8/9/12: “Penniman,” the elusive family at “Wyndhurst”

by Mary Bahr, Curator, Elkridge Heritage Society

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In 1965 (as I recall) on a late summer’s night, a fire destroyed “Wyndhurst,” the Penniman home off of Old Lawyers Hill Road. I don’t know if I was sound asleep or out on a date, but it wasn’t until the next morning when my mother told me about it. Some residents ran down Red Hill to see it. I don’t know if the fire department made it there or not, though if they did, Wyndhurst wasn’t saved. That was the time Interstate 95 was being cut through other Lawyers Hill and Old Lawyers Hill properties. For me, it is reasonable to assume that the highway construction people started the late night fire or had someone else commit arson. I don’t recall any investigation into the matter either, so maybe sump’un was swept under the proverbial rug.

A few years earlier, again on a summer’s night but with a full moon, a bunch of my teenage Hill friends and I took a long walk down a long driveway through brambles and weeds to see the old house. We were just curious time-travelers. Under the moonlight, the facade was architecturally elegant and the rose bushes were lined up on a big terraced area, hanging on trellises as I recall. The place was boarded up, but two of the boys got in through a back kitchen window to look around. I peeked in behind them and saw beautiful black & white tile flooring, so I surmised it was the kitchen. While the rest of us waited outside, quickly enough the guys exited with stories about what furnishings they saw, and left covered over. I reiterate, we were curious, and though illegal, we were extremely and respectfully careful to do no damage. In a way, I think we loved that we lived amidst a mystery we discovered for ourselves. None of us had actually seen a Penniman in our lifetime. As far as I can surmise, they hadn’t been living on the Hill since the 1930’s – 1940’s, before we were born or too tiny to remember. I couldn’t imagine why the family didn’t still use “Wyndhurst” – it was such a romantic setting! Such novel potential – – “Gone with the Wynd(hurst)!” Now this tragic fire! Nuts.

Photo taken from the book “Lawyers Hill Heritage, Elkridge: Three Wars & The Peace”, c 1983, Elkridge Heritage Society
Well anyway, my mother witnessed its destruction and, always the artist, brought along her sketchpad (her sketch(es) are now owned by the Maryland State Archives).

Then, in about 2006, after many years working as a legal secretary, I volunteered at an inner city thrift store, across from Greenmount Cemetery. In that store is where my active interest in the Penniman family started. Among other joyful duties, organizing the store’s books was my cup of tea. There I found a 1930 edition of “The Secretary’s Handbook.” Of course I was curious! To my surprise, inside on the first page was written: “Property of Geo. Dobbin Penniman.” Uh oh. Out of everyone in the inner city, only I would have known who that was! What are the odds?

Signature As Found in book
I may not have known them personally, but the Pennimans had been my neighbors and I felt drawn to that familiarity. I got the book and started researching mostly off the beaten paths of online sites. In my mother’s collections (she never threw out anything important), I found obits of Penniman relatives, including George’s. After Interstate 95 cut through, the driveway to Wyndhurst was still intact and I saw along its side, foundations for slave quarters or tiny outbuildings. It’s no wonder that within the Hill community, dating pre-Civil War and housing more Confederate sympathizers than Union, there are sad vestiges of slavery.

Obituary From Sun Papers, August 25, 1985
Early Penniman history is that they came from England as two brothers, one settling in Massachusetts and the other moving south to Georgia. Along the way, some of their relatives split off into other places, like Maryland and Virginia. It is noted that the Penniman family from Georgia had slaves too, and one distant relation to them is speculated to be singer “Little Richard” Penniman, as he’s from Georgia.

I have found so much in my research and left a trail of questions wherever I went. Then a distant Penniman relative from across The Pond responded to me and we exchanged lots of information, as he had no idea of a Penniman family in Elkridge, let alone any knowledge of, “what’s an Elkridge?” I filled him in and invited him to visit sometime. I was also able to telephone the Penniman business in Baltimore, telling the current heir about his distant English cousin. How cool to network that?

So, does anyone have other views or updates relating to this story?

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