James T. Wollon, Jr.
Worthington Valley Historic District
Reisterstown, Baltimore County
Settlement in the Worthington Valley began in the mid 18th century but structures of this period are extremely rare. The earliest standing structures date from the very end of the 18th century: Bloomfield, Welcome Here, and Locust Hill. Bloomfield and Welcome Here are both of brick, and Locust Hill is of stone. Stamford, another large brick house of the same style, was not mentioned in the 1798 tax records, and may have been built just after that assessment. Early 19th century structures were similar in style, but utilized cut nails and other technological advances. Only the smallest details, such as particular moulding profiles and the cut nails identify Goshen, McHenry Tenant House, and Melinda as early 19th century structures. The first two are of stone, the last of brick, Flemish bond still but on the principal front only. The original portion of Shawan belongs to this period, and it exhibits a more stylish interior. Three of its exterior walls are built of Flemish bond brick, including one side of its kitchen wing. By the 1820-1840 period the second, third, and fourth generation inhabitants required new dwellings and replaced small ones with more substantial ones worthy of their prosperity. They retain the traditionalism of the earlier group with few stylish 19th century influences. Some of the earlier houses were added to or enlarged at this time, as well. Although stone continued to be used, other houses were of brick, and those were of common bond. Montmorenci, Mantua Farm, and Bellevue, all of stuccoed stone, reflect conservative detailing of the Greek-Revival but their basic forms remain traditional. The Rectory of St. John’s Church, dating from 1842-43, incorporates some very conservative Greek revival detailing in an otherwise very traditional house of stone. Mid-19th century structures had very simple basic designs with datable elements confined to a few ornamental details and such technological items as hardware. With the exception of the Gothic Revival St. John’s Episcopal Church and other very conservative examples, the many revival styles of the 19th century are virtually nonexistent. The automobile brought the Worthington Valley within commuting range of Baltimore City and through the 20th century most of the land has been owned by persons able and willing to preserve the older structures and maintain the large tracts of land without subdividing it for the construction of new houses. Most of the 20th century structures in the region were designed in the manner of the 18th century or early 19th century. Several distinguished examples by noted Baltimore architects take their place among the best residential structures of the first half of the 20th century. Contemporary design in the third quarter of the 20th century is represented by several distinguished examples, all of which incorporate traditional forms and materials, reinterpreted, fitting into the landscape with their distinguished neighbors and ancestors. The retention of the Worthington Valley as an undeveloped agricultural area is of prime concern to the residents, who fear that the widening of neighboring roads may increase traffic flow, and subsequently increase pressure from developers.
The significance of the Worthington Valley lies in its unaltered, rural atmosphere which has not changed appreciably in over 200 years. The land is divided into numerous farms, some up to 200 or 300 acres in extent. Many properties have been inherited by the present owners who are endeavoring to run them as in the past, retaining the open spaces and restoring and occupying the substantial homes which dot the countryside. It has not always been thus: following a period of settlement and rapid growth in the 18th and 19th centuries, there occurred a time of depression and financial strain in the latter part of the 19th century when many of the large family estates fell into disrepair and were sold to others. During the 1930s and 1940s, still more change took place and there began an exodus from the more densely populated area to the south into the Valley. Those who came were people appreciative of the qualities of the soil, especially for raising horses. They and their descendants have restored the dwellings and revitalized the farming operations, but they are, for the most part, businessmen rather than full-time farmers as were the early occupants of the district. Horse breeding and racing is a very large and lucrative business in the valley. There are 16 registered thoroughbred horse farms in this district. Probably the best known is Sagamore Farm where the great racehorse and stallion Native Dancer was raised. A champion and sire of many champions, he his the grandsire of that magnificent but ill-fated filly Ruffian, whose dam was raised at nearby Locust Hill Farm. Since 1922, Snow Hill and Worthington Farms have been the scene of the Maryland Hunt Club Steeplechase, one of the most famous and unique sporting events of national and international fame. From the first race in 1984 to the present, it has grown to be recognized worldwide as the greatest test of horse and man over post and rail timber fences.