Plenty of parkland, small-town flavor

May 15, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Despite its uncivilized name, Savage may well be the most well-defined, tightly-knit and neighborly community in Howard County.

The community was built around the cotton duck mill named for its main financier, Philadelphia merchant John Savage. Incorporated by 1822, the mill was the core of a thriving community until the mill company and the residents' economic fortunes dissolved in 1947.

Now the mill is thriving again, as a giant antiques mall, an incubator for unique retailers and a home for artists and craft-makers after nine years of renovation.

Alongside the mill's revival, the community itself has grown, populated mainly by government workers from Washington and the state's largest employer, the nearby National Security Agency.

The community has evolved from a broken mill town to a community with clout -- reflected in its abundance of county parkland, recreational facilities and new schools.

"I love Savage. There's a lot of parkland, and I love to walk in the woods. I saw a red-tailed falcon here," says Dottie Michaels, 50, who works for the mill's Antique Center I, II & III and lives in a portico-ringed house with a cupola on Washington Street. The house is known as the Baldwin Mansion, after William H. Baldwin Jr., who owned the mill during and after the Civil War, and is surrounded by 19th-century houses built by the mill company and rented to millworkers.

Now antique dealers come from more than a dozen states to sell everything from brass bed warmers to Confederate currency, says Jay Winer, general partner in the Savage Mill Limited Partnership.

Mr. Winer's family has owned the mill since the 1950s, but it has been the last decade that has seen its transformation.

In 1965, it was described in a book by Vera Ruth Filby, "Savage, Maryland": "From the river it looks forlorn and abandoned. Windows are broken and wild grape vines climb through. The water wheel is gone. The land, with its relentless fertility, is beginning to close in."

But now the mill's polished interiors are home to more than 35 specialty shops, more than 50 artists' and craft-makers'studios and 60,000 square feet of antiques displays. Plans are in the works to build a small conference center and guest rooms overlooking the confluence of the Little Patuxent and Middle Patuxent rivers, Mr. Winer says.

For a Howard County community that has many of the same amenities that Columbia homeowners pay a premium for, homes in Savage are a bargain.

In the last 12 months, 10 homes were sold within Savage's 20763 ZIP code, averaging about $126,000. Just north, in Columbia's Huntington East neighborhood, which shares schools with Savage, five homes were sold, averaging about $150,000.

Most of the Savage homes, built 20 to 30 years ago, "don't have the glitzy bells and whistles that you see in new homes today," Joyce Melbourne of Laurel-based Melbourne, Feagin and Hammersmith Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate says.

"On the other hand, the construction is very solid. The maturity of the shrubbery and trees is unmatched in other parts of the county and it's more of a small-town atmosphere." Through the Savage Civic Association, the unincorporated village is also a loud voice in county government hearings in Howard County, where loosely connected bedroom communities are seldom as organized unless they are directly affected by land use or other policies.

"We have a tradition on land use and education issues of being a part of things," says County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, She got her start in county politics lobbying for a new elementary school as president of the civic association.

She credits the community organizations, particularly the boys' and girls' club and the volunteer fire department, with providing the glue that keeps the village together.

When community leaders or local politicians want to meet for lunch, they often choose one of Savage's favorite meeting places, like Pop's General Store and Ma's Kettle, both on Baltimore Street.

Unlike many other Howard County communities, Savage has already fought most of its battles against suburban growth. The last major incursion was the sprawling Bowling Brook Farms, which brought luxury townhouses and rental apartments to the south side of Gorman Road, one of two ways out of Savage.

Now the village's civic association focuses its attention on projects such as a planned -- and, for the most part, welcome -- shopping center on the site of former Freestate Raceway, just south of the village.

Savage is suited for families with opposing commutes to Baltimore and Washington, as it is about halfway between the two cities and a mile from both Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

And when its residents get home, they can take advantage of Savage Park, which features baseball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts.


Population: 2,285 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 40 minutes

Public schools: Bollman Bridge Elementary School, Patuxent Valley Middle School, Hammond High School

Shopping: Pop's General Store and Wawa convenience store on Baltimore Street

Nearest mall: Laurel Centre Mall, four miles south

Points of interest: Historic Savage Mill, with three antique centers, unique merchandise and artists' studios; Carroll Baldwin Hall, the community's town hall; the 1869 Bollman Truss Bridge, the last of its kind surviving. The suspension bridge was designed by Wendel Bollman of Baltimore, who pioneered the use of iron in bridge construction

Average price of a new home*: $126,000 (10 sales)

Zip code: 20763

* Average price for homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service over the past 12 months

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