Some people go to Windy Valley Farms for the thick frozen custard shakes. Some, the Oreo cookie ice cream. Others, for the pony rides. Some make business deals at one of its tables.
Everybody seems to agree that the roadside ice cream shop-lunchroom is one of Baltimore County's great unsung people-gathering places, where it's still possible to get a peach ice cream cone that's as good as you remember from your childhood.
For as long as anyone can recall, this acre of land at Falls and Joppa roads has belonged to generations of the McCaffrey family, who once owned a horse farm that took in the acre plus the land where the Green Spring Station office buildings and shops now stand.
The name Windy Valley, however, derives from conversations at this natural collection point. "People used to come in here and talk, talk, talk; and it's in a windy spot, weather-wise," says
Mabel McCaffrey, the matriarch of the family, who usually is behind the cash register.
She runs the business with her sons Joseph ("Jody"), Phillip Bartus ("Bart"), Terrance Kevin ("Terry") and Shawn Thomas, her youngest and the maker of the homemade ice cream. Her husband, Joseph Daniel McCaffrey, died Feb. 20.
Mrs. McCaffrey says the ice cream shop opened as a small Falls Road stand about 1946, the same year the old Greenspring Inn (now an oriental restaurant, jewelry store and bank) got its rounded stone facade. Almost immediately, Windy Valley proved popular destination for Baltimoreans out on Sunday drives. The shop has outlasted by years its neighbor and main homemade ice cream competitor, Emerson Farms, now the site of a bank at Greenspring Valley and Falls roads.
Windy Valley may not be fancy, but there seldom is any shortage of expensive BMWs, Volvos and Saabs on the parking lot. There are also a number of battered pickup trucks and rusty Fords. Its patronage is an easy mix of Redwood Street lawyers, construction workers and Pikesville mothers, as well as many students from St. Paul's School (for boys), St. Paul's School for Girls and Maryvale, all up the hill on Falls Road, St. Timothy's over on Greenspring Avenue and Park School down south on Old Court Road.
The young ice cream dippers don't wear Oriole caps here. As is only proper in the corner store of the Greenspring Valley private school neighborhood, they proudly announce their allegiance with St. Paul's Crusader cotton lids.
"We get wiped out of Gatorade during a lacrosse game," Mrs. McCaffrey says as she punches out a few Maryland Lottery tickets, then sells a customer a pouch of Beech Nut chewing tobacco.
Windy Valley is a business compound that has grown like weeds after an August rainstorm. The main building, which began as an ice cream stand, now has a lunch counter, tables and a few
pinball machines. In the rear of the acre sits a pit beef stand, a snow ball shed, a farm produce shack and a pony ring.
The McCaffreys have four Shetland ponies (Duchess, Snowball, Dusty and Molly), brought there each day in horse trailers from the family farm. The rides go for a dollar for a couple of circuits around the ring, which is shaded by an arching mulberry tree, a reminder of what this part of the world was like before the developers arrived.
When Joseph Daniel McCaffrey was living, and before Green Spring Station was constructed, the family had thoroughbred horses, the animals so prized in this part of Baltimore County. One colt, J.D. May (named for Joseph Daniel McCaffrey and Mabel), won the Tri-State Futurity at Charles Town, W. Va.
By the 1970s, the McCaffreys had offers to sell their farm, which they did in parcels. (The oldest house on the property, once owned by Stephen Cockey, was disassembled and moved to Rockland Village.)
The Wine Merchant, just to the north of Windy Valley, arrived in the middle of that decade. The Green Spring Professional Building came about 10 years ago. Since then, what is today recognized as Green Spring Station has assumed the look of an upscale office park, with a racket club and expensive shops.
"There's no doubt about it, Windy Valley is a landmark," says Bob Tarring, a Towson resident who recalls the place as not being much changed from the 1950s. "People go in there for a cup of coffee and to sit and talk. Business meetings too. You'll see the Bouchers, the Obrechts, the Mullans. You don't know who you might run into.
"People congregate at Falls and Joppa for their coffee," Mr. Tarring says. "But there's also the gas station and a large row of telephones. Business people check their next appointments from those phones. They are always in use."
What does the future hold for Windy Valley? Mrs. McCaffrey says she continues to have offers. "If they come across with the right amount," she says, "I'm gone."