Workers' houses now a community


January 13, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson

Aero Acres sprang up almost overnight as the United States stormed into the World War II production boom that transformed the Middle River area. It hardly seemed the sort of community built to last.

This year, however, the tiny neighborhood where the streets are named for airplane parts turns 50.

Built in a frenzy in 1941 and 1942, it became a bustling community of 300 homes for the mostly young workers who turned out B-26 Marauder bombers night and day at the nearby Glenn L. Martin Co., now Martin-Marietta.

Today, Aero Acres, whose welcome sign proclaims "America's First Planned Community," is a quiet neighborhood populated mostly by older people, many of them retired Martin employees who still live in their original houses, albeit much remodeled and individualized.

But not only the houses have changed.

Present and former residents say that while Aero Acres is still a generally friendly place, it no longer has the sense of community of earlier years.

"It seemed more close-knit then, but it's still as good a place to live as any I know," said Donald Roberts, 78, who has lived in his home on Fuselage Avenue since December 1941.

"I watched them build these houses. It seemed like they did 10 or 12 a day," said Mr. Roberts, who retired in 1970 after 31 years with Martin and then spent 15 years working for Baltimore County.

The dwellings themselves, such as Mr. Roberts', have been renovated from the cracker boxes put up a dozen-a-day -- and expected to last no more than 10 years -- into sophisticated, well-maintained homes.

Harry Horney, 62, who has supplied heating oil to Aero Acres since 1943, said the houses were built to a standard plan with wall panels of a compound called Cemestos. The panels were designed to withstand bomb damage -- the Martin plant being a prime target -- by vibrating within their end posts.

No more than a handful of the approximately 310 houses included in Aero Acres retain their original appearance. Exteriors have been covered with siding, shingles, brick or stone. Many have been raised and basements excavated underneath. Many also have had extra rooms built on the rear while some have had second stories added.

During the war, Martin workers, mostly out-of-staters, paid about $30 a month to rent the prefabricated, two-bedroom homes on 50-by-100 lots along streets with names like Fuselage Drive, Cockpit Street, Left Wing and Right Wing drives, Left and Right Aileron streets, Blister Street and Dihedral Drive.

Until World War II, Middle River was a distant suburb of farmand summer waterfront homes. But the war, and the 5,000 units of wartime housing put up by the late Glenn L. Martin and the government in similar worker-housing developments, changed Middle River completely. It remains an area of blue-collar communities today.

Mr. Martin had bought 1,260 acres in the area in 1928 in anticipation of a thriving residential community arising around his fledgling aircraft factory. The war accelerated that development beyond all expectations.

At its peak during the war, Martin employed 53,000 workers, but within a month of war's end in 1945 the force had shrunk to 10,000 people as many of the workers returned to their home states.

In July 1946, Mr. Martin announced the sale of 607 houses at Aero Acres and Stansbury Estates, which he had built nearby. Tenants were given first option to buy and those who didn't had to leave to make way for buyers. The money they had paid in rent was applied to the purchase price.

Adjoining Aero Acres is Victory Villa, one of the government-built projects, where streets are also named for airplane parts, causing confusion for the uninitiated who don't realize the separation. Most of the homes there have been upgraded, as well.

"I've lived in Aero Acres longer than anyone else. We watchethem building these houses," said Ethel Huss, 84, who rented rooms at a nearby farmhouse until she and her husband moved into a home on Fuselage Avenue in 1941.

Mrs. Huss said the house, which cost $3,000, is now valued by state assessors at $72,913. A full basement and several rooms were added.

At first, she said, they had a floor oil burner for heat, a refrigerator, two-burner hot plate, roaster oven and an electric water heater. Walls were gray inside and out and tenants had to wait a year before they could paint them. There was some landscaping but fences and outbuildings -- now common -- were not allowed.

At one time, Mrs. Huss said, it was feared that Aero Acres was a "potential slum," but the fears have not materialized as homeowners have continue to improve their houses. "They've really done beautifully," she said.

However, some old-timers complain that some newer residents don't have the same pride in upkeep and that their houses are looking run-down, particularly those occupied by renters.

Frank Carberry, 43, a past president of the Aero Acres Civic Improvement Association who moved away two years ago, says the neighborhood has changed much since his days growing up there.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.