NEW WINDSOR — The slow pace of life and rural ways have changed little in this pastoral western Carroll hamlet since Granville E. Bixler moved here as a 7-year-old in 1918, and for that he simply says, "Thank goodness."
"I like it as it is," says the 80-year-old retired president of Carroll County Mutual Insurance of Westminster. "It's a good place to live."
But things won't remain unchanged, not even in New Windsor, whose population actually decreased by 31 people, from 788 to 757, while the county's nearly doubled since 1970, and whose only sign of commercialization is the High's dairy store on the highway approaching from Westminster.
Three housing developments, totaling about 240 units, that are in the planning stages could nearly double the town's population, as growth continues to spiral outward from urban cores.
But Bixler has ensured that one 111-acre farm that has attracted interest from developers will remain undeveloped forever. He recently reached agreement with the Maryland Environmental Trust to donate the easement bordering Route 75 and Springdale Road, preserving the land from development in perpetuity in exchange for tax advantages.
The agreement is binding on all future owners.
MET, administered through the state's Department of Natural Resources, is authorized to accept land donations to help preserve farmland, woodland and natural and historic areas from development. Easements generally conserve open spaceand environmentally sensitive areas but also may protect agricultural land.
The farmstead, with its historic 200-year-old house and 135-year-old brick barn overlooking rolling hills, has been in the family since 1883, when the grandfather of Bixler's late wife, Libby, purchased it for about $10,000.
Libby's grandfather and father, Paul Buckey, operated the dairy and grain farm until about 1945, when the family began leasing the land. Bixler and his wife assumed ownership of the property in 1964 and have rented it since then to a farming family -- father, Sidney Lease, and sons, David and Sam.
Libby's death about two years ago left her husband as the last heir to the farm. Bixler said several of his relatives would not want to own and manage the property, and the couple had no children.
"Upon my death, it would be sold," says Bixler, who lives in a century-old house less than a mile away in town. "It would go to my estate. When I'm gone, it's in the deed -- it can't be developed. It's a beautiful view from there, and it has scenic beauty. I want to try to preserve that, not only now but in the future."
Not that the spry Bixler is going anywhere soon. At least once a day, he walks from town to the farm for exercise.
County planner Steve Horn, the liaison for New Windsor, says he's "extremely happy" that the farm has been preserved in MET's program. The tract would have been a likely candidate for development had private market forces determined its future, he says.
"I'm sure some people had their eyes on it," he said.
It is appropriate to preserve the tract because it is close to a 6,500-acre contiguous block of farmland protected by the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation, says Horn.
Bixler says he didn't sell development rights to that foundation, which would have put money in his pocket, because the agency is having financial troubles.
He said he never has had plans to sell off even one lot to make a profit, and has made that clear to those who asked. Libby felt the same way, he says, which is why he has dedicated the gift as a permanent memorial to her.
Libby and her father were both born in the house, which has a renovated facade but retains much of its original construction inside. Also inside are old farming and railroad artifacts.
"It's like a little museum," he said.
Bixler worked and lived on a farm outside town until he was 16 but never pursued farming as an occupation. In fact, he says, he has never milked a cow in his life. He volunteered one time to help the Buckeys haul hay.
"That barn was the hottest place I've ever been," he said. "I didn't volunteer much after that."
He worked for a family-run seed and plant store and later for a moving and storage company in Baltimore before starting his 42-year tenure with the Westminster insurance company in 1944.
But he says he always has had an interest in agriculture and gardening.
Four other Carroll landowners have donated easements to MET, totaling 394 acres. MET, established in 1967, holds 209 easements on 36,400 acres in Maryland.
For information about the program, contact MET at 275 West St., Annapolis, Md. 21401, or call 974-5350.