Trenton hopes to remain secluded, tranquil village


May 05, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Arthur Abbott's "ol' swimmin' hole" was the pond that powered the grinding stones at the old Trenton grist mill. "I learned to swim when they told me to jump in or get thrown in," recalls the 79-year-old retired plumber.

But no one has swum or skated there for decades; the water level declined, the three-story granite mill went silent in 1946, and then a storm burst the dam.

Back when Trenton Mill was grinding as much as 40 tons of feed and flour a month, Piney Run was a wide, free-flowing stream that provided irrigation for wild hay when it flooded fields below the rugged mill.

Today, except after a storm, it's just a trickle, bubbling over the ruins of the stone dam upstream from the mill.

Trenton -- the name was changed from Zoucksville in 1868 -- is another of those 19th-century enclaves that dot Central Maryland. Once thriving rural commercial centers, they cling to life now as peaceful country villages.

Picturesque frame and stone houses and farm outbuildings stud narrow Trenton Road, which plunges downhill from Black Rock Road to the valley floor where the mill stands. Broad fields for crops and grazing -- redolent with new-spread manure -- stretch behind the houses.

When the Western Maryland Railway pushed west in the 1850s, it bypassed Trenton. That, according to old-timers, allowed the tiny village to remain "just a little bit different," a distinction it still claims today.

Unlike Uniontown, where virtually the entire Carroll County town is a restoration project; or New Market, near Frederick, which has been turned into a strip of antiques shops; or Ashland, in Cockeysville, where part of the former ironworks village has become part of a new luxury development, Trenton retains its character as a secluded country village.

And that's just how Daniel Colhoun Jr., a farmer and civil engineer who arrived in 1962, likes it.

"Yuppies want to look at the farms, but they don't want to hear them or smell them, like a Grandma Moses picture," Mr. Colhoun said. "Streetlights, sidewalks and policemen, all that crap; we don't want it."

Mr. Abbott, who was born in Trenton and worked on surrounding farms and as a plumber, recalling his youth, said, "We used to play cowboys and Indians in the woods and swim in the mill pond in the summer. We went to school here, a two-room schoolhouse up to the fourth grade, then we went to Fowblesburg."

However much the old-timers want to hold back the clock, change is inevitable, Mr. Abbott acknowledged: "It's starting to weed out now as the old families are dying off."

Most of Trenton's homes were built during the last century, and many are still occupied by members of the old families: Abbotts, Armacosts, Cullisons, Merrymans, Martins. It's that kind of town.

In the 1950s, John W. Armacost wrote a history of Trenton for his great-granddaughter, now Brenda Armacost Craft, as her grade-school project. Mr. Armacost, who died in 1964 at age 87, recalled from his own experience and what he heard from his parents and grandparents that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Trenton was a flourishing village of 25 houses and 70 inhabitants.

It had a mill, a smithy and a wheelwright, along with a shoemaker, tailor, hotel and law office.

The general store "carried groceries, dry goods, shoes, boots, hardware and harnesses for the horses. The hotel had a tavern downstairs and private rooms upstairs. In the days of the stagecoach, the hotel was a regular stopping place," he wrote.

Mrs. Craft, now 47, said, "We weren't like other places. We weren't just neighbors; we were family, grandparents, parents and kids in the same house. We're the fifth generation in this house," she said of her century-old fieldstone home.

When she was a child, Mrs. Craft said, Trenton was much changed from her great-grandfather's day, "but it was still a wonderful place to grow up."

She swam and skated at the mill pond, too, "until the dam burst, sometime in the 1950s." Older farmers plowed with horses and cut hay and picked corn by hand into the 1950s, she said. "We were a little bit backward. But it was a quiet place, no trouble, and it's still a pretty town."

The oldest surviving dwelling is the miller's house, built about 1836 when the town was called Zoucksville, after the founding family. Newly resplendent in a complete restoration, including a barn-red tin roof above its granite walls, the house is for sale.

Across the road stands the rugged-looking mill, built in 1862 to replace an earlier mill of about 1839 but now facing an uncertain fate.

A. Murray Fisher Jr., 50, bought the mill in the 1970s and restored it to working order. But since he moved to Virginia several years ago to farm an estate, the mill has been dormant. "It's in good shape and ready to go. There are three sets of stones," said Mr. Fisher, a descendant of the original millwright. "I was interested in saving the mill and the machinery, but we haven't done much with it since we left."

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