History of Lurman Woodland Theatre
The history of Lurman Woodland Theatre is as rich and varied as the entertainment it provides each year. “Farmlands” was a name given to this area in the late 1700’s by Edward Dorsey. The original tract being some 2,000+ acres, was later given to his son, Hammond, as a wedding gift. Hammond and his wife built a mansion upon the site. In 1820 the house with six hundred acres was sold to Henry Sommerville, who renamed it “Bloomsbury Farm”.
In 1848, Gustav W. Lurman, Sr., a German immigrant, purchased the estate, restored its original name “Farmlands” and proceeded to make it a Maryland Showplace. Bringing many rare trees and shrubs to the property, it was one of only two formal English Gardens in the state. His wife, the former Frances L. Donnell, was a descendant of Lady Godiva. They had three sons and four daughters, although there is some mystery surrounding one of the sons, some records only refer to two sons. In the late 1800’s after Gustav’s death and harsh times, most of the property was sold to a cousin.
Gustav Jr. had inherited part of the property which later became the Rolling Road Golf Course. His daughter, Miss Frances D. Lurman, considered one of Baltimore’s most beautiful women, received the original tract of “Farmlands” from her cousin in 1904. In 1948, she sold the remaining 65 acres to the Board of Education for the construction of Catonsville High School. The house was razed and all that remains is the grounds keepers house and many of the rare trees.
In 1958, the first vision of an outdoor amphitheater was realized when a meeting of the Board of Educators, along with forty some citizens and community organizations began a fund raising effort to survey for, and plan the theater. A master plan was developed and a 2,080 seat theater and arts center was designed, complete with covered stage, dressing rooms, bathrooms and parking lots. An estimated $75,000 was sought through Federal grants and donations to complete this project, but was never acquired. A modest concrete stage, the current stage, was erected around 1964.
Architect’s plan for a 2,000-plus seat theater in the early 1960′s
On June 27, 1965, the U.S. Army Field Band performed at the dedication ceremony. The Summer Concert Series held concerts and other performances every summer on Monday evenings through 1969. The theater fell to neglect during the 1970’s. A few attempts to revitalize it during the 80’s never met with ongoing success. Then in 1992, a renewed community effort began what has become the most successful annual program of the theater’s history.
With increased awareness and support of the Lurman Woodland Theatre comes the opportunity for goals to be realized. Already many improvements have been made to the theater, such as electrical and lighting, improved drainage, railings and bench work, planters and a permanent bathroom facility. This state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly “comfort station” provides men and women bathrooms, and storage space for the theater program.
We are putting together a new ‘master plan’ for improvements we would like to incorporate over the next five years. We will continue to make these improvements as long as we continue to receive the support through donations, grants, sponsorship, the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Commission on Arts and Sciences, Baltimore County and YOU – our guests.
The committee’s plan is to have an architect revise the original design from the early 60’s to provide an up to date, comprehensive layout for the theater, including a cover for the stage, improved seating area and better access. Money can then be raised to improve the theater in sections, yet remain unified. Further plans are to identify and enhance the wide variety of rare shrubs, trees and plant life, which were originally part of Gustav Lurman’s estate, into the theater’s historical charm and appeal.
All of this can be accomplished with the continued support that Lurman Woodland Theatre has been experiencing over the last sixteen years. If you would like more information about any aspect of the theater, or would like to help, please contact “The Friends of Lurman Woodland Theatre Committee”. We look forward to seeing you this summer and be sure to “Share The Secret of The Lurman Woodland Theatre”!