Quiet Arcadia -- Most Of The Time

March 14, 1992|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

To the ancient Greeks, Arcadia was a place of pastoral peace and simplicity. For most of the year, that's the way of life in Baltimore County's village of Arcadia, too.

But during summer and early fall, the one-street rural community rocks and rolls as the volunteer fire company stages one event after another, and just about everybody joins in.

In late July, crowds throng tree-lined Arcadia Avenue in front of the big turn-of-the century houses, as marching bands and the bells and sirens of fire engines kick off the six-day Arcadia Carnival with an old-fashioned Firemen's Parade.

In September, hundreds of recreational vehicles and campers jam the carnival grounds for the four-day Arcadia Blue Grass Festival, which attracts music fans from the United States and abroad to the village, located just off the Hanover Pike near the Carroll County line.

On weekends when the weather is warm, crashing, crunching, fender-bending demolition derbies and the annual Maryland Steam Historical Society exhibition of vintage steam engines of all kinds also bring in the crowds.

The rest of the time, though, Arcadia snoozes quietly, buffered by the broad fields being readied now for spring planting of corn and soybeans. At parade time, marchers will strut part of their route through head-high acres of corn.

"Arcadia hasn't grown a lot. You can see there's still a lot of farming here," said William R. Hale Jr., 41, chief of the 80-year-old Arcadia Volunteer Fire Department, whose family has lived there for generations.

The village lies above the urban-rural demarcation line, an area in which county policy bans metropolitan water and sewer lines.

This, combined with restrictive zoning, has prevented extensive development.

Community life centers on two institutions, Chief Hale said: the fire company and St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, both very much family-centered, with one generation succeeding another.

"It's still a close-knit community -- not as close as it used to be, but everyone still knows everyone else," said Chief Hale, a career county firefighter.

Arcadia is tiny, only about 60 homes and 250 people, but the volunteer firefighters are responsible for a large area that includes more than 1,100 homes and businesses. The annual budget is about $150,000, to which the county contributes about $50,000, the chief said. "So that leaves us with a lot [of money] to raise.

"Our fund-raisers didn't raise money like those in the companies in the urban areas, like Pikesville. We had to be more imaginative, so we started these other events, like the bluegrass concerts and the derbies," Chief Hale said.

County Historian John W. McGrain describes Arcadia as a well-preserved 19th-century agricultural village. The village actually is decades older than its name, and is one of the few places that can boast two names.

It was called Upperco when the first post office was established in 1841, in the general store owned by a man of that name. Village legend says that after the Western Maryland Railway built its line to Hanover, Pa., in 1879, schoolmaster Francis Rinehart urged the railroad to change the station name to Arcadia.

The duality continues; Upperco Post Office still is in Arcadia, in the old general store building beside the railroad tracks.

Arcadia's other institution, St. Paul's Church, is the county's oldest Lutheran congregation, having built its first church on the site in 1794. The existing red-brick church dates from 1882.

At midday, loudspeakers in the white-shingled steeple broadcast the peal of a carillon across the fields. Villagers, most in their 70s and 80s, gather several times a week for Bible study and covered-dish luncheons.

Like the fire company, the church is very much a family affair. Many of the same names, such as Upperco, Armacost, Stumpf, Burk, Sykes and Roop, appear again and again in the churchyard as headstones chronicle the generations.

Arcadia's oldest resident is Pauline Hoffman, 91, a retired county schoolteacher who recalls the village of her childhood as "a very busy little place all the time."

Arcadia evolved as a commercial center for the surrounding farms. As it grew, it boasted a general store, a smithy, a wheelwright and carriage-maker, a sawmill and cider mill, creamery and barber shop, said Miss Hoffman, whose father was the village blacksmith.

A gas station and car dealership came later, but both are gone now, and the Grange Hall on Carnival Avenue has been converted to a home.

A few freight trains still rumble through, but in the old days passenger trains took some residents to work in Reisterstown and Baltimore or for shopping trips downtown, Miss Hoffman said.

Arcadia was a magical place to grow up, said Oneida Armacost Jones, 74, whose family has lived in the community for generations. She lives in one of the oldest houses, an Edwardian brick structure with a white-columned porch.

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