Where 'Staying Put' Is A Way Of Life

POSTMARK: DUBLIN

May 29, 1994|By BOB ALLEN

Bob Day stands under a massive pine tree and gazes across the Dublin Southern Cemetery. A lifelong resident of Dublin, Mr. Day has roots that go four or five generations deep in the local soil.

"Those Days over there are most likely children of either the first or second John Day, who was either my great-great or great-great-great grandfather," he says, pointing toward a cluster of weather-beaten old headstones.

"My mother and father are buried over there, beside my son, who was killed in an accident back in 1973," Mr. Day, 66, adds as he treads lightly across the burial ground. "My wife's father and her grandmother and sister are right over there. And when the time comes, my wife and I'll be in here, too."

You go back far enough and just about everybody in this cemetery is related, says Mr. Day, owner of a Dublin used car and truck dealership, president of the local cemetery association, and probably the closest thing this unincorporated northern Harford County hamlet has to a mayor. "Just about all of us in Dublin came from the same five or six original families."

At first glance, there is nothing arresting about this town of about 500 people, no famous historical sites or ties to illustrious personages. And if you happen to blink while passing through the junction of Routes 440 and 136 on your way to nearby U.S. 1, you might miss the town altogether. It's an unremarkable-looking cluster of houses and small businesses a few miles below the Susquehanna River and the Pennsylvania line. A half-mile from its sleepy crossroads cows graze lazily in pastures.

But for people like Bob Day and his wife, Jean, whose local family ties also go back nearly two centuries, Dublin is much more than just a dot on the state highway map. It's the only place to be.

"People here tend to stay put, it's a way of life," Jean Day, also 66, notes with quiet pride. "Bob and I have been married 47 years. We went to school together from the first grade and we stayed put. Most of our seven kids stayed put, and so have some of our grandchildren."

The grand anomaly of Dublin lies in its very name. No doubt, the settlement, which first showed up in recorded history around 1800 (it was one of Harford County's original election districts), was originally named by some homesick Irishman. But nobody, not even the Days, is quite sure who that Irishman was. And, also, there's never been a Catholic church in the immediate vicinity of this village whose very name evokes images of shamrocks. "The only churches we've had in Dublin have been Methodist," Bob Day says with a bemused shrug. "And Methodism is usually not the chosen religion of the Irish."

Indeed, one of Dublin's earliest landmarks was its first Methodist church, a log structure built sometime shortly after the turn of the last century. It has long since vanished from the landscape. Today, the stalwart Dublin United Methodist Church, built from Port Deposit granite in 1939 on the site of that first log chapel, is the community's symbolic rallying point.

Thus it goes with Dublin: The foundations of the present have been gracefully fashioned over the bones of the past. The antiquarian-looking Dublin Elementary School, with its stately brick facade, is Dublin's other prominent present-day landmark. It was built around the foundation of an old wooden schoolhouse that dated from about 1915.

Sitting in the large rambling house near Dublin's crossroads where they've lived for nearly 40 years, Bob and Jean Day, who is the United Methodist church's historian, pore over an 1878 map of Dublin -- one of many local historical artifacts they've accumulated over the years.

"Most of these houses [on the map] are still here," Mr. Day says with quiet reassurance. "Even the log house where my wife was raised just down the road is still standing."

"This used to be a poor farming and mining community," he adds. "A clannish place. You didn't stay around after dark if you didn't have any business here. Some of the old gravestones up in the cemetery were made from local slate, soapstone or green stone. Back then, that was all people could afford."

By 1858, Dublin was a thriving crossroads with its own post office. But in the decades since, the town, much to the delight of folks like the Days, has had the fortune of being outflanked by "progress." Once, it was a busy north- and southbound thoroughfare to the old Conowingo covered bridge over the Susquehanna. But that changed in the late 1920s when the bridge was flooded and traffic was routed to U.S. 1, across the new Conowingo Dam. These days, Dublin is not really on the way to anywhere.

There's a small food market, a hardware store, Mr. Day's dealership, the Dublin-Darlington volunteer fire company and not much else.

Which suits the Days and their neighbors just fine.

"People like Dublin like it is," insists Mrs. Day. "We don't want a shopping center or a mall here." Adds her husband: "If more people lived like this, it would be a better world."

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