By John T. Marck
Located on West Gordon Street in Bel Air, Maryland is Liriodendron, a nineteenth century mansion that was the summer home of its owner, Dr. Howard Atwood Kelly. The estate was named Liriodendron by Dr. Kelly after the tulip poplar trees that shade the beautiful mansion grounds. Liriodendron is the botanical name for these tulip poplars. Interestingly, Dr. Kelly, who took quite an interest in the grounds, planted various types of trees on West Gordon Street that are noticeable as you approach the mansion gates. The planting was done in this manner so that if any given variety should become diseased, the others would remain unaffected.
Growing up in Bel Air, and attending Bel Air High School, I had the pleasure of knowing and attending school with Susan Kelly, one of the former owners' daughters. It was through this relationship that I had the opportunity to spend some time in the "Mansion," through various get-togethers and parties. At this time, in the late sixties and early seventies, it was quite a thrill to have been able to see and enjoy this wonderful and most interesting house.
The property was purchased on October 19, 1897 by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Atwood Kelly who paid $12,000 for the two hundred acres. They then hired the architectural firm of Wyatt and Nolting of Baltimore to design the house. This firm had also designed the Baltimore Court House, Fifth Regiment Armory, and the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Bel Air.
The house was laid out in a "T" shape. As you enter the front doors, you arrive in the center hall, which is 26 feet wide, and faces an extraordinary grand staircase, which ascends to seven bedrooms on the second floor and household quarters on the third. To the left of the center hall is the drawing room, and to the right, the dining room. The "T" of the house forms the service area and contains a three-story stair atrium. Additionally, a separate servant stairs, music room, library, kitchen, servant dining room and butler's pantry are there. The house is equipped with a working elevator, which was skillfully concealed by Fritz Kelly and his brother Howard in later years to accommodate their mother's failing health.
There are fireplaces in every room except one, and back to back fireplaces grace the drawing room and center hall. Each fireplace is faced with imported Italian marble except the one in the center hall. Through repeated use, the center hall fireplace marble facing cracked and was replaced by Fritz Kelly with sandstime that came from Aquia Creek Quarry outside Alexandria, Virginia, which at one time was owned by Dr. Kelly. To give you an idea of the quality of this stone from Aquia Creek, the Capitol Building, as well as others in Washington, D.C., was built from this same type.
One of the more outstanding features of the mansion is the skylights and the natural air conditioning of three of its rooms on the first floor. To accomplish this, they ran duct work from the deep stone wells under the porches, which drafts cool air into the rooms. Many of the original fireplace sets have returned to the mansion through the generosity of Margaret Smith Kelly, wife of the late Friedrich Kelly, who was the last owner of the estate.
In 1935, Dr. Howard Kelly had passed ownership to his son, Fritz, who maintained the residence until his death in 1980. Through an agreement made in 1972, upon the death of Fritz, the property came under the ownership of Harford County Parks and Recreation, as part of "Heavenly Waters Park." Today, the Liriodendron Foundation, a nonprofit corporation aids in administration.
Howard Atwood Kelly was born in Camden, New Jersey on February 20, 1858. His father, Henry Kuhl Kelly was a Captain in the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War. His mother, Louise, moved to Chester, Pennsylvania with their three children to await his return from military service. Following the Civil War, Howard entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1873. In 1880, poor health interrupted his studies, and in an attempt to restore his health, moved west and became a cowboy. The fresh air and exercise helped, so in 1882, he returned to graduate from the College of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. In the years that followed he specialized in abdominal surgery, and pioneered radium treatment of cancer, and developed antitoxins and established his own clinic for women on Eutaw Place in Baltimore. Due to his area of specialization in gynecology, he was asked to join with Dr. William Henry Welsh, Dr. William Osler, and Dr. William S. Halstead in the founding of the Johns Hopkins Medical College. Dr. Kelly traveled over the years, for the sake of learning and furthering his professional knowledge. These travels placed him in the company of celebrated personages as Madam Curie and Dr. William Mayo of the Mayo Clinic.
In 1889, he married Laetitia Bredow in a cathedral in Danzig. It was said that Liriodendron was Laetitia Kelly's triumph and Howard's solution to his wife's homesickness for European vacations. Dr. Howard Atwood Kelly died in January 1943, preceding his wife's death by six hours. Neither was aware the other was dying.
Today, Liriodendron is the center for Harford County history and cultural arts. Its large rooms, wide-covered porticos and exquisite reception areas offer outstanding facilities for government, business and civic groups. The mansion is open free to the public every Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., and is well worth the visit.
Copyright© 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.
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