Auburn House

Auburn House

Constructed: 1790

Major Renovations: 1836, 1849/50, 1976, 1998

Major Addition: 1915

Auburn House, located on Auburn Drive near the Towson Center is the oldest building on campus. It serves as the location for friend- and fund-raising events hosted by the president, her senior leadership team, and the college deans. 

Acquired by the university in 1971, Auburn House is an example of Georgian architecture and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975. Auburn has long associations with the Ridgelys and Turnbulls, both prominent Baltimore County families. 


Captain Charles Ridgely built Auburn House as a dowager home for his wife, Rebecca Dorsey.  The house was finished around 1790, and Rebecca Dorsey lived there from 1791 until her death in 1812. The name Auburn is taken from the 1770 poem The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith.

After 1816, the home was owned by John Yellott and then Benjamin P. Moore.  In 1836, it was purchased by Henry Chrystie Turnbull for his wife, Ann Graeme Smith of Philadelphia. During his ownership, the barn was constructed and formal gardens established. On October 29, 1849, a severe storm caused a fire that destroyed the house.

In 1850, Turnbull rebuilt the mansion on the original foundation. He also retained the original floor plan and incorporated some of the original walls and salvaged woodworks. The marble on one of the first floor fireplace facings is most likely original.

During the Civil War, Turnball’s son Lawrence and his younger brothers published a literary magazine called The Acorn from May 1861 to March 1863. All issues are now held by the Maryland Center for Society and Culture. The home remained in the Turnbull family until 1915, and was residence to artist Grace Hill Turnbull (1880-1976) and author Andrew Winchester Turnbull (1912-1970), who wrote a definitive biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald himself lived at the Turnbull’s summer home, La Paix, located on the grounds of St. Joseph Hospital (now St. Joseph Medical Center) while his wife Zelda was being treated at nearby Sheppard Pratt Hospital.

John Fife Symington next purchased Auburn, changing its name to Kenoway House. He added a two-story service wing and he re-detailed the interior, removing most of the Victorian ornamentation.

In 1944, Auburn House was deeded to Sheppard Pratt Hospital and became the residence of then medical director Dr. Harry Murdock and his family, who lived in the home from 1945 until 1965. John and Emma Moro and their family of six occupied the house from 1965 until 1971, being the last family to live at Auburn.

Towson University acquired the property in 1971, and opened in 1976 as the Towson Club, a dining club for the members and the University community. In October 1992, the home opened a new feature, Martha’s Pub; a spot for alumni, faculty and staff to gather after hours. Both the Towson Club and Martha’s Pub closed shortly after 1992.

Between 2013 and 2017 the property underwent a series of minor repairs and renovations to more fully restore its original charm. The Auburn House now serves as a location for presidential fund-raising events, senior leadership events, and the college deans. 

Auburn House is believed to be a five-eighth scale copy of nearby Hampton Mansion.

The house is a rectangular three-story stone structure faced with stucco. On the first floor, the center hall measures 45-by-13 feet and features acanthus-patterned cornices. The double front doors are surrounded by leaded glass panels above and on each side. Two rooms, measuring 20-by-20 feet open from the side of the hall and contain delicately formed rose pattern cornices and fireplaces of black Italian marble mantel and facings. The library in the rear also contains a fireplace with black Italian marble.

The front room and the library are connected by an eight-foot opening with sliding double doors recessed in the walls.

The dining room, measuring 20-by-22 feet, opens from the center hall. It has a similar fireplace with the addition of fluted marble columns in front of the facing. The west window opens to the porch. Window recess up into the wall include eight-foot closed cupboards with paneled arched double doors are set into the wall on each side of the front window.

The stairway to the upper floor has a curve mahogany baluster and handrail. On the second floor a center hall provides access to four bedrooms. Later renovations modified the hall by converting the ends into clothes closets and bathrooms. The original marble mantels have been replaced by carved wood.

The third floor plan mirrors the second floor and rooms are of a similar size. However, the ceiling slope from the center to the outer walls. There are light wells with glass tops, and from the center hall a trap door leading to an unfinished attic

Access to the cellar is via a stairway below the first floor stairs. The southeast corner of the cellar contained a room similar in size to the living room which is believed to be the original kitchen. In its west wall is a large fireplace with a sturdy swing crane and heavy hook set into its side. Smaller rooms open from this room, and may have been used as milk pantry and cook’s pantry.

One interesting feature was old water pumping system. Down the embankment as one heads towards Osler Drive, there was a stream with a wooden water wheel used to move water from the stream to the house. A very large cylindrical iron water tank was set up in the cellar to hold water inside. Unfortunately, this tank was removed during the renovation for the Towson Club.

Modifications made by John Fife Symington include the addition of a large two-story kitchen wing with a large butler’s pantry and cold pantry, and back stairs leading to two servants rooms, a bath, a housekeeping closet on the second floor. Its cellar has a large laundry room and general storage room with an opening to the outside.

Elm Trees

Two English elm trees, dating from 1789, once framed the front entrance. Measuring 125 feet tall and over 20 feet in circumference, they were known as the Bride and Groom. These trees were among the oldest examples of the English elm in the country until they succumbed to Dutch elm disease in the 1985.

written by Nancy H. Gonce, University Archivist, Fall 1999

edited by Allison Fischbach, Research and Archives Associate, Spring 2021