The community of Overlea, which means “over the meadows,” started in the late 1800’s. Numerous parcels of high-lying farmland were eventually subdivided into homesites. The Belair Road carline, which originally ended at Kenwood Avenue, made this area very attractive to potential buyers that wanted a country setting with access to city amenities The majority of streets are named after trees. The Victorian homes on tree-lined streets highlight Overlea’s historic charm.
In 1858, Margaret Fuller, a widow, brought her six children from Ohio and purchased 43 acres and a tract called Sophie’s Garden Regulated, adjacent to Taylor Avenue and Belair Road.* The Lassahn family, as well as other early families in Fullerton, played significant roles in the business and community development of the area. The first post office and general store opened in 1885. Fullerton School started in 1886 in a one room log house. In 1890, the log house was replaced with a frame school house built on land purchased from the Lassahn family.
In 1895, the Kennard Land Company began development of Overlea when they bought Lange’s Farm. The streets were mapped out and named after trees: Spruce, Ash, Cedar, Hickory, Chestnut, Walnut, Willow, Beech, Poplar, Elm and Linden. Thus the community of Overlea was born.
At the turn of the century Overlea was rural, made up mainly of farmland. Real estate men recognized that the high-lying farmland would make excellent home sites and persuaded the United Railways to extend the Belair Road carline. Belair Road was unpaved in 1902, and the single track carline only ran four times a day, ending at Kenwood Avenue.
The introduction of the trolley service created interest in the location and cottages started springing up. Lange’s Farm was the first name for the area, but the name was changed to Overlea which means “over the meadow.” Apparently from the elevation of the land along the 6800 and 6900 blocks of Belair Road some residents said they could see the bay from their attic windows on a clear day.
An old landmark in the community is the Four Mile House, in the 6600 block of Belair Road, which has been in continual operation as a tavern since 1902 when the city line was exactly four miles away from North Avenue. In 1941, the Four Mile House (currently the Coach House) was moved 60 feet north in order to sell a lot to a gas station. The original location was the corner of Kenwood and Belair Rd.
It is probably one of the oldest buildings in Overlea.
In 1909, the Cherry Heights community plat (located between Fullerton Avenue and East Elm Avenue) was drawn and in 1910 it was recorded. Cherry Heights was the first housing development in the county intended for African American homeowners.
Also that year, Overlea saw its first drug store open and the Overlea Methodist Church was founded when a group of forty people met at the mansion of Mr. and Mrs. James T. Everett to establish a Sunday School in Overlea. In 1910, a grocery store/Town Hall opened on the northwest corner of Belair Road and Overlea Avenue, which is currently the site of the Maryland Natural History Society.
In 1913, the Women’s Suffrage Movement stopped in Overlea during the march from New York to Washington, DC. They held a meeting at the Town Hall, but most residents were not sympathetic to their cause. The suffragettes stayed in the homes of local residents and the meeting was said to have won some supporters. Also that year, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church held its first service in the Town Hall.
In 1919, part of Overlea was annexed by the city. The bi-section of Overlea with the city-county line made it a community under two flags, governmentally speaking. The resulting city-county line bisects 29 parcels of land in the neighborhood, sometimes in curious ways.
The Overlea Improvement League worked to have Belair Road widened to eighty feet with streetcar tracks in the middle and to have a sewage system installed. By 1926, Overlea had all the city conveniences- electricity, gas and water.
By 1926, it was also noted that the Everett Family Mansion House (located at the corner of Overlea Avenue and Cedar Avenue) was very old. It had a circular driveway, fountain, and cupola overlooking Overlea Avenue. Mrs. John Cox, a long time resident of Overlea, now deceased, documented the following: “During the war, fire watchers were stationed in the cupola during (community) air raid drills. You could see all the way from there to the Glen L. Martin aircraft plant on the East River.” Cedar Avenue was later changed to Cedonia Avenue and in 1949, the property was sold and the house torn down. In 1950 the current Overlea United Methodist church was erected at this site.
Over the years, Overlea has continued to thrive and grow. Overlea’s boundaries are Everall Avenue on the west, Kenwood Avenue on the east, Northern Parkway on the south, and Fullerton Avenue on the north. It consists of over 1200 residences.
The minute you turn east or west off of Belair Road, you leave the rushing traffic behind. The quaint, tree-lined streets with their well-kept lawns offer a nostalgic look into the past. This historic neighborhood still maintains its charm from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Beautifully restored victorians, and housing stock from several decades of the early 20th century, line the streets. This community boasts multi-generational families who settled long ago and have chosen to stay.
*(Early in 2000, while visiting my mother at Oak Crest Retirement Community, we had dinner with an elderly gentleman named Mr. Wilson. He said he was the great-great grandson of Margaret Fuller, and told me that her house was on the corner of Taylor and Belair Road. As a child, I remember that house was quite old and delapidated. During the late 1990’s, it was purchased and renovated to its current state.)
This History of Overlea is condensed from:
“A (very) Concise History of Overlea,” by Overlea resident John Stewart, (The entire history from John Stewart, plus information from other residents is currently housed at the Maryland Natural History Society.)
Additional information from Doris Poling and Sherri Wilmer, February 2010, and
“Villages” published by the Northeast Baltimore County Historical Society