A Friendly Town With A Ghost

POSTMARK: BUTLER

October 11, 1992|By WAYNE HARDIN

Nine and a half miles north of the Baltimore Beltway, up the loopy green hills of Falls Road, lies Butler, "home of fast horses, beautiful women and fine antiques."

The claim appears on brochures of the Butler Peddler Ltd., situated in a commercial center at Falls and Butler roads, in north Baltimore County horse country.

The Peddler sells antiques. So do a couple of other stores across Falls Road. Then you have a flower and gift shop, a general store, liquor store, post office, a custom kitchens designing firm, landscaping business, artists' cooperative, duck decoy shop, a mail-order saddlery business and a quarry. And don't forget the office of the chairman of the board of Fairlanes Inc. But if you need gasoline or feel drawn by the golden arches of a fast-food chain, you're out of luck.

Most of Butler has been around a while. Its businesses were here before restrictive county zoning was instituted that prevents more.

"The zoning is so tough, Butler won't be built up," says Louise Hardie, 37, co-owner of the Coop, the artists' cooperative.

As a shopping area, Butler is unhurried and friendly, hardly the hum and blur of the mall. Some say even Tom Selleck's 1988 arrival to film "Her Alibi" didn't excite people too much.

Maybe 50 or so people live in Butler proper, (although many more get their mail here).

"Butler is a nice small town where everybody knows everybody and everybody likes everybody," says Pat Parks, 53, owner of Butler Store and Liquors, who has lived in Butler 43 years.

Besides Ms.' Parks store, a visitor to Butler will also find the 1828 Black Rock Particular Primitive Baptist Church (congregation of 25, "definite membership" of seven) and its community cemetery, a volunteer fire hall, and off Falls Road across a one-lane bridge and up a crooked hill, the quarry where the famed Butler stone is removed by hammer and hand and used in the construction of local buildings. The horse country most associated with the village is toward Glyndon along Butler Road, where the Grand National hunt race is run each spring.

Local historians have been stumped about the town's name.

"My wife did a thorough job of trying to find out but she never could," says Sam Adams, 83, father of Pat Parks. Mr. Adams bought Butler Store and moved up from Govans in 1948. His wife, Mildred, who died several years ago, was postmistress.

County historian John McGrain also has tried to find the source of the town's name and says it remains "as mysterious as ever."

Bicyclists, peddling Falls Road, love Butler. "This is a big bicycle stop on the weekends," says Ms. Parks. She's ready -- soft drink and juice machines outside, sandwiches, muffins and Gatorade inside.

Just down Butler Road from the store is another attraction for bicyclists and others, to the frustration of the family who lives there. The unusual compound of stone buildings, once open from the road, now has a fence with a security gate.

"Before we got the fence," says a family member who does not wish to be identified, "I sat out at the end of the lane one Sunday. Thirty-five cars drove up and people asked for tours. We had bicyclists, walkers and motorcyclists on top of that."

Some of the unwanted visitors thought the buildings were some sort of ruins. (The once-crumbling structures are now undergoing a major renovation.) And at least one asked if the place was the Cloisters, a castlelike children's museum in the same area of the county.

As if a house that draws curiosity-seekers weren't enough, Butler also has a ghost. She resides in the main building of Butler Peddler's complex.

T. Rogers Harrison, current and 53rd owner of the building he traces back to 1824, wrote in the Butler Gazette, a local-lore paper he once printed, that the ghost is Cynthia Poteet, who died there after a sad life.

Among "bizarre occurrences" there: a young girl crying, a door that locks itself, gusts of cold air in hallways.

"It's spooky," says Jennifer Feshe, 27, a Peddler employee.

H. Gordon Turnbaugh, who will be 79 this month, has heard those stories and more in his day. Mr. Turnbaugh says he's "the oldest man in Butler who was born here." Everybody calls him the unofficial mayor, with "city hall" the front porch of a Falls Road home owned by his grandfather and his father before him. "We don't really have a mayor but they call me that anyway," he says. He can talk at length about all things Butler -- people and businesses.

Of all the business offices in Butler, the most unexpected is probably one situated in a building owned by Andrew Gehrmann Jr., who himself owns a business in the town, Graceline Kitchens showroom in the old but remodeled Butler Hotel.

One of Mr. Gehrmann's buildings has become the office of Mac Clayton, chairman of the board of Fairlanes Inc., the bowling company, which has its corporate headquarters in Hunt Valley.

"We were out of room there," says Mr. Clayton, who had moved from Los Angeles and bought a nearby farm. "I liked the serenity of the country, but still being close to my home and the headquarters."

So Sept. 1, he settled into his new office in a building that old-timers say once was a barn for the Butler Hotel, in the village of bucolic commercialism.

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