I saw the house at Colonial Park for the first and only time in the spring of 1992, when on a visit to Baltimore I spent a day with my Aunt Miriam (“Mim”), who drove us around to several cemeteries and other places connected with our family.
I had never heard of the place, or if I had it had not made a permanent record in my brain. We had visited the graves of my grandparents (her parents) at Lorraine Park Cemetery, which is hard by, in fact just on the other side of a ravine. On our way to wherever we were going next, we drove up Colonial Road to its intersection with Lexington Avenue and there was this big beautiful old house, which she told me had once been the family house. It looked to be in good repair at the time and there were nice cars in the driveway. We didn’t knock or even get out of the car at that time. I don’t even seem to have taken any photos of it.
There’s nothing there but a field of grass now. Miriam and I drove over to the site again when I next visited in October 2014. The unpaved driveway off of Lexington is posted with a sign encouraging people to begone, as the property (5517 Lexington Avenue) now belongs to the Social Security Administration, whose vast complex of buildings and parking lots has been sprawling over the hill from the west for many decades.
I wasn’t surprised that the house had been razed, but I’d hoped it had not. For years I’d been occasionally checking in on the property via online tools such as Google Street View tool and Bing Maps (click here for Bing’s oblique aerial photos of the neighborhood) and the house was boarded up in the most recent Google images, which were already a few years old. But Miriam walked out into the area where the house had been as if her eyes were lying to her, and just stood there for a while like a lonely time traveler.
Built in 1804, the house came into our family in 1909, when Benjamin Fleagle Jr. sold his farm in Mayberry (the farm was called Runny Meade in official documents*, but our family always refers to it as “Mayberry” or “the farm at Mayberry”). When I asked Mim why they sold the farm she said, “There were seven girls and two boys. Granddaddy I’m sure was getting past the age where he could do all the work himself. And the two boys had gone off and become teachers. I think he felt it was too much for him.”
The younger son, James, who was Mim’s father and my grandfather, was finishing school at Western Maryland College in Westminster (now McDaniel College). The older son, Benjamin Edward, was already a teacher by this time, Mim believes. The financial details of the purchase of the house at Colonial Park are not currently known because the records available to us only state that it was purchased on May 1, 1909, by “Benjamin Fleagle”, which could be Benjamin Fleagle Jr. or his oldest son, Benjamin Edward. In might be that the father (Benjamin Jr.) bought it with proceeds from the sale of Runny Meade farm. Or it may be that the son (Benjamin Edward) bought it with his father’s help. In any case, both Benjamins lived there.
In a conversation I had with my own father shortly before he died, he told me that he remembered his grandfather, Benjamin Jr., only as the ancient man who lived upstairs at his Uncle Ben’s house and was seldom seen. If I recall correctly, Dad said he was a little bit afraid of the old man, and that he encountered him only once, when he was summoned upstairs to meet him for some reason. Benjamin Jr. died in 1935, when my dad was only five years old. Dad wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral procession, being considered too young, but his older sister Miriam took him to a place along the route so they could see the cars pass by.
The house remained in the family’s possession until 1946. Mim sometimes refers to the house as “the house at Colonial Park” but sometimes she calls it simply “Colonial Park”, essentially equating the house with the neighborhood, which is reasonable enough given its central and dominating position at the top of the hill.
There is another name associated with this area: Colonial Park Estates. This was the name of a development that was centered around this house and one other large neighboring estate but which never really came to full fruition. Outside of my family, the name Colonial Park is used to refer to the neighborhood as a location, but I’m unsure whether the name of the neighborhood came from the development or vice versa.
Here is a link to a PDF I found online of an application to gain protected landmark status for the house.
Much detail about the house and its history is given in this document, including the names and dates of ownership, in the effort to make a case that the building should be preserved. (It didn’t work, as we’ve seen). References to Benjamin Fleagle’s ownership begin on page 8-2 (page 9 of the PDF). Toward the end of the document are several photos of the house taken by a professional historian named Kimberly Sebestyen in July 2010, before it was boarded up. I’ve included several of these above without permission, though I believe they are in the public domain since they are attached to official documents. They are wonderful treasures, just the kind of photos I would have taken if I’d had the chance.
I had no idea that the house had once been a home for girls called Hazelwood. I don’t know if anyone currently living in our family even knows about this part of the house’s past, or if anyone in my family ever called the house by that name. – mdf
*So says James Ezra in a “sketch” of his early life that he wrote for his son Willard Fleagle.