Then and Now: Memories of a Childhood in Lutherville (Part III)
Susan Gelston Mink continues her trip down memory lane, driving through the streets of her old Lutherville neighborhood with a Patch reporter in tow.
Susan Gelston Mink’s mother, Jeanne, was playing bridge in the late 1960s with a friend who drove her home one day.
Jeanne was pointing where to go, and the driver pulled up near her home, the Gelston House, the Greek revival, formal brownstone mansion at 1603 Francke Ave. It does not match the more whimsical Victorian cottages that Lutherville is known for.
“I think this is the ugliest house in Lutherville,” the friend said, not realizing they had arrived.
“So mother had her drop her off at the next house,” said Mink, chuckling while retelling her mother’s old story of the unintended insult.
The magnificent Gelston House, which could never be considered ugly by anyone’s standards, was home to Hugh and Elise Gelston, Mink’s paternal grandparents, until 1956, when it became home to Mink, her siblings and parents.
Mink and her siblings called their grandparents Popeye and Taddy. Popeye, Hugh Gelston, was the horseback riding instructor for the Maryland College for Women, teaching the equestrian arts to young ladies who were privileged enough to travel to Maryland to continue their education.
The Maryland College for Women’s scholarly doors, built in 1853, were open for nearly 100 years, until the massive building was converted into today’s College Manor, a retirement home, in 1952.
Jane Moore Banks is the current administrator of College Manor, and it was her father, Dr. William Moore III, who was the last president of the college.
“She said she remembered riding with my grandfather and you could ride from Lutherville to Towson and not hit a paved road," Mink said. "He used to take them riding to Loch Raven Reservoir.”
Jeanne Houck, Mink’s mother, was a beautiful redhead. She came from Pennsylvania to attend the college, because her aunt had done the same before her. Jeanne was once selected to be the maid of honor in the May Court during the school’s May Day celebration.
One evening at a mixer, she spied the back of a young man’s neck.
She said, “I’m going to marry that man.”
He was George Gelston, the son of the horseback riding instructor. Eventually becoming Major Gen. George Gelston, Jeanne simply called him "Winky," and they were married in the mid 1930s.
A war, three children, a dog and at least one cat later, Mink’s parents bought the Francke home when Hugh Gelston died in 1956. Mink was 9 years old, and her little sister Anne was 7 at the time. The Gelston House has a sweeping grand staircase and a stunning front hall. It felt familiar enough to Mink, who had been visiting her grandparents there her whole life.
But it was a big change from the Oak Grove cottage, which is low to the ground and friendly, with curlicued embellishments around the homey porticos. Oak Grove, the oldest house in Lutherville, was the home they moved from.
Mink doesn’t think much of having grown up in two of Lutherville’s most prominent historical locations. To her, these houses were simply home.
I asked her what it’s like, now, to drive past these houses that have become famous for their history.
“I don’t drive by and think of them as historically prominent," she said. "I drive by and think, what the hell have you done to my house?”
She’s kidding—kind of.
We drove by the Gelston House together. Mink lived there until she got married in 1970. Her mother, known as Gingmommy to her grandchildren, sold it in 1983.
Mink surveyed the grand home from her Acura as we idled on the street outside, car windows down to get a better look.
“I was mad when they painted this house, and now I think it looks good,” said Mink. “Now I think it looks really nice.”
The trim, which used to be white, is now a shade of tan, which blends with the brownstone. It seemed relieved to have passed Mink’s muster.
Or maybe that was just me.
“There was a pond between those bushes and the pine tree and there used to be two big willows that sat out here, too. I really think somebody moved those lilacs, too,” she said.
I tried to decide if she was put off by the lilac bushes, or simply noticing the change.
We drove slowly around the block.
“And it was all field between the driveway and the Bowie’s house, and then pear trees, and an apple tree,” she continued.
The Bowie’s house is the grand white house right next door, and the Bowie kids hosted softball games on their lawn. A maple tree was first base, and other makeshift landmarks served as the other bases.
“The people who lived on Francke, in the last house at the time, were the first Catholics we ever met,” Mink said. “They had 10 children. They ended up with 12, I think. So we always had so many people to play softball, and freeze tag. Everybody would go outside after dinner.”
As we cruised by, Mink exclaimed, “Oh, our first base is gone,” in a dismayed tone.
Johnson Bowie was one of the kids who considered Mink’s sister, Anne, to be a comrade-in-arms. She was the "sassy" sister, according to Mink. She was also the fastest runner Mink ever saw until the birth of her own granddaughter Parker.
The Gelston girls were not allowed to walk to York Road to visit the Maple Rest Tea Room. Their mother called the establishment “Dirty Billy’s” and forbade her daughters to enter.
But Anne did anyway—the rebel.
“My sister snuck into Dirty Billy’s, because they had pinball machines, and she and Johnson Bowie would go up there and play with the pinball machines. She was much brassier and braver than I was,” Mink said.
That’s how a kid misbehaved in Lutherville in the early 1960s.
Summertime also meant visits to the Wingard’s pool.
The pool, apparently once built for the leisure of two St. Bernards, was run by Mrs. Wingard with her son Robby.
“Oh, she was a funky artist type,” remembered Mink. “She wore her hair pulled up with little chopsticks sticking out of it, and always had on some cool thing. The pool was filled once in the end of May or June, and then she’d empty it and refill it, and it probably just got dirtier and dirtier, and she’d come out and throw in chlorine.
"You could lie on the hill that goes down towards Bellona Avenue. You could start swimming at 1 in the afternoon, and everybody went swimming at Wingard’s pool. You could walk. It was great,” she continued.
Mink drove on. We were somewhere on Melancthon Avenue, I believed, or possibly Division Avenue, or possibly a part of Morris Avenue. I’d lost track.
“This house was the Whitcraft’s house. They were the cutest couple," Mink said. "Older and lovely and very generous. This is where the tennis court was. All the men used to play tennis, dressed in whites. We’d just sit around and watch them. It was just fun. It was really, really nice.”
We rolled by another block.
“And then people named Thompson lived here, and they had a daughter Susan Thompson, and she used to get on the front porch and go, ‘Lalalalaa,’ and sing opera. So Anne and I would stand on our porch going, ‘Lalalala!,'” Mink said.
We are parked outside St. Paul’s Evangelical Church, but Mink wasn’t looking at the gingerbread A-frame church, with the ornate brown trim and the stained glass windows, where services are held.
She was looking at the lot next to it, where the church expanded and built a very solid and squatty brick structure.
“It’s a piece of crap!” she exclaimed. “And it used to be a beautiful, beautiful house.”
The beautiful house sat on Morris and Francke, across from Mink’s home, and it was white. It had beautiful boxwood gardens, and wisteria on the porch, and a flowering magnolia tree. Dr. Reese lived there, the obstetrician who delivered many of Lutherville’s babies just before Mink’s time. He was a descendant of Dr. John Morris.
The house eventually changed hands, and St. Paul’s Church bought it.
“The church turned around and said, 'We’re not going to do anything out of keeping with the neighborhood.' And then they put up this piece of s***. This ugly brick, square, gross building,” Mink said.
And she moved on—in more ways than one.
She moved on to raise her daughters with her first husband in Baltimore, and with her second husband, Thomas Mink, and his children, in Ruxton, where she lives now.
Her daughters, both grown, and granddaughters all live in Colorado, but Mink would never consider moving there.
“I would rather have them come here,” she said. “I’ve lived within five minutes of the house I grew up in my whole life.”