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Picture This: A Glimpse Into Catonsville’s Storied Past

A castle-like home, once called Overlea College, still stands today.

There is a reason that the stone storybook structure with its tall tower, built in 1860, has a Bavarian look to it. It was designed to resemble a castle on the Rhine in Germany, Rev. George W. Ebeling’s place of birth. He settled in Catonsville with his young wife, Maria Keidel Ebeling, in 1853.

A member of a highly educated family, Ebeling received his PhD from the University of Goettingen in Germany, “upon his presentation of a Latin thesis dealing the human conscience,” according to his obituary in The Sun. It also made note that he was private tutor in the family of Herr von Reden, a member of the minor German nobility, residing in their mansion. One can speculate that such surroundings prompted him to build his own castle here.

Ebeling was called to assume the duties of pastor for German Salem Lutheran Church in 1854, where he would serve continuously until his death in 1901. The church, one of the first in Catonsville and whose services were conducted entirely in German, came into existence largely through the efforts of another prominent Catonsville resident: the merchant Gustav Lurman.

The Sun ran a lengthy profile on Ebeling on the occasion of his 79th birthday, likely done then because his health was failing. The article stated: “Early in his life Dr. Ebeling was largely interested in Catonsville real estate, owning one of the largest and best-situated tracts of land north of the Frederick turnpike.” This would become the site for Overlea.

In 1861, he opened in his home a boy’s academy that he called Overlea College where he served as the headmaster until 1892 when his son continued the school for three more years.

The Ebeling family lived on the first two floors while the third floor was the dormitory for the students. A large room across the back of the house served as the classroom. It has been written that his pupils referred to the boarding school as the “jail.”

Originally, the property consisted of 12 acres and its entrance driveway was directly off Edmondson Avenue, where Delrey Avenue (extended) is now. Smaller houses were built around Overlea in the 1940s and 1950s so that the residence now stands on two acres.

A pamphlet in the Catonsville Historical Room from the 1976 house and garden tour noted that the grounds were open for touring, but not the home. “Mr. and Mrs. Mills are renovating and restoring the interior of the house, which is not yet completed.”

Allen Mills gave this photo to the Catonsville Library and dated its period to the 1870s or 1880s. Dr. Ebeling is pictured on the porch with his wife, his children and the schoolboys who lived there. It certainly doesn’t look very “jail-like.”

Records indicate that the home has had continual ownership and remains a family residence today.                        

Thanks go to Bryce Rumbles, librarian at the Catonsville Branch, and Lisa Vicari, Catonsville Room volunteer and board member, Friends of the Catonsville Library, for their research assistance. 

Lucy McKean September 06, 2011 at 07:16 PM
Overlea was also on tour in 2002 for the Heritage Homes Tour of the Catonsville Historical Society. The first two floors were open including the classroom. I particularly remember the high ceiling in this room. Lucy McKean, Past President Catonsville Historical Society
Dianne Burch September 06, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Thank you for sharing that information about the house being open on the 2002 tour. I am sure that the Catonsville Room would welcome having a pamphlet from that tour to add to its collection of printed materials.

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