Getting Beyond A Harford Crossroad

December 13, 1992|By JOHN CAMEJO

HICKORY — I tell a friend in Harford County that I want to write a story about Hickory.

"It's only a crossroad outsida Bel Air!" he says, clearly puzzled.

Hickory's so much more than a crossroad. If he only knew . . .

At the junction of Routes 1 and 543 near Bel Air, Hickory has been a center of activity for as long as anyone can remember. Hunters, horse breeders, churchgoers, commuters -- everyone, it seems, has had to go there for provisions, the spiritual kind and the down-to-earth kind. What my friend overlooks, as he drives down Route 1 and stops for gas at the Mobil station or candy at the Wawa, is that there's life in Hickory beyond the businesses at the intersection.

Notice that the doors of St. Ignatius Church are open.

Marion Townsley and Louise Wilson meet me there. He's a pastoral associate. She has been the church's sacristan -- caretaker of vestments and vessels -- for nearly 70 years. She offers me the deluxe tour. Here, there are stained-glass windows; there, German lithographs depicting the Stations of the Cross.

We walked around the church grounds, surrounded by tombstones, some new and ornate, several covered in ivy and moss, some barely legible, telling of past lives and generations. Thanks to their forebears' perseverance, parishioners recently celebrated the church's bicentennial. The archdiocese once considered razing the church to make way for a bigger edifice, Ms. Wilson says. Of course, there were objections.

"Too many memories here," she says. "Besides, they don't know who they're dealing with. Father Frederick once said that the reason the town was named Hickory was not for the forest surrounding the town but the thickheaded parishioners who belong to the church, and we are still the same way."

I ask Ms. Wilson for her recollections of other town landmarks. For example, what is the now-abandoned white building so prominent on Route 1?

"That was a cannery, a very active part of town at one time . . . ," she begins, and then her memories pour out. "The Hickory elementary school used to be the Negro school. . . . And there used to be a semipro baseball team here."

Games were held Sundays behind Hanlon Brown's restaurant, Brownie's Log Cabin, now the site of the Village Video Store, she says.

"He loved it when they had their games on Sunday," she said. "People would buy their lunch from him and watch the games from his parking lot. Say, you should call up one of the Ripken brothers. They used to play here. . . . Yep, they're in the phone book."

William Ripken confirms that he, his brother Cal Sr. and other Ripkens played for Aberdeen's team against Hickory at the Hickory field. Call Dick Hall, he suggests. The Oriole Hall of Famer played for Hickory.

You had to live within 20 miles of Hickory to wear the flannel uniform emblazoned with the town name, recalls Mr. Hall, who is now an accountant in Baltimore.

"When we played the Aberdeen team it seemed as though everyone was named Ripken," he says. "We had some pretty good teams that played in the Susquehanna League. . . . In '49 we played a championship game against Elkton at Hickory. About 2,000 people showed up to watch, a sizable crowd even by today's standards, to view a semipro game. Of course, Hanlon Brown had a banner day."

The Susquehanna League discontinued in the mid-'50s. Today, there's no sign of the old diamond, just weeds and woods and the backs of businesses. Adjacent to the old ball field once sat the general store and filling station. Today it's a pizza and sub shop. Farther down Route 1 is a long, red metal building where you can buy a case of beer and box of ammunition: American Sportsman Supplies, serving area hunters who practice their sport in the woods and farmland that fill the region beyond the junction.

"The area is affordable and safe," says Marcos Bignoli, a professional polo player from Argentina who exercises and boards 24 ponies at Victoria's Stables, about a quarter mile from St. Ignatius Church. He works the polo circuit -- summers in Maryland, winters in Florida, he says. and "I was lucky to find the perfect farm and location to keep my horses."

Next time my buddy drives through here, maybe he'll see beyond the crossroads.

HICKORY, NOW AND THEN

BEFORE THE SETTLERS: In the woods across from St. Ignatius and the roller rink, there's an American Indian burial ground. On an area farm, says Wendell Clayson, owner of American Sportsman Supplies, a big flint rock shows wear; the Susquehannocks chipped away at it.

IN THE OLD DAYS: Where Hickory's veterinary hospital sits today once was an inn and a carriage house, a stop-off point between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

HICKORY'S BEST SIGN: "Weigh Station and Taxidermy Shop" on the door of the Gunpowder Indoor Range ("A Place to Shoot"). The taxidermist moved to Forest Hill long ago but the sign, it seems, is just so familiar that no one has the urge to take it down.

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