Linwood by Celia M Holland

From the book Ellicott City, Maryland – Mill Town, U.S.A.– by Celia M. Holland


At the terminus of Church Road, there rises an immense stone house known as Linwood. Based on its many outstanding architectural features which bear a distinct similarity to those executed in the last half of the 18th century, the older section is believed to have been built shortly after the founding Ellicott’s Mills, possibly in the 1780s, while the newer wing is known to be well over one hundred years old.  Constructed of granite quarried locally, the original house was erected by slaves who had quarters near the old barn.  (The latter building still stands, although it is in a badly deteriorated condition).

Over the years Linwood grew from a comparatively small house to its present size of seventeen rooms, an attic, full basement, and an outstanding “great hall.”  The double-door entrance opens into the hall which runs the full depth of the house.  A magnificent spiral stairway, rising from the first floor to the attic, is perhaps the most remarkable feature of the entire structure, although the woodwork, fireplaces, floors and various types of windows – many with inside shutters – are of handsome design and workmanship.

Many of the window panes are the original sand glass.  Age has made them brittle and easy to break.  However, scratched lightly into one of the panes in the newer addition is the date 1865.  It is signed “Martha.”

The huge basement at Linwood is of particular interest, divided at it is into numerous rooms by walls of stone.  There is much speculation as to its original use.  It is known that part of it consisted of the first kitchen which was located beneath the dining room.  Here we find a gigantic Fireplace and a dumb-waiter which conveyed the food to the waiting servants on the floor above.  Another room, with earthen floor, was used as a storage bin for potatoes, onions, and other rooted vegetables, as well as shelved locker for home-canned foods.  However, there appears to have been no provision made for the proverbial wine cellar.

The remaining rooms, cavernous in size and appearance and without light or ventilation of any kind, are paved with bricks set in sand.  Eerie and unbelievably depressing, these chambers impressed the writer as being of ominous origin.  The sight of them invariably raises questions in the minds of spectators.  Local legend declares they were once used as slave dungeons for unruly offenders.  However, upon inquiry, the writer was informed that no one wishes to admit to this possibility, although neither will anyone familiar with the history of Linwood deny it.

Linwood stands in the center of a four and one-half acre tract of land dotted with trees of tremendous size and ancient vintage.  One unidentified species, of lacy foliage, but shaped like huge Christmas tree, has been dubbed “the long fingerleaf tree.”  It is said that no other tree of its kind has yet been located in the country.  Until proven otherwise, it claims the distinction of being “one of a kind.” Other specimens include black beech, tamarack and linden.  Many of these trees are at least two hundred years old.  They alone are worth seeing, whether or not the visitor is granted admission to the great house.

Believed to have been built by a Mr. Hare whose family occupied it for several years, Linwood has changed hands a number of times since its erection.

In the mid-1800s Major Washington Peter of Tudor Place, Georgetown, bought the beautiful estate so his daughters could attend the exclusive Patapsco Female Institute.  The house grew in size and prestige until it became one of Ellicott City’s most impressive mansions.

The Peters were related to several of this country’s leading families including the Washingtons, the Balls, and the Lees.  There are five children: George, who was the last to survive; Parke Custis; Gabriella (or Ella), who became Mrs. George Mackubin of MacAlpine; Emily, and Mildred Lee.

At one time Linwood was famous for its boxwood gardens.  Slips were taken to Tudor Place from Mt. Vernon and when firmly rooted brought to Ellicott City in saddle bags.  However, over the years grown plants have disappeared.  Their destination remains unknown.

The days of the Civil War were difficult ones for Major Peters and his family who, as might be expected, shared the sentiments of his Virginia kinsmen.  Ellicott City being divided in sympathies but remaining primarily pro-Union, had little or no understanding of the major’s positions.

Although there is no evidence that the Major ever spoke out in defense of either the Union or the Confederacy, it is a well-established fact that following the war, General Robert E. Lee, cousin of Mrs. Peter, refused to recognize any member of the family who had fought in the Union ranks or who had been in any way sympathetic toward them.  It is also a matter of record that in 1870 General Lee visited the Peter family in Linwood.  According to Douglas Southall Freeman, author of R.E. LEE – A BIOGRAPHY, on June 30th , 1870 General Lee set out for Baltimore alone, to consult doctors concerning his failing health.  One leading physician, Dr. Thomas Hepburn Buckler, recently returned from Paris, was to be seen.  The General stayed with relatives, the Taggert family, until the preliminary examinations were completed on July 4th.  He then went to visit Major Washington Peter of Ellicott City.  He returned to Baltimore for  a second examination by Dr. Buckler, then retraced his steps once more to Ellicott City area where he visited with another cousin, Charles Henry Carter of Greenwood.  He remained here more than a week after which, on July 14th, he recrossed the Potomac for the last time.

While at Linwood, General Lee is believed to have slept in one of the two rooms across the hall from the master bedroom, although no notation was made of the event.

Linwood was later sold to Judge Richard Merrick of Washington, D.C.  He and his family made it their summer home, but maintained a permanent residence in the nation’s capital.  Miss Mary Merrick is well-remembered by a number of Ellicott City’s outstanding citizens.  She was described to the write as having been “a true aristocrat and devout Catholic.”  The Merrick family is also mentioned in the Brother Fabrician’s book, St. Paul’s Church and Parish, Ellicott City, Maryland, as an exceedingly good and generous family.

The Merrick siblings on Linwood’s side porch. Mary (center) is laid out in her wheelchair. (Photo courtesy of Miss Merrick’s great nephew, Wm. T. Madden)

Mary Virginia Merrick, center, with her sisters, Nanny (left) and Margaret, circa 1880s, on the porch at Linwood. (photo courtesy The National Christ Child Society)

While still a very young girl, Miss Merrick suffered a severe accident which left her crippled for the remainder of her life.  Thereafter she spent her days in a wheelchair making layettes for less fortunate children.  Upon her return to Washington, she founded The Christ Child Society, a Catholic charity organization, which is still extant.  It is today being supported by the Archdioceses of Washington.  Before leaving Linwood Miss Merrick built a small outdoor shrine to the Infant, the remains of which still stand on the grounds. Upon her return to the District Miss Merrick also established Settlement House in Northeast Washington.  She also founded the Christ Child Convalescent Home in Rockville, which now serves as a home for disturbed children.

Shortly before World War II a book and antique shop was opened in Georgetown to help finance Miss Merrick’s many enterprises.  It is known as “The Christ Child Opportunity Shop.”  Merrick Camp for Girls, at Annapolis, followed; then Merrick’s Boys Camp.  The latter is still operating.

Among Miss Merrick’s workers was one Jeanne Simons of the Netherlands.  She was destined to play an important role in the continuation of Miss Merrick’s work.  After the war a Christ Child playground was established in the Hague.  This was the direct result of the efforts made by Miss Simons during a visit to her home.  It too, is still operating, the funds being supplied by the American Embassy.  It is open to children of all denominations.  Another such playground was opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is believed to still be in existence as of this writing.

When the Merricks returned to Washington, Linwood was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Peach, the parents of eleven children.  Following Mr. Peach’s untimely death, his widow remained in the house, determined that her large family would be raised in the historic home.  She was undeniably a woman of remarkable stamina and determination who met each challenge with great fortitude.

Finally in April, 1955, with her family responsibilities fulfilled, Miss Peach sold Linwood, reserving all but four and one half acres of the original property.  She now makes her home in a small house next to Linwood, within easy sight of the old landmark.

Shortly thereafter the beautiful estate became the Linwood Child Center, an incorporated school, described as a “miracle center for disturbed children.”  With Generous assistance of Mr. Milton S. Kronheim, Sr. of Washington , D.C., it opened its doors in June, 1955 under the Directorship of Miss Jeanne M. Simons, formerly of  the Christ Child Society.  She did not know at the time of her acceptance that her new assignment would take her once more to the home of her former employer and dear personal friend, Miss Merrick.

As a pioneer in the treatment of mentally disturbed children – not to be confused with mentally retarded children – Miss Simons has brought new hope and anticipation into the lives of many of her young students.

One child who entered the center in 1956, and who beforehand could not be “reached” by either public or private schools, a psychiatrist, or even his devoted parents, showed mark improvement in less then three years.  Today he is doing well in school and can look forward to a normal and productive life.  Miss Simons is convinced that without professional help during their childhood, eighty per cent of the emotionally disturbed children will undoubtedly become mental hospital patients by the time they reach adulthood.

Linwood students who show improvement resume their normal lives gradually.  They oftimes attend Ellicott City schools temporarily, until Miss Simons feels they are ready to return to their homes and their own neighborhood schools.  But the center continues to help through periodic consultations.  Miss Simons’ first experience in this field, even before her association with Miss Merrick, was in her native Brussels where she conducted a similar school with great success.

When this writer visited Linwood Center she was deeply moved by the sparkle in the eyes of the Director, as well as the enthusiasm in her voice.  “There is much to be done to the house,” she said cheerfully.  “It was in a shambles when we came here. It will take time, but the children come first.”

The down payment on Linwood was raised through the parents of the first children admitted.  The charitable groups gave additional funds and have continued to do so.  As of March, 1964 contributions had been received from many organizations including the Altrua Guild, Amity, Beacon Chapter, Covenant Guild, Cristal Guild, Feldman Family Circle, Fidelton Guild, Freida Rosen Memorial Association, Friendly Hand Guild, Kiwanis Club of North Baltimore, and Liberty Guild, Inc.  Also Liberty Hill Women’s Club, Lions Club of Allview, Miriam Lodge, Royal Sisters Society, Sorority Guild, Traid Guild, Variety Club, Weinblatt Guild and the Women’s Club of Gaywood.  Others, too numerous to enumerate, have followed since this list was made public.

Upon entering the house the writer noted the beautiful spiral stairway, heretofore mentioned.  It was garlanded with ordinary rope from the main floor to the attic.  “Why?” I asked quietly.  Miss Simons smiled.

“When we first came here I discovered rather quickly just how fast little boys can slide down a banister!”  And looking up the steep stairwell she added thoughtfully, “There could be such a terrible fall…”  Unfortunately the beautiful stairway will have to be sacrificed due to fire regulations.  Either a firewall will be built concealing it completely or the stairway itself will be replaced by a closed staircase.  Despite the obvious regret expressed at having to sacrifice a fixture of such beauty, “the children come first.”

Already sacrificed is one of the earliest and most ingenious “air conditioning units” this writer has ever seen.  A cupola atop the house, with an opening to the great outdoors and flues between the rafters leading to open and screened areas in each of the ceilings, offered a cool breeze throughout the top floor.  These have all been sealed.  Fire regulations dictated the necessary alterations, thereby minimizing the possibility of excessive drafts in case of catastrophe.

The remains of an old ice pit to the rear of the house, “one of the deepest ever,” was also filled and closed for safety’s sake.

Today there are thirty-five students in all, ten in residency, the rest being day scholars.  A new wing which will conform architecturally with the existing building is to be added to the rear and side of the old building.  But even then, Miss Simons hopes to limit enrollment to forty.

On Tuesday night, March 1, 1966 Particular honors were bestowed upon Milton S. Kronheim, one of the oldest benefactors of the school, at a dinner held at the Blue Crest Fordleigh, Baltimore, Maryland.  Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court William J. Brenan, Jr. and Mayor Theodore McKeldin of Baltimore were among those in attendance.  Guest speaker was Dr. Leon Eisenberg, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, who praised Miss Simons for her treatment as “highly effective.”

The following day, March 2nd, an entry made upon the pages of the Congressional Record (House) included the following statements which speak for themselves:

Mr. O’Hara of Michigan: Mr. Speaker, last night in Baltimore, an outstanding citizen of our Nation’s Capital City, Milton S. Kronheim Sr., was honored.  One of the leading attributes of Mr. Kronheim is his foresight.

It was he who, 11 years ago, helped make possible the establishment of Linwood Children’s Center, a research and treatment facility and school for children suffering serious emotional disturbances.

The large gathering – an overflow crowd of 300 – was led in the tribute to Mr. Kronheim by Associate Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.  Mr. Kronheim had the foresight 11 years ago to see that Miss Jeanne Simons, the director of Linwood, could successfully tackle the massive task of treating emotionally disturbed children.  He helped raise the funds, recruited other interested citizens from the Baltimore and Washington areas to the board of directors and aided in the purchase of a decaying mansion on a hill above Ellicott City, MD.  Linwood Children’s Center has survived near-bankruptcy, lack of heat and water and electricity because of worn-out systems, a leaking roof and many other tribulations.  The old mansion now is in good repair.

…Linwood is a community mental health center, of the type envisioned by the Congress in legislative actions in 1963 and 1965.  It is pointing the way for other centers.  Linwood already has given many emotionally disturbed children a chance to reach the world of reality.

Associate Justice Brennan’s remarks of the evening before were also included.  Two statements of fact bear repeating:

“It’s a pleasure to join with you tonight on behalf of Linwood Children’s Center to honor my dear friend Milton Kronheim.  I know of no work more wonderful that Miss Jeanne Simons’ remarkable effort to break though the blur that is the world to an autistic child.”

Toward the end of his address, Justice Brennan’s comments include the following testimonial:

“I have the testimony of Dr. Dann that Milton Kronheim’s encouragement, vision, and unswerving support have been the prime ingredients in the promise that Linwood now holds for these seriously mentally ill children everywhere.  Only recently Dr. Dann wrote Milton this: ‘Thirty months ago Linwood was on the ropes financially. At a meeting then, you and I with Mr. James Kunen, Meyer Foundation; Dr. Francis Rice, Notre Dame; Mr. John King, General Accounting Office; and Miss Jeanne Simons, director of Linwood, agreed (and we were supported by the whole board, which, in part, you helped to recruit) that we should (1) make all the personal sacrifices necessary to keep Linwood going, and (2) have the Linwood treatment methods analyzed and made known’.”

The last was most important, because outstanding scientific discoveries, once made, can otherwise be subsequently lost for generations.

Justice Brennan concluded his remarks with the following:

“Milton, it is an honor for me to present, on behalf of all of us here, this small appreciation of out heart-felt thanks for what you have done to make possible the magnificent work that Miss Simons and Linwood are doing.  Linwood is one of the, as yet, too few schools in the country for these severely disorganized children – and with your help it is the best.”

On March 3rd, 1966 the public was advised that a grant of $250,000 has been set up by the Federal Government.  This money was to be used to enable investigators from the Institute of Behavioral Research, Bethesda, to make an intensive study of Miss Simons’ treatment methods.

And so it is that Linwood, originally the luxurious home of a number of distinguished families, has taken part in many aspects of our American way of life.

As the home of Major Peter, it offered security to a great and noble gentleman and soldier, Robert E. Lee, at a most crucial point of his life.

As the home of Miss Mary Merrick, it was the scene of tragedy.  But despite her own distressing handicap, Miss Merrick found the remarkable courage to consecrate her entire life to those less fortunate than the members of her immediate family.

Finally, as the Linwood Children’s Center, under the direction of Miss Jeanne Simons, this noble building has reached its peak of greatness.  For where else can afflicted children find greater understanding and security than that offered by this world-renowned center?  And who but this first lady of magnificent vision has introduced methods with such far-reaching effects?

Were there unlimited funds and ample space to provide for all, Miss Simons’ desire to help as many as possible would best be described in a single sentence from the Bible: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me…”

Linwood – A Portrait by Jeanne Simons

So it is at Linwood.  The little children do come, and they do leave – all better for the months or years spent in this truly beneficial institution.

From its beginning almost two hundred years ago, Linwood has been the scene of numerous historic events.  Today, if for no other reason than its present-day humanitarian service, its contribution exceeds by far that of most other landmarks within the boundaries of this small town.  It warrants the complete attention and respect of the residents of Ellicott City, as well as that of the county as a whole.  For it has already earned not only the approval of knowledgeable men, but the moral and financial support of the entire nation as well.