Monday, June 5, 2017

Menchen at "Vineyard" in Ellicott City from 1889 to 1890

The Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken (1880-1954) spent a couple of summers as a child in a Civil War era home on the hill across from the Patapsco Institute.  His father and uncle commuted to Baltimore during the week, as Mencken explored the grounds. He wrote his remembrances in his book Happy Days: 1880-1892

"The house above Ellicott City was a double one, with a hall down the middle.  We occupied one side, and the family of my uncle Henry had the other.

["Vineyard"] It had been built by a German named Reus, a wine-grower from the Rhineland, and he had chosen the site because the hillside that swept down to the upper Patapsco, there a placid country stream, seemed perfect for vineyards.  In the eighties his terraces were still visible, but their vines were in a state of decay, for Mr. Reus had discovered too late that Americans were not wine drinkers.  He was now dead, and the place, which was still called the Vineyard, was owned by his widow, whose elder son had married my father's half-sister. ...

When the big house was rented they lived with their mother and a sister in a tenant-house, and on the place there was also a farm house inhabited by a German Bauer named Darsch, of whom more anon.  From the big house there was a superb view of the valley of the Patapsco -- a winding gorge with wooded heights on both sides. ... Nothing in this life has ever given me a more thrilling series of surprises and felicities. ...

He learned about the "cows, pigs and all the fowl of the barnyard.... the plowing, harrowing, planting and reaping.  ...I roved the woods day after day, enchanted by the huge aisles between the oaks, the spookish, Grimms' Fairy Tale thickets, and the cool and singing little streams. ... There was a brook down in the woods, called the Sucker branch... rose in a distant field, ran down through the deepest part of the Vineyard woods, and disappeared toward the Patapsco in a thicket so dense and forbidding that my brother and I never ventured into it.

Where the path from the house came to the brook there were the ruins of an old grist-mill, dating back to the first years of the century and maybe even beyond, but with its dam and the better part of its wooden wheel still surviving.  Under the wheel there was a little pool that seemed infinitely deep to my brother and me...[the other boys] preferred a swimming-hole in the Patapsco itself, at the foot of the long hill stretching down from our house.  They reported it to be full of bottomless pits and treacherous undertows, and refused loftily to let my brother and me come along.

Housekeeping at the Vineyard must have been something of an ordeal for my mother and my aunt, who fed their flocks separately.  The best cookstoves available were poor things that burned kerosene, and they were set out in a sort of arbor behind the house.

Down in the village there was a butcher whose family had carried on in one of the old stone houses along the main (and only) street for the better part of a century, but I can recall no baker, and all the bread we ate was baked at home.  Vegetables and fruits, such as they were, came from Darsch's market-garden, and fowl came from his barnyard.  There must have been ice in the house, for I can't imagine my father drinking warm beer without alarming symptoms, and he and his brother often made mint juleps [with Maryland rye] ...[he had] an overdose of Seckel pears... developed a case of 1000-volt cholera morbus... [and needed ice]...

The road down to the village was steep and rough, and the trip up was full of tribulation.  It started off the main street at what must have been at least a ten per cent. grade, passed the county jail (bowered in flowers, and always showing a sad blackamoor or two at its barred windows), skirted a curious old house called the Chateau [Angelo's Castle] (it had towers and battlements, and clung to a steep crag overhanging the Patapsco), went by the columned portico of the Patapsco Female Institute, and finally brought up at our gate."

Mencken, H. L. Happy Days: 1880-1892.  NY: Knopf: 1936, 1940; 2006 (Johns Hopkins U)

The Vineyard    c1864     HO-345   3611 Church St HERE

©2017 Patricia Bixler Reber
Forgotten history of Ellicott City & Howard County MD

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