From Farmland To A Changed Land

POSTMARK: FORK

June 27, 1993|By WAYNE HARDIN

Fork kind of happens without warning. A sign announcing DTC you're here stands by Vera Gordon's stone home on Harford Road just south of Fork Road. An American flag flies on a pole in the 15-acre pasture in front of Mrs. Gordon's home and four red horses graze on the tall grass.

Mrs. Gordon, a 75-year-old widow, isn't home today. She's working over at the Long Green Valley Florists in nearby Glen Arm. She doesn't have to but says, "I've always liked dealing with the public."

"My husband and I met in Fork -- I was a telephone operator here -- and we got married in 1941," she says. "We raised two kids here -- one boy and one girl. I have roots here."

From 1945 to 1978, Vera and Raymond Earl Gordon Sr. ran a general store in this northeast Baltimore County village. Mrs. Gordon also was the Fork postmaster for 27 years. Today, the general store has been replaced by a veterinary hospital. The building and the hospital are owned by Dr. John R. Brooks. ("My examining table is where the candy counter was when I was a boy," he says.)

Long, green valleys surround the Fork crossroads of Harford Road and Fork Road. Here, at the town's one traffic light, you're five miles of rolling hills away from the white water of Big Gunpowder Falls and a mile from Harford County.

Around the intersection, the old general store lives again as the ,, veterinary hospital plus beauty shop and post office. The two-lane bowling alley is an antique store (still has the original floor, though). The grocery is now Erma Mueller's deli and "made from scratch" bakery. The telephone exchange is a dentist's office. The hardware store/funeral home building is gone, replaced by a snappy red, white and blue strip shopping center across from the Citgo station. The center includes a hardware store, cleaners, video shop and convenience store.

Fork's importance as a farming community is past, but the town, which has been around since the early 1700s, still has plenty left to offer.

"I love it here," says Jesse Carter, 16, leaving Fork Video with a copy of the movie "Passenger 57." "There's nothing to do, but you don't have to worry about crime and people crowded up close to you."

Mark Danenmann, 60, worked at the Gordons' general store as a teen-ager, before Uncle Sam took him away for the only years he hasn't lived in Fork.

"I was born a mile north of the crossroads and now I live a mile south," he says.

Mr. Danenmann, manager of Fork Hardware in Fork Plaza, represents continuity in the village. He worked in the old hardware store for 36 years and moved along with it to the strip shopping center.

Allen Warfield, 81, a resident for "50 some years," is at the hardware store when he hears a question about Fork and answers with his favorite words: "Come on, I'll show you."

Walking fast and talking faster, he gives a visitor a tour of town, pointing out the trees where the hotel once stood and the spot where the honey tree was by the old blacksmith shop, popping into Dr. Brooks' office to show the faded photograph of the old store, then driving over to Sunshine Avenue to show off the Fork Christian Church, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.

"You ought to have enough by now," he says. "Gotta go."

Thunder booms to the south and sprinkles turn to rain.

By late afternoon, it stops. Don Smith, 47, who runs aexcavation business in Fork, walks over the wet grass in the cemetery of Fork United Methodist Church (1771), on Fork Road. He's looking for the grave of a Fork man who defied Confederate raiders in the Civil War, escaped and now has his name on a historical marker. He finds the grave and then looks out over the tombstones.

"My family is buried all over this cemetery," he says.

Forkians have a fondness for a past but they don't seem wrapped up in it. With new developments cropping up, the community is growing. Its population is hard to determine because its boundaries are uncertain. The estimates range from 300 to 600 or so people.

"We have a really unique community here," says Dr. Brooks, 45, who is also a farmer and has been in Fork since age 4, when his family came here to farm. "Progress is going to happen. The idea is to make it a positive."

Dr. Brooks sees himself as "in the middle between the folks" who want the community to change a lot and those who don't want it to change at all. He understands the feelings and says life in Fork today should be a case of "accepting change but still keeping the community the best it can be."

At the same time, he can't suppress a wistfulness.

"Now they're growing houses where they used to grow cattle and hogs," he says. "I don't fight progress but I see the changes now when I drive by so many farms where I used to work. It's kind of sad."

FACTS ABOUT FORK

THE NAME: It has nothing to do with the eating utensil. Instead, a local history says, it came about because travelers had to go that way, to the "fork of the Falls," at times of flooding of the Big Gunpowder Falls and Little Gunpowder Falls.

LOCAL HERO: In 1864, Ishmael Day defied an order from one of Col. Harry Gilmore's Confederate cavalrymen to lower his Union flag, shot the fellow and escaped. The raiders burned his house and barn. "An honest man, the noblest mark of God" is engraved on Mr. Day's headstone in the Methodist church cemetery.

DETECTIVE STORY: In the late 1940s, Postmaster Vera Gordon told postal inspectors about a suspicious man who mailed a bunch of furs from Fork to Philadelphia. The man was tracked down and turned out to be a fur thief. A story about Mrs. Gordon, along with her picture, ran in True Detective magazine under the headline "I Caught a Fur Thief in Fork."

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