My name is Frances Lucinda Newell. I am the granddaughter of Frances Lucinda Ward Banks, the daughter of Beulah Banks Newell, and the niece of Elizabeth Beall Banks. For generations, many of my Mother’s ancestors owned farms in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside of Rockville. If you are familiar with the area, you probably know that what was once farmland, is now completely developed with strip malls, office buildings, and housing developments. Only one of the family farms remains, and it was the family’s intent the land remains open fields, but Johns Hopkins will see to it that this farm, like all the others, becomes another block of developed land.
Growing up my parents would often take us to visit my Mom’s sister Aunt Liz. Aunt Liz lived on the farm where they were raised and she ran the Black Angus Cattle farm, for well over 60 years. I loved visiting the farm. I was named after my maternal grandmother, and although she died when I was an infant, I’ve always felt such a connection to her, especially at the farm. It was such a special place.
My grandmother, along with her husband Roland, raised their three children on the farm. When I was very young, there were two houses on the land. My great Aunt Kate lived in the main house, a house that is registered today with the national historical society and Aunt Liz lived in the house where they grew up, closer to Darnestown Road. In the morning, we would follow my Aunt Liz through the fields, up to the barns and where the main house was located, as well. During that walk, we were careful to follow in Aunt Liz’s footsteps, as we had to navigate around the cow “patches”, in the fields, as there were many! Before we started the daily chores, Aunt Liz would go in and check on Aunt Kate and we would run into the barns to feed the barn cats and pet the horses.
My Aunt was always so gracious to let us tag along with the chores. She always made us feel as though we were helping, but I’m sure at times, we were just in the way. During hay season, I remember sitting on the flatbed trailer as huge square bails of hay were thrown onto the trailer from the back of the bailing machine. I don’t think that any one of us kids could lift a bail of hay, but we were “helping”. We would take a break for lunch, which consisted of raw hot dogs and chocolate yoo-hoo (if Mom only knew). At the end of a long day, we were sent up to the top of the barn, on the long (very high) conveyor belt to catch the bails of hay as they came up the conveyor belt and onto the floor of the barn. (I’m not sure that Mom ever knew all the details of this either, but we had a grand time). There was always so much to do on the farm and eventually I learned how to run much of the machinery, to really help, as I got older. Throughout Aunt Liz’s life, I always enjoyed going down and working the farm with her.
The farm was in my Mother’s family for over 100 years. My grandmother was a Ward. The Wards, the Bealls, and Garretts all owned farms around this part of Rockville. My Aunt named the farm after two of the families, the Bealls and the Wards. It became known as Belward Farm. It was always a part of my Mother’s life, her siblings’ lives, and I always thought it would be a part of my life as well. In many ways it still is, but not in the way that I had imagined. Throughout the years, there was always someone knocking on the door wanting to buy the farm, including housing developers, and even Montgomery County officials. My Aunt spent years fighting off the people who wanted to develop the land. However, at the same time, she also faced mounting bills, from various taxes imposed upon the farm either by the county or the state. We are not a family of wealth or means and the state/county were making it impossible for the family to hold onto the land.
In the 80’s Montgomery County officials brought Johns Hopkins University to my Aunt’s door. They proposed a “Johns Hopkins-occupied campus” that would be for medical research and education, AND they would only develop a portion of the land. My Aunt, being a former teacher and an admirer of the Johns Hopkins Institution, began to listen. Finally, in 1989, my Aunt, my Mother, and my Uncle came to an agreement with Johns Hopkins. The farm would be sold to JHU at a “gift” price, if it was a Johns Hopkins-occupied campus, they preserved the historic farm buildings, and keep most of the land open fields. What a deal Johns Hopkins got, over 100 acres for 1/10 of its value at the time!! The family was initially pleased with their decision, because a highly regarded University would occupy the property, keep the open land, and my Aunt could live on the farm until her death. After Aunt Liz’s death, Johns Hopkins was quick to move in and alter the original plans for the farm. Instead of minimal development of the land, their proposal was, not only to develop all the land, but lease it out to other companies/organizations, instead of JHU occupying the land. My Mom was so distraught over things she was hearing from family and friends, in the area, with what Johns Hopkins was planning for the farm. It was not, at all, what the family had envisioned or agreed to when making the contribution to JHU.
This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my Mother’s passing and I can’t help but recall what she said to us before she died. She pleaded with us, not to let Johns Hopkins destroy the farm; it just broke my heart. In November of 2011, my siblings, cousin, and I took JHU to court to stop the development they were planning. Still mourning the loss of our Mother, we began a long, “David and Goliath” battle. We didn’t win, (for reasons I can only speculate) but we did make the various people/companies, who planned to lease the property, question the project, and eventually they all pulled out.
I am writing this because I attended a virtual meeting, the other day, of Johns Hopkins presenting their new proposal for the development of Belward Farm. What surprised me during the meeting (actually shocked me) was that neither Johns Hopkins, nor the development companies they’ve hired, had ANY regard for the family’s intentions, nor an inkling of Johns Hopkins commitment, for the use of the land. The trial, 10 years ago, was very public and well documented in the local papers. Even the gentleman that brokered the deal FOR Johns Hopkins testified, in support of the family, that JHU was not honoring the intent of the agreement for the land. How could JHU not know this? How could they be so cavalier to think that they could, once again, take contributions from people/families and renege on their part of the agreement? I’ve lost most of my savings and inheritance fighting Johns Hopkins (as did my family members), and while I don’t have the financial means to continue the fight, I still have my voice. I will not let Johns Hopkins (or the development firms they hire) disrespect my family, the extremely generous gift the family made to JHU, or misrepresent the intent of the deal, brokered all those years ago.
My name is Frances Lucinda Newell. I am the granddaughter of Frances Lucinda Ward Banks, the daughter of Beulah Banks Newell, and the niece of Elizabeth Beall Banks. For these strong, independent women, and for all the Ward/Banks family, who lived on Belward Farm, I can no longer stay silent. The contribution was made to JHU, in good faith, and with clear intentions for the land and the historic buildings. Why is it so difficult for Johns Hopkins to honor the commitment they made, 32 years ago?