Quiet, historic town recalled for past glory

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE

August 14, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

At one time, people poured into the western Carroll County town of Union Bridge to trade or barter, shop at numerous storefront businesses, catch a movie, or eat somewhere along busy Main Street.

But now there's a slow, steady pace in Union Bridge, a town of 900 which resembles the setting of a black-and-white western -- gray and still, but with an undercurrent of something just about to happen.

It just never does.

"I guess you'd just call it kind of a quiet, historic town," Perry L. Jones Jr., the town's mayor, says matter-of-factly. "I don't know. I really don't know what else to say about it."

The Western Maryland Railroad used to bring people to Union Bridge to soak up its historic flavor as they shopped at the most modern stores. But those stores have long faded away.

It seems the only moving and shaking going on in Union Bridge comes from the truck traffic and heavy machines at Lehigh Portland Cement, the town's neighbor and a major employer.

But things are changing, slowly. After a steady decline, Main Street is due for a face-lift.

"Part of the plan is to determine what kinds of businesses people want to see on Main Street and try to figure out the best way to attract those kinds of businesses," says Brenda Dinne, the county's planning liaison to the town.

"Some things may involve just getting people to maintain the outsides of their property, paint the buildings, or get the landlords involved."

Union Bridge, incorporated in 1872, has a history of getting involved and getting things done.

Located in what is called the Piedmont Plateau and settled as a farming community before the Revolutionary War, the town is named for a project that was completed with the utmost cooperation.

A bridge was built over the northern swamp and nearby Pike Creek by citizens on both sides of the area. Because the collaborative effort was so successful, the name of "Union Bridge" was suggested to the Postal Service as the official designation of the town in 1820.

Little growth took place in the village before the Western Maryland Railroad reached the town in 1862. Union Bridge was the final destination of the line, and the rail company built homes for its employees and set up its offices in town.

Though the line expanded west in 1871, the town remained important to the railroad. The Western Maryland Railroad Depot was built in 1875.

A brick depot and office building was erected on Main Street in 1902. It now is a railroad museum.

The cement company moved to town in 1912 and brought many jobs. But the noise and dust from the plant chased from town the Maryland Collegiate Institute, which had organized in 1878.

Somewhere along the line, Union Bridge lost its Main Street businesses, and some of its allure.

Though the Maryland Midland Railway, a successor to the Western Maryland Railroad, brings people through town on various excursions and the activity-oriented EnterTrainment Line draws people to and through Union Bridge, the railroad is no longer a major economic player.

The cement plant provides the town with a tax base -- and has become more people-friendly, addressing the dust and noise problems as well as participating in community events.

Gone are the movie house, the corner grocery, the five-and-dime stores stocked with the necessities. Strip malls in nearby Westminster made shopping at those stores and corner shops obsolete.

Many folks would love to see the town returned to its former glory, but most are just happy Union Bridge has recently acquired a restaurant.

Original Pizza has been in business at the corner of the downtownsquare for eight years. Now, there is the Union Bridge Family Restaurant, which opened earlier this summer.

"It's beyond belief what we used to have," says Margaret Rinehart, 86, who has lived in town for more than 60 years. "Oh gosh, the stores and things. We had restaurants, we had stores, a lot of stores."

"Everybody seems to be tickled we have [another] restaurant," she says.

Mrs. Rinehart and Madalene Utermahlen, 72, an area native, were chatting about the town at the local pharmacy, where 5-cent cups of coffee draw residents daily to two tables at the front of the store.

"Union Bridge has really changed from the old times," says Mrs. Utermahlen, who lives with her sister in the northern part of town. "If only they could put it back to the way it used to be."

"You never go back to the way things used to be," Mrs. Rinehart

says. "Things always push forward."

400 new homes

Development has been pushing forward since 1990, when Towson dentist G. Jackson Phillips first brought plans for developing a 171-acre parcel on the eastern end of town to the town Planning and Zoning Commission.

The 400-plus unit development will include single-family houses, duplexes and townhouses.

Some residents were opposed to annexing the land. More than 120 residents signed a petition calling for a vote on the issue. But in August 1992, residents voted to annex about 110 acres. The rest will be open space.

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