Queenstown Reigns As County's Melting Pot

Black History A Celebration

February 23, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

The first thing an outsider notices about Queenstown is its diversity.

Sprawling brick ranchers coexist with run-down, wood-frame cottages. An elegant Colonial looks out onto an aging bungalow. Meticulously manicured lawns stand next to overgrown lots filled with junked cars and other discards.

In Queenstown, a tiny community in Severn that measures 1.9 milesfrom end to end, one can find houses of every imaginable style, sizeand building material, built on lots ranging from a fraction of an acre to more than 10 acres.

Suburbanites used to planned neighborhoods, sustained under strict covenants, will find none of that in Queenstown.

What they will find is a solid, predominantly black community where three-fourths of the residents are related to a handful of founding families and still worship together at the community church on Sunday; where four generations of Queenstown residents live together in a quiet, tolerant community of which many are fiercely proud.

"They're a real cross-section," the Rev. Gerard A. Green said of the congregation he serves at the Metropolitan United Methodist Church.

"Queenstown is a diverse community. But it's been blessed in manyways, with financial resources, with fine people, and it tends to bewell-educated."

In Queenstown, 100 years of history and six subsequent generations have created a small melting pot, where prosperous businessmen and professionals live side by side with families just scraping by. But as different as many of the homes and residents who inhabit them may seem from the outside, common threads tie the community together.

Residents, who describe Queenstown as "stable" and "friendly," still know most everyone in town.

They'll tell you by name which families they don't know, adding when these strangers moved into Queenstown, where they moved from and what they do. Not knowing someone means you aren't related, or haven't known them for a couple of decades.

Queenstown may not be one big happy family -- some of the 300-plus residents don't get along, and they'll tell you so. But it is a tolerant community, where residents accept their eccentrics and put up with things they don't necessarily like without much of a fuss.

"I don't like a junky yard -- I don't want junky cars in my yard," said Ellen A. Miller, the great-granddaughter of one of Queenstown's founders. "But what are you going to do? Call the police? Why call down your own people?"

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About halfway down Queenstown Road -- the central thoroughfare -- sits a dilapidated, white-frame house,one of the last vestiges of the original Queen family.

The formerhome of Queenstown's founder, Ambrose Queen, has been boarded up foryears; a real estate sign announces the property is for sale.

Therun-down house belies the community's proud history, which dates back to 1906, when Ambrose Queen and his wife, Annie Victoria, purchased75 acres of farmland from John and Sarah Hawkins, white Anne ArundelCounty farmers.

The property, located south of Dorsey Road between Quarterfield and Old Telegraph roads, would eventually be named Queenstown after Ambrose and his brothers, the largest landowners. Stories about who owned the most land vary, depending on whose descendantsare telling them.

But what seems generally agreed on is that six or seven black families, descendants of freed slaves, settled in the area in the early 1900s and tilled the land to provide fruits and vegetables for Baltimore's Marsh Market, pronounced "mash" market by thelocals.

The families -- the Queens, Gaithers, Burleys, Howards, Joneses and Williamses -- had farms as small as a few acres and as large as 100 acres or more. They worked hard, but most made a decent living, said Sylvia Garrison, a descendant of Ambrose Queen and community activist.

As families grew and new generations reached adulthood, parcels of land were doled out to subsequent generations. The many subdivisions created unique combinations of homesteads -- lots with numerous dwellings and homes located off dirt roads that have never been paved.

The diversity in Queenstown is not unique among historicblack communities, said Melvin Kelly, a 33-year Queenstown resident whose wife, Regina, is a descendant of the Burley family.

Historically, as whites have prospered, they often have moved on to more upscale neighborhoods to build bigger homes, said Kelly, who serves as president of the Severn Improvement Association. But blacks throughout history have been limited in where they could live. So, as members ofa black community prospered, they often expanded their homes or built new ones in the same area, often on the same property.

Today, homes in Queenstown range in value from $40,000 to more than $200,000, residents said.

Many families feel so comfortable in Queenstown that, even now, they choose to stay rather than move elsewhere, residents said. At least one millionaire is said to live among them, in a modest home that does not hint of millionaire status.

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