The suburbanization of a farm community

December 19, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

Amid the rolling hills and walnut trees of Glenelg in northwest Howard County, change is coming.

Until recently, county zoning rules required new-home lots in the area to be at least 3 acres. There are no high-density condominium communities here or smart-looking townhouse units lined up row after row.

But, to be sure, the traditional farming community is heading slowly toward suburbanization. And there has been little opposition from residents.

"You have to face the fact that growth is going to occur when you live near two large cities," said Shirley Crist Meighan, 69, who was raised on a 175-acre dairy farm and was principal of West Friendship Elementary School.

"It was pretty rural in the days I grew up," she said. "It was all farms, and you had a lot of experiences with open lands and streams."

Families were large, and children -- involved with farming chores -- were participants in local 4-H club activities. The biggest event of the year, she said, was the Farm Bureau picnic, held each Independence Day.

Believing that 3-acre lots were more quickly eating up farmland, the Howard County Zoning Board rezoned the western county in 1992. Now, developers are required to devote large tracts to preservation easements but are allowed to cluster houses on lots as small as one-third of an acre.

"Personally, I feel that 3 acres is too much land for a person to take care of," said Elmira Seibert, 70, whose husband's family has lived in the Glenelg area for three generations. "But I've never tried to change the zoning."

There are good reasons why old-timers like Mrs. Seibert haven't resisted the conversion of Glenelg from an area of grain, dairy and beef cattle farms to one of huge suburban houses sold mostly to professional couples who commute to offices in Baltimore, Washington and Columbia.

For one thing, suburbanization has come gradually. Old-timers talk about the construction of the Ten Oaks Plaza -- a strip center built 10 years ago -- as if it had been put up yesterday. And just two home developments of any size -- Crystal Clear and Roscommon Estates -- have gone up in the past decade.

"I guess it's all for the better," said Thomas G. Clark, 73, who grew up on part of the 139-acre Glenelg farm his grandparents owned.

The change has made money for longtime residents. Along with her husband, Mrs. Seibert sold off 34 acres of the family's farm for custom home lots in the late 1980s, at a time when Glenelg land was fetching $110,000 to $120,000 an acre.

"We were lucky to have sold when we did," said Mrs. Seibert, noting that land values in the area began to slump in the late 1980s.

Glenelg was settled by Scottish immigrants in the 1700s, according to Howard County Historical Society records. Glenelg a Highland village in northwest Scotland.

Joetta Cramm, a Howard County historian, said Glenelg took its name from the mansion built in the early 1850s by J. Washington Tyson, commissary general of the Army.

In 1954, Glenelg Country School opened in the mansion, which remains part of the school's building complex on Folly Quarter Road. Although Glenelg Country School has enlarged dramatically in its three decades, other elements of life in the rural area have been slower to evolve.

Children still have large outdoor areas where they can play -- without their parents having to worry about traffic and other problems common to suburban life.

And Glenelg residents still enjoy harvesting walnuts at the end of each summer. Both English walnuts and black walnuts, baked )) into cookies and cakes, were a childhood favorite for J. Thomas Eyre, a Glenelg resident whose paternal grandparents farmed off West Ivory Road in the community.

"There are still a lot of old-timers in Glenelg, and I have a lot of respect for them," said Mr. Eyre, whose parents 46 years ago founded Eyre Bus & Travel in Daisy, a Howard County community just to the west.

Houses in new Glenelg communities are typically four- and five-bedroom Colonials with 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of living space.

"Glenelg is moving toward more upper-scale 'estate-type' homes," said Elaine Northrup, an agent for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty who specializes in the sale of expensive Howard County homes.


Population: 795 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 35 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 75 minutes

Public schools: Glenelg High School; Bushy Park Elementary and Glenwood Middle School, in Glenwood, 3 miles northwest.

Shopping: Ten Oaks Plaza, at Triadelphia Road and Ten Oaks Road.

Nearest mall: The Mall in Columbia, 9 miles east.

Points of interest: Glenelg Country School; University of Maryland Central Farm, an experimental farm, 4 miles east; Franciscan Fathers Novitiate, 4 miles east; Patuxent River State Park, borders to the west.

Average price of single-family home *: $280,000.

ZIP code: 21737

* Homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service during the last 12 months.

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