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Then and Now: Heaver Plaza

A weekly post features historic places in Lutherville-Timonium and how they've stood the test of time.

Heaver Plaza has been a Lutherville landmark for 40 years. Looming about the rest of the York Road skyline, the Heaver Plaza rooftop shines its square perimeter of lights above the surrounding neighborhoods every night when the sun goes down. Those lights are festive, as we neighbors know—in December, they are green and red for the holidays, and during football season, they glow purple in support of the Ravens.

It’s not magic—it’s a fearless maintenance staff. Carolyn Norwood, vice president of Columbia Bank inside Heaver Plaza’s first floor, said, “The guys go up on the roof, and they actually have to reach over to change those lights. I guess one guy’s laying over and one’s holding on.”

Norwood has worked inside Heaver Plaza since 1986 at Columbia Bank, although the bank was Maryland National when she first started. Maryland National opened with the Heaver Plaza in 1970, then briefly became Nations Bank in 1994. Now it’s Columbia Bank, which has been helping customers balance their checkbooks since March 1996.

“To me, this is my family,” said Norwood. “I’ve been here for so long.”

Of course she eats at The Peppermill for lunch, along with many of the other building’s tenants, availing herself to the lunch carry-out. The Peppermill has a reputation for being popular among senior citizens, but Norwood gives their wings a new generation’s shout-out. “My kids, who are teenagers, pick Peppermill’s wings over any place else, hands-down. Their wings are amazing,” she said.

Unlike the bank, The Peppermill has been in Heaver Plaza since 1982. Heaver Plaza itself was built between 1969 and 1970, when Lutherville and the York Road corridor looked very different.

Stephen Heaver Sr., who built Heaver Plaza, had a vision of what Lutherville and York Road might become when he chose his location. He also had a vision of what he could do with the private collection of fire engines he had begun to amass. Merely one year after the completion of his eponymous tower, he built the Fire Museum of Maryland on the same property to house and showcase his engines.

“This area here was country,” said Rob Williams, the assistant director of the Fire Museum. “He had a plan for this area, York Road being a major thoroughfare. He knew what he was doing. He was always somebody who was always thinking way far ahead.”

The museum is now run by Heaver’s son, Stephen Heaver Jr. It’s an apropos collection of fire equipment for a “Then and Now” column, because the museum is divided into two major collections: a hand-pulled and horse-drawn set of fire engines dating back to 1806, and the more modern motorized engines dating from 1910 to 1954. There is even a “Then and Now” fire hydrant display, juxtaposing one of today’s fire hydrants with one of yesteryear. They’ve changed more than you might think.

“We’ve now become the third largest fire museum in the world,” said Williams. “We have 40 antique fire engines going back as early as 1806. That one is a hand-pumper that was used in Annapolis. It’s one of the earliest built in America.”

The fire museum hosts field trips, including a new one called “Where’s the Fire?"  The tour allows the kids to take on the identities of actual 1800s firefighters from Baltimore City, fighting the historical Clay Street fire, following the recorded schedule of how the actual fire progressed. The tour is funded by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council.

The fire museum also hosts birthday parties and even weddings—the gleaming, ornate silver and gold of the antique engines provide a fanciful backdrop for elaborate events.

“[Heaver] is passionate about his engines,” said Williams. “I’ve been working in museums for 12 years, and this is the cleanest transportation museum that I have ever worked in. He keeps things spotless. We just had a cleaning day last Saturday, and we had 50 volunteers come in and we polished all the brass on the engines. It really glows out there now.”

It sure does—click through the photos to see for yourself. In fact, it glows almost as much as Heaver Plaza’s famous rooftop lightbulbs. The next time you look up and see the tower as a beacon in the night sky, maybe you’ll remember to go visit the fire museum. And have some wings at The Peppermill.

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