years, until the Court of Appeals finally set the boundary along a line between Center and First streets.

Along the way, various courts ruled that the Hammond house was encroaching on the neighbor's property, fining the couple 1 cent and court costs. Mrs. Hammond remembers the day her husband sawed several feet off the end of the house to put more room between it and the tavern. "He just got out his saw and started with one wall, went right up to the roof and down the other wall. Then he pushed the side of the house in. I was so mad."

Another court reversed that decision, and after her husband died in 1963, Mrs. Hammond used his life insurance policy to restore and expand the little house. "Oh, she [Mrs. Cuffley] was just spitting, but there was nothing she could about it," Mrs. Hammond recalls.

Neighborhood relations had become so poisoned during the 1950s that Mrs. Hammond was convinced someone wanted to hurt her husband while he built a separate bigger house on the site.

"He'd be up on the roof when they'd start cussing and threatening him," Mrs. Hammond remembers. "He'd call me to get the gun to guard him. I must have sounded like Annie Oakley out there."

RTC She proved pretty handy with a gun, too. Once, when one of Mrs. Cuffley's chickens wandered into her yard, she shot it dead. When the Cuffleys came over to retrieve it, Mrs. Hammond remembers, she threatened to blow them away as well. But police intervened and prevented further bloodshed.

By 1957, the situation was no clearer than when it began. The confusion stemmed from inaccurate surveys of Magothy Beach when lots were sold. Neither Riverside Drive nor Center Street, for example, were in their proper places.

When a survey that year showed the Hammond property starting in the middle of Center Street, it meant their little house sat in the middle of First Street.

"How can anyone say my property starts in the middle of a street?" Mrs. Hammond asked a Sun reporter on March 5, 1957. "If I try to lay claim to that street, I'll be arrested."

Which is exactly what happened after Mrs. Hammond barricaded the road later that day with the family sedan. "My husband was crying, 'Don't do this, [Matabel]," she says today. "It was the only way I could think of to get someone to resolve this mess."

The other side

Nearly three decades after the appeals court finally imposed a peace upon the warring factions, Mrs. Hammond says she worries the tavern's new owner and the county's administrative appeals board are confusing the lines all over again.

Among other things, the board's ruling says Mrs. Hammond's house is 45 feet from the tavern; she says it is half that distance. "If I was 45 feet away, I wouldn't be able to hear the music," she says.

Mr. Paesch, a retired K-9 officer who bought the tavern in 1988, says he does not dispute Mrs. Hammond's property line. In fact, he agrees the appeals board misstated the distance between the Hammond house and the tavern.

Noting that Mrs. Hammond has erected a large fence between them, he says, "She can have that fence up there for the next 100 years if she wants. 'Cause if she's in the wrong place, then every house in the neighborhood . . . is screwed up."

But Mr. Paesch says that he will go to Circuit Court to resolve discrepancies in the property lines between himself and Mrs. Keller -- Mrs. Hammond's sister -- who moved to Magothy Beach in 1961. In dispute are 20 feet of ground that neither his nor her deed account for but which each claim.

The appeals board has ordered Mr. Paesch to build a privacy fence between his property and Mrs. Keller's as soon as the court has decided the issue.

Many neighbors, including the community association that meets regularly at the Magothy Inn, rallied to Mr. Paesch's defense before the board. They credit him with throwing out the ruffians who once frequented the Magothy Inn and tidying up the property.

One neighbor, who does not want to be identified, says Mrs. Hammond and Mrs. Keller seem to be fighting old demons, dredging up the history of bad blood between themselves and previous owners.

Although Mrs. Keller, who rents her property to boarders, says she is afraid she could become embroiled in the same kind of turmoil as her sibling did years ago, she says she is most afraid for her sister. "I don't like her getting hurt," she says. "She's been hurt too much down here."

Mrs. Hammond says relatives often tell her to sell her houses and move. "But you can have trouble wherever you go," she says. "And I know every piece of this house, my husband has touched every piece, my son was born on this property. I'll never sell."

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