Serenity of nature in an old-style village


January 02, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Carol Coleman likes to explore new areas. Out for a spring afternoon drive nearly 25 years ago, she stumbled into what many call one of Baltimore County's best-kept secrets.

This particular pre-Easter drive brought her to Purnell Drive. There, alongside the scenic Gwynns Falls stream, she saw a group of rowhouses. In the front yard of one, a woman sat in the sun reading a book. The tree in the yard was decorated with Easter eggs.

"I was so taken by the serenity of this place that I never forgot it," Mrs. Coleman, 53, recalled recently. In fact, the memory of the place lasted for a decade. In 1981, after moving back to the Baltimore area from Illinois, this was the place in which she searched for a house. She and her husband, William, bought a house that turned out to be next door to the woman with the Easter egg tree.

Purnell Drive is in the northern corner of a triangle formed by the city line, Gwynn Oak Avenue and Windsor Mill Road in western Baltimore County. Some know this community as Powhatan Hill, some as Gwynn Oak, some as Larchmont. But the most popular name is Old Woodlawn.

The community sprung up at the start of the 19th century after a cotton mill was built along the Gwynns Falls on a site now occupied by the Woodlawn Cemetery. Housing for workers at the mill grew up around it and became known as Powhatan Village, after the Powhatan Mill.

In 1902, the Woodlawn Cemetery Co. was formed. As the cemetery expanded, the old Powhatan Village was gradually torn down. Houses and business began going up around the intersection of Gwynn Oak Avenue and Windsor Mill Road on the other side of the Gwynns Falls. The houses spread from there up the hills and bluffs overlooking the stream. In 1904, the cemetery company succeeded in having the name of the community changed to Woodlawn.

Many old-timers still refer to the area as Gwynn Oak because of the 65-acre Gwynn Oak Amusement Park that opened in 1895 along the Gwynns Falls.

Like Bay Shore Park in Edgemere, Gwynn Oak was the end of a trolley line that brought in fun-seekers for more than a quarter-century. The park closed in 1972, and the site is now part of the county's greenway system.

In the late 1950s, the federal Social Security Administration complex opened on Security Boulevard and, with the Beltway, changed the quiet, out-of-the-way village feel of places like Old Woodlawn and Hebbville. There soon followed commercial strips and Security Square Mall.

Vestiges of that old village life remain. The community is anchored by Woodlawn Village at the intersection of Gwynn Oak Avenue and Windsor Mill Road. A throwback to older, less hectic times, the quaint business district features some longtime businesses, like Bauhof's Bakery, Kron's Meat Market, Woodlawn Pharmacy and Monaghan's Pub.

"You can walk into Kron's and order your own special cut of meat for your dinner that night, just like the old-fashioned way," Mrs. Coleman says.

"We take a personal interest in every cut of meat," says Pat Kron, who, with her husband, Chris, have operated the meat market since 1955. It's this personal touch that has kept the meat market in business despite the large supermarkets and discount food stores along Security Boulevard.

Across the Gwynns Falls from Purnell Drive, the terrain is hilly and thick, with majestic elm, poplar and oak trees. Many of the houses -- which range from small bungalows, Cape Cods, Colonials and Victorians with wraparound porches -- look down on the Gwynns Falls as it snakes from northwestern Baltimore County toward the city.

Joe Organ was caught by the beauty -- and the affordability -- of the community when he moved in 12 years ago. His home on Poplar Drive has a commanding view of the Gwynns Falls.

"For the amount of property we got and the location, we couldn't pass it up," says Mr. Organ, 47, a classical-music composer and former banker who grew up in Highlandtown. He paid $53,000 for his house and an adjacent empty lot.

Brenda Young, a flight attendant for USAir, and her husband, James Bennett, and their children moved to the community five years ago from an apartment in Laurel.

"We liked the racial diversity of the community," says Ms. Young, who lives on Purnell Drive. She commutes to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Her husband, a visual-information specialist with the U.S. Interior Department, drives each day to Herndon, Va.

According to the 1990 Census, the census tract that includes Old Woodlawn contains about 2,800 residents. Homes sell for between $75,000 and $110,000, said James Waddy, a Century 21 real estate agent whose office is in the heart of Woodlawn Village.

"With the stream and open space, the convenience to the Beltway and Security Square Mall, this is a very desirable place to live," Mr. Waddy says.

The community has two major community organizations -- the Gwynn Oak Improvement Association and the Gwynn Lake Improvement Association.

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