Built in 1871 as a place where neighbors who had been bitterly divided by the Civil War could hold dances and put on plays, the Elkridge Assembly Rooms (the Hall) on Lawyers Hill continues to serve as the focal point for the community.
Every July 4th, neighbors, friends and members of the community gather to continue a traditional celebration, which goes back as far as the early part of the century. Many decades ago, the luncheon was elegantly prepared by neighbors and was served from a large buffet table, which was set with china, glassware and silverware. A clay tennis court, which required diligent rolling and liming of the boundary lines, was the site of many exciting matches. All players wore tennis “whites,” as was the custom in Newport and many other exclusive neighborhoods. The most important tennis tournament of the season was part of the Fourth of July celebration.
Members who grew up “on the hill” spent hours playing tennis with wooden racquets and even learned how to repair a broken string themselves. On July 4th, many children wore patriotic red/white/blue short outfits for the morning games and traditional turtle race and went home to change into dress clothes for the luncheon. Often the luncheon was followed by a men’s softball game.
As the pace of living changed dramatically from those less hectic ones in the late 19th and early 20th century, events and traditions at the Hall endured but became much more casual. Soon paper plates and napkins replaced china and silver. However, the luncheon (now a picnic), the games, the turtle races and the parade continued under the stately white oaks in front of the Hall.
On July 4th, neighbors and friends will once again gather for this marvelous celebration. It is not unusual for people who grew up in the neighborhood to return with their children and grandchildren to enjoy this time-honored tradition. They know there will be many others with whom they can share their memories of living in this special place. The program will follow the traditional pattern: a children’s parade, picnic lunch, children’s games, cupcake decorating and a hayride. The turtle race was stopped a few years ago due to the scarcity of box turtles in the community and the desire to do all that we could to protect and preserve the species. As a substitute, several neighbors offered their chickens for a very unique “chicken race.” Neighbors look forward to sharing their delicious dishes on a potluck buffet, and, more importantly, relaxing and connecting with old and new friends.