WILLOW GROVE FARM: A SHORT HISTORY
Cromwell Valley Park encompasses 460 acres of stream valley and upland habitat just minutes from downtown Towson…the Willow Grove Nature Education Center, a remodeled historic farm house, [is the] focal point. chttps://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/recreation/countyparks/mostpopular/cromwell/index.html
In addition to the house, Willow Grove Farm (BA-2768) comprises a barn, corn crib, springhouse and two 20th century tenant houses. The Merrick log house (BA-2771), located to the southwest of the restored lime kilns, was part of the Long Island Farm (BA-102) tract owned by the Risteau-Jenifer families.
The two-story barn is built on a stone foundation with adze-hewn, square logs, the members assembled at the corners with V-notches, the only style of joinery ever noted in this county for log buildings. The corn crib is also built of logs on a stone foundation. The spring house is built of rubble stone, to provide a cool, clean place for storing food, particularly dairy products.
Willow Grove Farm was first mentioned in the Baltimore Sun obituary of Arthur W. Shanklin in 1919. Arthur was one of three sons of John Wesley Shanklin, Sr., and the grandson of Robert and Elizabeth Bosley Shanklin. Robert, said to be “a pioneer Methodist preacher of Maryland who also conducted a school,” established the family in the area when he bought 17 acres of land on the present Satyr Hill Road. His son, John Wesley Sr., added to his father’s modest holding, acquiring a considerable amount of land between 1838, when his mother gave him a tract of 39 acres, and 1858.
John W. Sr. bought 60 acres in the Valley in 1848. He added to this tract in 1849 when his wife Mary Burton inherited 45 adjoining acres as part of her inheritance. This tract became Willow Grove Farm.
Arthur Washington Shanklin was born in 1839 at the family home, Forest Hall, on Satyr Hill Road, the second of three sons. In 1867 he married Ann Elizabeth Bosley. Arthur was an attorney in Towson. He served as County Treasurer and tax collector from 1897 until 1899. The Sun reported in 1898 that “The Treasury is Empty…there being no money…county commissioners did not pay any bills yesterday.” A subsequent notice of County offices to be filled hinted that Arthur may have been at least partially to blame for the shortfall of funds, saying “The treasurer of the county, in order to make his administration a success, must give considerable personal attention to the details of the office.”
The house at Willow Grove was built between 1850, when the 1850 Sidney Atlas of Baltimore County showed only three houses in the valley: Carlisle Howard at Cowpens (where Loch Raven Senior High School is today), John Plaskitt at Gay’s Good Fellowship, and T. C. Risteau at Long Island (the latter two houses still standing today), and 1870, when Arthur is listed in the census as a farmer with real estate valued at $8000. It is reasonable to assume that it was built prior to his wedding in 1867, and added to as his family grew to include 10 children. Its two huge sycamore, or buttonball, trees may have been planted as “bride and groom trees,” a tradition in the 17th and 18th centuries due to the trees’ longevity.
Although Arthur had been living at the farm since at least 1867 when he married, it did not become his property until his father died in 1883. John W. Sr. divided his land among his three sons: John W. Jr. received the house on Old Harford Road (Shanklin-Carroll-Longbottom House, Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties BA-282), William Jefferson (Jeff) received Forest Hall (BA-227, demolished in 1997), and Arthur received the “place at lime kilns, by letting John and Jeff have agricultural lime stone to burn for the land they get them their [sic] selves at their own expense” (Shanklin House at Willow Grove Farm).
The land along Mine Bank Run was rich in gneiss, used primarily as crushed stone, and Cockeysville marble. These mineral deposits gave rise to the lime kiln industry in the valley. Each property, from what is now Cowpens Avenue (formerly Furnace Road) to the Great Falls of the Gunpowder, had one or more lime kilns. Willow Grove had several concave-faced kilns in use before the Shanklin family partnered with their Jenifer neighbors in commercial lime burning, using vertical shaft continuous burn kilns (see the information kiosks at the restored kilns in Cromwell Valley Park).
As a farmer, Arthur likely grew cereal grains and vegetable crops with perhaps fruit and nut orchards. Farming activities were likely disrupted during the construction of the Loch Raven lower dam from 1875 until 1881, when the water tunnel to Lake Montebello was constructed through his property. As reported in 1906, construction of the 12-foot-diameter tunnel caused the loss of a “large and valuable spring…depriving him of all time of the water therefrom…doing him incalculable damage…causing him the expense and inconvenience of obtaining water from a long distance by means of pipes…” In 1906, an article in the Baltimore American (reporting the capture of fugitive Ike Winder who murdered the tollgate keeper on the Dulaney Valley Pike) described the property as a stock farm.
Arthur’s wife died in 1884 and in 1889 he remarried. This marriage was evidently not a success as he filed for a “partial divorce” in 1892. His second wife maintained a separate house in the city until her death.
Arthur served as a road supervisor in 1904 and 1905. In 1910 he was living with his son and family at Willow Grove but by 1919 was living with a daughter in Govans, where he died in 1919. He is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Govans.
The property of 126 acres was sold by his heirs in 1919 to the Dunkes family who farmed there, despite its lack of a spring, until 1943 when it was sold to the Merrick family as part of their Satyr Hill Farm. In 1993, it was sold to Baltimore County to become part of Cromwell Valley Park.
In his unpublished manuscript “Cromwell Bridge Valley: Historic Background,” county historian John McGrain described how this acquisition was in doubt due to lack of open space funds. “Governor William Donald Schaefer agreed to visit the site and did so on January 25, 1992, on a day when a spring-like interval broke up a leaden-skied winter that had prevailed for a month or more; the clear sunlight showed the grounds at their best. The Governor became an advocate of the proposed park and put it on the next agenda of the Board of Public Works.”
Ann Royston Blouse
29 January 2018
Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, BA-2768, Shanklin House at Willow Grove Farm
Cromwell Bridge Valley: Historic Background, John W. McGrain, unpublished manuscript, Historical Society of Baltimore County topic file “Cromwell Valley”
Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com
For additional information on Cromwell Valley Park, see https://www.cromwellvalleypark.org/