Odenton Town Sitting On Corridor Struggles To Preserve Its Roots As New Development Threatens A Radical Transformation

October 28, 1990|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Founded by railroaders and raised by soldiers, Odenton today takes shape before your eyes.

Look around: bulldozers, hills of earth, great ruddy craters,shifting sand heaps, new road beds, puny trees standing in straight rows and land staked by surveyors, sliced and named by developers: Piney Orchard, Seven Oaks, King's Ransom, Lions Gate.

Much of Odenton is being shaped now by and for outside forces. Chunks of the place have been designed to attract newcomers, people who might commute to Washington and Baltimore. Thousands of acres of a community named for 19th-century railroad man Oden Bowie will enter the 21st century as a suburban theme park -- another Crofton or Columbia.

Were Odenton to be named anew, it might be known as Corridorton.

That word keeps coming up -- corridor. "Where is Odenton?" you may ask.

Real estate marketers like to say Odenton is in a corridor. What corridor?

The Washington-Baltimore corridor, the Annapolis-Crofton corridor. As if we were mapping airline routes, or, more to the historic point, railroad routes.

Murray O'Malley, an 86-year-old whose family name is almost as tied up with the town as Bowie's, remembers the prophecy of John O. Colonna.

Colonna was with the Baltimore City Department of Aviation when the city ran Friendship Airport, before it became Baltimore-Washington International in 1972. Colonna gave a speech to the Odenton Kiwanis in the late 1950s and told the men of the community gathered there that they sat on strategic turf. And one day, he said, they would see Odenton transformed.

" 'Odenton is the center between Baltimore and Washington,' " O'Malley recalls Colonna saying. " 'You'll see these two cities coming together.' "

You can see Colonna's prophecy illustrated in a back-lit wall panel at the sales office at Seven Oaks, a walled community within a community being built by the Halle Companies near Route 175. If the company completes its plan, 15,000 people will live there in the next century. That's more than the 1990 population of Odenton.

The panel shows an idyllic landscape, a kind of Grandma Moses rendering of The Corridor. There is Washington. There is Baltimore and quaint Annapolis, nestled amid rolling green hills. Conveniently located in the middle of this is Seven Oaks.

But where is Odenton?

Nowhere is the town mentioned. Odenton has vanished from the scene.

*

The "ODENTON" sign on the MARC train station at Odenton Road is a red-on-gold antique replica, recalling a time when the town was nothing more than a stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad, a name on a schedule. Before July 1872, when the Pennsylvania Railroad station opened and the stop here was christened after Oden Bowie -- who was president of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad and served as governor of Maryland from 1869 to 1872 -- there was no such place as Odenton. To this day, hundreds of daily Washington-bound commuters from around Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Pasadena, know little more of Odenton than the Maryland Rail Commuter station and the parking lot.

Before 7 a.m., hundreds of cars fill the parking lot on the east side of the tracks, where once stood a station and home for the Pennsylvania Railroad agent. More than 700 people board the trains here each weekday.

They walk to the station past the ghosts of Odenton past.

Their cars spill into sand lots on the west side of the tracks, next to the stone box of a building that in 1917 housed the Citizens State Bank, then a general store, then a railway agent's office. Now plywood masks the windows and brown ivy hangs from rotted eaves.

Gone is the little watch box, a wooden booth where Jeremiah Jones presided at the gates, halting traffic on the Odenton Road crossing. An old photograph shows him mustached and stern in coat, vest and hat. A sign above the watch-box door warns: "NO LOAFING."

Where men and women in business suits now await the MARC train, thousands of World War II soldiers who were amassed and trained at Fort George G. Meade boarded troop trains for the first leg of their journey to battle. In 1917, when the fort was established, trains carried doughboys on weekend visits to Washington and Baltimore.

Between the Odenton Road station and Telegraph Road, where the Washington Baltimore & Annapolis train station once stood, is the village that formed the heart of the old town. Here are the oldest homes in Odenton, most built by railroaders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is where the newly formed Odenton Heritage Society begins its work.

The society was formed by Sally Shoemaker and Pat Wellford, who heads the Greater Odenton Improvement Association. The two women do not oppose the large developments now under construction. They believe the planned communities are better for the town than house lots sprawling in every direction.

But for longtime Odentonians like Shoemaker and Wellford, this a time of unease. This is a time of finding familiar turf rendered unfamiliar. A time to remember where you were and hang on to what you can.

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