Cottage facing future of U.S. 40; Lot near Rogers Ave. once housed family's welding business


The small red-and-white candy-striped cottage on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City where Shirley Sause Massey and Pretty Boy, her spotted pony, once lived isn't long for this world, she expects.

One of the last remnants of Maryland's mom and pop roadside commercial era on that stretch of highway, her old family homestead is up for lease and will likely be redeveloped -- leveled and replaced -- to fit the retail landscape near Rogers Avenue, she said.

"The buildings are 50 years old. They were never built with the idea of standing for posterity. The little house that everyone thinks is so cute was only supposed to be temporary," she said.

Still, Massey, 61, has wistful memories of her youth there, where traffic was once so light that her wily Chincoteague pony could occasionally get loose at night and graze on the U.S. 40 median without being hit, before even a traffic signal was installed at Rogers Avenue.

Her mom and pop were Thelma and Alfred Sause, who moved to Ellicott City during World War II. Later, Alfred Sause left a welding job at a Baltimore shipyard to open his small shop repairing farm equipment.

In 1947, they bought the nearly 1-acre lot on the highway. Three years later they built their small home, with a combination welding shop/gas station in front. Shirley, age 10, would watch for gasoline customers on summer days and run to fetch a parent when one pulled in.

"My father loved his little house, and so did my mother," said Massey, looking at old photos. In those days, Thelma Sause fed the occasional stranded traveler while her husband welded a part back on a trailer. "He was a good Samaritan by the roadside," Massey said.

Over the years, the Sauses raised show dogs, put the distinctive red-and-white exterior over the home's white shingles and enlarged the shop building, but they never moved from the small, four-room house where Shirley's younger brother slept in his parents' room until she got married and moved out at age 19.

Though eastern Howard County has grown nearly beyond recognition since then, there are others with warm memories of the Sause property.

'A fond place'

"I hate to see it go," said County Executive James N. Robey, who as a county police officer spent many pleasant moments in George's, a sandwich shop that occupied part of the site.

"There are certain little things that you remember about Howard County that hold a fond place," the county native said.

Now, the future is plain to see on every side of the property.

Next to the sturdy green wood fence her father built, a Honda dealer's brightly illuminated cars are parked. A Rite-Aid pharmacy nears completion across the highway, while new townhouses peek over the western horizon.

Soon, they'll be joined by a super-sized Metro Food Market on the grassy field in back of the Sause family's plot. A stone's throw down U.S. 40, a mega-Super Fresh recently opened near an even larger Wal-Mart.

Compared to the newer, corporately owned businesses, passed by an average of 48,000 vehicles a day in 1997, the Sause family compound seems to be from another world.

"My mother would sit on a stool in the kitchen and look out the window. She never tired of seeing life on the highway," Massey recalled. Thelma Sause handled the books and did the telephone work. The gas station portion of the building was leased on a handshake to another operator, and other businesses -- a beauty parlor, sandwich shop, dry cleaners -- came and went after the building was expanded.

"They really didn't expect to live out their lives there," she said about her parents' plans to build a larger home elsewhere, but they did. In the end, Alfred Sause stayed after his wife died, working at his craft until he died in 1992 at age 81, Massey said. Since then the house and commercial building -- now a motorcycle shop -- have been rented. Massey lives nearby.

'He worked all his life'

"I hope that whatever dreams my parents had for the property will be realized in my children's generation," she said, explaining that her three grown children own the land and stand to profit from its redevelopment.

Although her father's commercial vision is coming true, he had become wedded to his way of life along U.S. 40, she said.

"He was welding the day before he died," she said, noting that when he began spending winter months in Florida, he worked for free in a welding shop there because he was bored.

"He worked hard all his life. He didn't know any other way to live."

Pub Date: 1/31/99

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