Union Bridge hopes to revive Main Street


November 18, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

They came for excitement, a bargain, or just a little sightseeing.

They came to what was then the hippest of happenin' places, the mecca of Northwest Carroll entertainment.

They came to Union Bridge?

"We were really getting away when we came from Ladiesburg to Union Bridge back then," Doris Stitely said, leaning across the counter at the Union Bridge Pharmacy, where she has worked for 17 years.

"Yes, this was quite a place back then," agreed Margaret Rinehart, 85, a native of the area who also recalls Union Bridge as a hub of excitement.

The Union Bridge of that era has since faded like the peeling paint on columns supporting some of the half-dozen empty buildings on Main Street.

But town officials hope support of Union Bridge's participation in the state Main Street program will help to rejuvenate it.

Officials have scheduled a meeting on the state program for 7 p.m. Dec. 8. at the Town Hall.

"Main Street's future rests in your hands," Clerk-Treasurer Kathleen D. Kreimer said, reading from the most recent town newsletter, which is distributed monthly to residents. She added, "We'd like to get [residents'] opinion on what types of businesses they'd like to see on Main Street and how they'd like the area to look."

Many residents want it to look as vibrant as it did when children ran alongside their parents to the movie house, which operated in a building on East Broadway, just off Main Street.

"I remember when all the black folks had to sit in the balcony to watch the picture," Mayor Perry L. Jones said, as he pointed to the building. "It was funny because the white folks thought they were giving us the worst of it, and we actually had the best seats."

In addition to movies and shopping, people came downtown to bowl, eat at various restaurants and visit such sites as the Western Maryland Railroad station.

Residents like Mrs. Rinehart remember when clothes, housewares or a haircut were just a few blocks from home.

"These were all stores," she said, pointing through the pharmacy window toward the vacant buildings across the street. "All these were stores and shops."

"Engel's Country Store, it used to be in the pizza shop [Original Pizza] on the corner," Mrs. Stitely said.

Mrs. Rinehart remembered the country store, too.

"They had bins all along the walls, bins filled with . . . dried fruit," said Mrs. Rinehart, who has lived in the area all her life, except for four years in Cumberland.

"And upstairs, they had stockings, pans, everything you could ever imagine," she said. "And they had fish. I loved the fish."

Mrs. Rinehart sadly recalled the variety of shops that once existed, such as the furniture store once housed in the pharmacy building and the barbershop on the corner.

"But it [the town] just went to pieces," she observed. "You know how it is with small towns."

Mayor Jones plans to form a business association through which merchants can help rid Main Street of the "for sale" and "for rent" signs.

"I want to get the ideas from the business people about how to attract other business, how to keep them, and help them survive," Mr. Jones said.

Pharmacist Donald D. Elliott, the local delegate to the state House who has run the drugstore for almost 20 years, wouldn't mind the town looking the way it did in the past.

"I think it would be nice to have a restaurant back in the area," Mr. Elliott said. "I think that for many years, when we did have a restaurant in town, it did reasonably good business. I think there is still a need."

Tom Winebrener, head of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission, who has owned the Union Bridge Hardware Co. for 40 years, agreed.

It is such ideas that town officials hope residents will express at the December meeting, where representatives from the Maryland Main Street Center, a part of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, will present further information about the program.

"They are going to help us with the process of developing our plan, but the community needs to get involved," said Brenda Dinne, the town's county planning liaison.

"They can decide what types of building . . . the style of aesthetic improvements," Ms. Dinne said. "Like new, more historic-looking street lights, or benches on the streets."

Ms. Dinne said the first step for the town will be a strong show of support.

"It probably won't be the only community meeting there is, but it is important that people come to this one," Ms. Dinne said. "It will be the basis for what we will do, which direction we take."

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