21 street lamps end 2 years of darkness

September 13, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

BUCKEYSTOWN -- Just about any evening, as the sun sets behind the rounded blue mountains on the western horizon, Dan Pelz and many of his neighbors can be found outside their Victorian and Colonial homes waiting for the town's 21 new street lamps to come on.

This nightly vigil may not seem so bizarre when you consider that for nearly two years, this old village -- a few miles south of Frederick and within the heavily traveled Interstate 270 corridor -- was in the dark.

It's even less odd when you hear that just about every available hand in this town of 150 had a role in the building of new goose-neck lampposts -- with decorative scrolls and radial shades over the electric lights -- that for the past week or so have lined and illuminated Buckeystown's main street.

"They're great looking -- something really to be proud of," said Mr. Pelz, owner of The Inn at Buckeystown, one of two bed-and-breakfast inns in town. "They're classy. They sure don't look homemade."

Buckeystown had streetlights before -- in one form or another since just after the turn of the century. But in early 1993 Potomac Edison Co. removed the old-style lamps because they were too costly to operate and maintain.

The utility did offer replacements -- sodium-vapor lamps with optional Colonial-style posts -- but town folks collectively said, no thanks. They had their hearts set on radial shades and lights just like those that had been here since the 1930s.

"Aesthetically, the radial lamp shades had already been part of the town," said Nancy Bodmer, a longtime Buckeystown resident who is credited with leading the drive to replace the lampposts that Potomac Edison took away. "It made more sense to use something that was part of our history."

The people of Buckeystown decided to build their own lampposts -- a task that proved to be formidable.

First, Mrs. Bodmer said, Potomac Edison was unwilling to save the radial lamp shades for the town or to inform residents of exact dates when similar street lamps elsewhere would be removed.

So, the night the lights went out in Buckeystown, Mrs. Bodmer followed Potomac Edison crews around and salvaged what radial shades she could. The power company said the town could have the fixtures, which Mrs. Bodmer figured were town property because, for decades, residents had been paying for the lights.

Other Buckeystown folks called salvage yards as far away as Hagerstown looking for any scraps that Potomac Edison may have sold. They also contacted residents in other towns with similar lamps -- places such as Doubs, Graceham and Lime Kiln -- and asked to be informed if lamps there were being taken down.

Residents formed the Buckeystown Preservation Society to raise money -- about $7,000 -- with which to build the new lampposts and install new streetlights.

Gary Richard, a Damascus resident and street-lamp enthusiast who owns a gasoline station in Buckeystown, built the lampposts. He also repaired and repainted many of the 21 old-fashioned, radial lamp shades.

Earlier this summer, Buckeystown residents painted the lampposts in a barn outside of town. Then, last month, volunteers installed the lampposts -- with donated materials and equipment.

The previous lamps all hung from utility company poles, and everyone chipped in to pay the bill that Potomac Edison sent to the unincorporated town. The new lights are hooked up to individual homes and businesses, and everyone with a new lamppost outside will pay about $25 a year. The alternative, new lighting systems that Potomac Edison proposed would have cost the town about $400 a month -- in addition to a $300 per post installation fee for Colonial-style lampposts, Mrs. Bodmer said.

As to the pride townsfolks feel about the new lights, resident Nancy Weaver said: "When the lights were taken away from us, we lost our sense of security. People take street lamps for granted. But when they're gone, it's dark. It's very, very dark.

"The lights give the town a cozy atmosphere. It looks Victorian," she said. "I love it -- Have you hugged your lamp today?"

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