9/17/12: The Lawn Parties (observations for the mature)

by Mary Bahr, Curator, Elkridge Heritage Society

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I’ll continue about another elusive Penniman at a later time, meanwhile, here’s the topic of Lawn Parties. What do you envision by those two words?

Observed as movie props, let’s say, on the BBC Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey,” or painted by Renoir and Manet in the early Edwardian era of Paris, or even in the recent life of Vermont’s Tasha Tudor who died in 2008 but preferred to have lived in 1830, lawn parties can be remembered as a part of summer life — refined outdoor social gatherings with white cloth covered tables, linen napkins between polished silver and festive ceramics, perhaps laden with hors d’oeuvres, tea cakes, cheese and vin rouge, all situated under mossy oaks or around flowering gardens. Or they might have had ground blankets with overflowing food in woven country baskets. Some had curved and cushioned chairs to comfort corseted women with fancy hats and gloves, or carrying parasols while strolling with men in bowlers and sucking on pipes. Their most ambitious afternoon exercise might be badminton, croquet, or dancing by a lake — activities which required pairs.

If these images described seem culturally baronial, they are not. The beauty of nature’s originality is the key to elegance anywhere and it can be shared across all economic strata.

Author and Illustrator, TashaTudor
Instead of beauty and semblance of elegance, portraits of current masses could be representations of the tasteless banalities of pervasive materialistic post-modernism. We are replicated, duplicated, reduced, softened, and out-sourced in the name of “convenience” — in other words — “Made in China.”

The “dejeuner sur l’herbe” of yesteryear has remarkably downgraded into picnic bargains featuring Wal-Mart’s plastic cutlery, plastic plates and paper napkins, with no end to chomping chips and “dogs” while swilling beer, wearing flip-flops and baggy shorts made by those speedy overseas sweatshops. Besides cancer sticks, people still light stuff on fire and call it grilling; and a guy tending to it might wear a head cover known by Chef! (British comedian Lenny Henry) as donning the “culinary condom.” And, the most ambitious of afternoon exercise might be celebrity sports trivia or backyard football for the guys, and gossiping for the girls in pin-curled hair. Spurred on by all this togetherness, the really bored kids run amok around the newly deforested housing development.

Lawyers Hill Deforested
So, this is progress? I am not making this up (ask Dave Barry).

Let me clarify. I am not attached to the past for it’s own sake, but relate better to a creatively designed ceramic pitcher from 1890, than to its plastic 2012 counterpart. Are we so lazy so as not to have to wash an extra dish? Yes! Just buy a synthetic replica and then trash it. To its logical conclusion, how much are the minds of the masses, numbed through national company advertising and cultural consumption, to believe that their originality and ability to creatively think can also be thrown out? The thinking has been done for us. We are too busy to take time, let alone smell roses. Consider this, we become what we depend on and we depend on cheap substitutes.

So, when we acquiesce to mediocrity, the landfills overflow. When future archaeologists dig up our life, our Styrofoam cups will rise up to greet them. Then what will they conclude about our society? I reason that: 1) the popularity to buy other people’s past lives at flea markets and antique shops is because many don’t develop their own life’s curiosities, 2) it is easier to buy someone else’s than hand-make your own out of necessity or enjoyment, and 3) it is worse when the substituted qualities are chemically synthetic.

For all its progression, culture has stopped thinking on many levels. That’s another reason why the truly historic homes are needed reminders in that they are not mediocre McMansion replications, or plastic, nor “Made in China.”

Well Sport, all this observation brings me to a point of comparison in that the closest engagement of any old elegance minutely like “Downton Abbey” that Elkridge held (besides Belmont, etc.), was a summer home called “The Lawn,” with its numerous beautiful trees, its small library / ballroom, and wrap-around porch. After WWI, economics changed causing most European and American gentrified estates fall short of inheritors, money, and the necessary upkeep. And so the Lawn “parties” to which I refer mean in this context, only The Lawn’s numerous owners.

The Lawn
The Lawn Parties:

In legalese, he is the party of the first part, and the most interesting. George Washington Dobbin, 5th generation of Dobbin Irish stock, a lawyer and a judge on a Baltimore City circuit court, and gentrified, first lived with his wife, Rebecca Pue, at “Oakland” near Druid Hill, wintering downtown on Charles St., then permanently moving to the St. Paul Street area. In an account by his daughter, Rebecca Pue Dobbin (later, Penniman), it was necessary for his children to have a summer home. Circa 1840, he bought the first nine acres of woodland from the Dorsey’s in Howard County. On that land, amongst the trees he loved, he built The Lawn.

As well, Dobbin had other lawyers and professional friends who followed him to the area, buying land parcels for their own homes. The families intermarried and most of the larger community became related to one another. Some of these were the Donaldson’s, the Gill’s, the Penniman’s, and the Latrobe’s, etc. – hence the lower residing Elkridge villagers called the area “Lawyers Hill.”

By 1843, Daddy “George” had a medical condition which made him need to live there year around. So, he bought up more parcels of land until it grew to the very large acreage of 240, not including the “meadow.” Now he was big landed gentry.

With a passion for building, George built more and more additions and extensions onto the original bungalow over a period of time, including living quarters for their servants and much later, an observatory. I call it “Dobbin Abbey” as it was large enough in territory so that the first Dorsey’s of Rockburn and Belmont were a couple of miles away.

The Lawn, West Side Stories
The Dobbins begat oodles of children, all of which, when grown and married, were given lots around The Lawn property for building their own houses. They remained on their Daddy George’s land for a long time, and named their own mansion homes as colorfully Irish as they wanted.

And, speaking of names — for the first nine generations of the Dobbins family tree, I counted the common practice of recycling first names within the Dobbin lineage and their in-laws. I cannot tell how they knew who from whom in one generation to the next. It certainly didn’t help me understand their “begetting” one iota. They had:

3 Archibald’s (Dobbin),

3 George’s (Dobbin), 1 George Dobbin (Penniman), and 1 George Dobbin (Brown),

5 Robert’s (Dobbin) and 1 Robert (Brown),

2 Thomas (Dobbin) and 1 Thomas (Penniman),

1 “Aunt Rebecca” (Pue), 1 Rebecca (Pue), 1 Rebecca (Dobbin), 1 Rebecca (Pue Dobbin Penniman), 1 Rebecca (Penniman), and 1 Rebecca (Pue Brown),

1 James (Dobbin) and 1 James (Leakin),

2 Elizabeth’s (Dobbin) and 1 Elizabeth (Key),

1 Susan Dobbin (Barnes) and 1 Susan Dobbin (Leakin),

3 Nicholas (Penniman I, II, III),

2 Margaret’s (Leakin) and 1 Margaret (Dobbin), and

1 Mary (Townsend), 1 Mary (Whittaker), and 1 Mary (Dorsey Dobbin Brown)


TO BE CONTINUED, sooner or later.


2 thoughts on “9/17/12: The Lawn Parties (observations for the mature)

  1. Wonderful! Well said and thank you for saying it. There is no such thing as a genteel society anymore. People have replaced quality with “disposable.” Speed and convenience have replaced enjoying the simple things in life and truly living each day with appreciation and gratitude. Keep your vigil going!

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