A Linthicum who can tell the growth of Linthicum

JACQUES KELLY

April 05, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Sweetser Linthicum, 86, has a distinct mental image of light rail, circa 1912.

"It was night time and my mother took me down to the old Linthicum railroad station. The train came in and I saw the white electric sparks overhead," says the man whose ancestors once owned and later built the neighborhood known today as Linthicum.

"My grandfather gave the right of way to the Annapolis Short Line to get the railroad through here. It was all farmland then. The people came with the railroad. The place just grew and grew," says the gentleman whose graceful white house, the Old Orchard, sits just above the light rail streetcar line that made its debut this past weekend.

There are still plenty of Linthicum families in Linthicum, or Linthicum Heights, the name of what has developed into one of Anne Arundel County's most neatly settled and quiet neighborhoods of old-fashioned bungalows and cottages nestled around a classic village train depot.

The Linthicum vision of building a community alongside the railroad tracks is apparent today. This residential hamlet could be a miniature Christmas garden, with trains, bells, horns, crossing gates, neat tree-lined streets, houses, a fire company, small shopping center and schools.

Five Linthicum brothers -- Seth, John Charles, Wade Hampton, Sweetser and Dr. G. Milton -- founded the Linthicum Heights Company in June 1908 to develop what had been a family farm. Their initial objective was to build large homes and make their land into the Roland Park of northern Anne Arundel County.

"The houses were quite large at first, with many rooms and big porches, but as time went on, the newer ones they built were smaller," Linthicum says of the work performed by his father and uncles.

The streets are named Sycamore, Hawthorne, Maple, Dogwood, Laurel, Chestnut and Catalpa. The Linthicums also added names of family and friends. Mary Del Road was named for Mary Delmah Linthicum, who died in March 1992.

Sweetser was an old family name taken from the Sweetsers who once owned a toll bridge over the Patapsco River. The thoroughfare named Medora is derived from Medora Stoll, whom Sweetser Linthicum recalls as "a fine lady who lived in these parts."

Prior to World War I, nearly everybody in these parts rode the train, either the Annapolis Short Line or the Washington Baltimore and Annapolis, often called the WB&A.

From 1908 to the early 1920s, Linthicum (or Linthicum Heights) was served by two competing railroads. At the Maple Road grade crossing, the WB&A's big electric cars branched off to cross through what is today's BWI Airport property; passed through Fort Meade and Bowie; and stopped at Washington's New York Avenue.

At various times the trains called at three Baltimore terminals -- Camden Station, a large station at Lombard and Howard and a smaller depot at Park Avenue and Marion Street.

The railroad had an effect on Linthicum economics. Home lots closer to the station were more costly than those farther away. And because the line ran through the middle of the neighborhood, there were the inevitable right and wrong sides of the tracks.

The Depression and the auto killed the WB&A; it was sold at public auction on the Anne Arundel County Courthouse steps in 1935. The two rail lines were cobbled down to one Baltimore-Annapolis route. Passenger rail service lasted until 1950. Freight trains, however, never really stopped serving the industrial plants along the little line.

"At night, when you wanted to signal a train to stop, you rolled up a newspaper and lighted it to make a torch. The motorman saw your signal and stopped. Later on, the railroad installed a little electric switch in the station that indicated a stop," Linthicum says.

"All along the Patapsco River -- the north side is Baltimore County and the south is Anne Arundel -- my family had its farm and willow trees. The willow was an important crop. The men would come and strip the trees that grew near the water. They'd gather the branches in bundles, then dry them in a barn. The willow limbs would be woven into marketing baskets and porch furniture.

"The Patapsco was an important river. It was navigable in the old days up all the way to Elkridge Landing. The family loaded its crops on boats. When they reached the Baltimore wharves, the boats unloaded.

"People first went to Baltimore by boat, then train, then car; now we're back to trains again," says the senior Linthicum. Just then, a light rail car goes past and blows its loud horn at the Maple Road grade crossing.

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