Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Stephens Manor

If you're like me, you've wondered about the graceful house that sits next to the Emerson Clubhouse. Though somewhat tattered around the edges, it was clearly once a house of distinction, but there aren't any signs posted to tell you who lived there. After a little amateur sleuthing, I think I've found some answers.


I had some information to work with as I embarked on this quest. Someone told me that one of his friends had once worked in the peach orchards where Emerson now stands, for the Stephens family of High's Dairy Stores.

Using this as a starting point, I found that the house was apparently built around 1910 by the Gambrill family and later sold to Clifford Y. ("C.Y.") Stephens, who co-founded High's Dairy Stores with L.W. High in the 1930's.

High's grew into a large chain of convenience stores in the Mid-Atlantic area best known for their ice cream, but most of the stores were sold to 7-Eleven in 1987. Stephens is also credited with pioneering milk jug distribution in Washington and Baltimore.

C.Y. Stephens bought the house from his partners in the High family (who had purchased it from the original owners). He had established dairy plants in the area with his partners, including one on Whiskey Bottom Road at the location of the present-day Dreyer's/Edy's Ice Cream plant, one of the largest in the world.

He became a community leader as well, serving on the Howard County Board of Education and donating generously to his alma mater Iowa State, where an auditorium that bears his name has been called "Building of the Century" in Iowa. (He was the lead fundraiser for the complex in which it resides, but died before the building opened in 1969.)

C.Y. Stephens was killed in an auto accident in 1963 and his widow Mary Anne Stephens continued to live in the house. She spoke of her feelings as she watched the bulldozers clear the trees from the land next to her home for I-95 in a Christmas letter in 1968:
"Its impact is already terrific and sad. Sad as it cuts a 400- to 500-foot swath from southwest to northeast across the beautiful fields, and through wooded hills, felling so many dogwood, holly, walnut trees and a few apple trees, as well as the six tall nut-bearing chestnuts. The three-acre pond has also vanished, with its willows, duck island and fish."
Of course, many of us would probably not be living here if the area had remained a rural farming community. But even as we enjoy our homes and neighborhood, we can catch a glimpse of a time gone by.