Suburban community in 'state of transition'


October 09, 1994|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

In Randallstown, just eight miles northwest of downtown, side streets meander like tributaries into the river that is Liberty Road, a busy commercial corridor covered with signs advertising anything from auto shops and drugstores to movie houses and food chains.

While commercial Randallstown offers plenty of shopping -- some might say too much shopping -- residential Randallstown is mostly single-family homes of one or two stories resting on neat lots interwoven among parks and schools.

James Nelson Jr., 20, came to Randallstown 3 1/2 years ago from the city's Cedonia neighborhood when his father, pastor of Greater Bethlehem Temple, moved to Randallstown along with his church.

Now a minister at the church, the younger Mr. Nelson lives in the 3700 block of Twin Lakes Court in Cedar Towers, a Randallstown high-rise. "It's much better than where we came from," he said. He said his home, near the Beltway, is accessible to the city and Randallstown's shopping areas.

In fact, Randallstown is attracting many middle-class blacks who want to move to the suburbs and escape the city.

The community was about 60 percent white and 35 percent black when the 1990 census was taken, but according to residents, the opposite is true now.

"This community is in a state of transition," says Clark Powell, principal of Randallstown High School, whose population reflects the community: about 65 percent black, 30 percent white, and 5 percent Asian and Hispanic.

He and other residents who work in Randallstown mentioned that whites, within the past few years, have moved to other parts of the county -- such as Owings Mills and Pikesville -- as more blacks make their way into Randallstown from Baltimore.

"I think it's a combination of things," says Thomasine Scott, branch manager of a Randallstown office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "The area is changing. . . . Blacks are definitely moving into the Randallstown area."

She suspects that lower interest rates in the past few years have enabled blacks across Maryland to move from cities to suburbs, and her impression is that the "For Sale" signs that have been sprouting up recently are of whites moving out.

But another real estate agent disagrees. John McPhaul of Otis Warren & Co., a real estate firm in Randallstown, says people move away when they retire and seek smaller properties, when they have paid off their property and no longer have a tax shelter, or when they buy bigger properties in Carroll County.

Whatever the reason, passers-by can witness the shift: On a drive down Southhall Road in the two-block stretch between Marriottsville Road and Tiverton Road, six houses are for sale.

In the last two years, 575 houses were sold in Randallstown, according to Mr. McPhaul.

Another indicator is the relocation of several places of worship.

Colonial Baptist Church on the community's outskirts in Pikesville serves about 800 active members in the Randallstown area. It will move to Beth Israel Congregation's site in the 9400 block of Liberty Road in the heart of Randallstown by the end of next month.

The Rev. Russ Priddy Jr. says the church's expanding membership made the move necessary, and administrator Yvonne Mitchell says the church wants to continue serving its racially diverse congregation, which is 60 percent black. While the church attracts members from other areas, Mrs. Mitchell says many of its members are from Randallstown.

By September 1995, Beth Israel Congregation will reopen in what is now an Owings Mills corporate building to keep up with its moving congregation.

"The bulk of our membership has moved. We're simply following Beth Israel's members," says Senior Rabbi Richard Margolis. "There is a very real demand for a major congregation in that area."

In the meantime, Saturday services will be held in Owings Mills High School's auditorium, and the congregation's religious school will meet at Franklin Middle School. Administrative work will probably be conducted in offices that are already there, and daily services will be held in makeshift quarters in the new building, according to Rabbi Margolis.

Randallstown was founded in the 1700s by Thomas and Christopher Randall, brothers who emigrated from England. They purchased about 109 acres and opened a tavern serving merchants and farmers traveling Liberty Road. Some road names depict the community's history: Rolling Road was used by planters to roll tobacco barrels to market, and Old Court Road led to the courthouse and county seat, then located in Joppatowne.

By 1880, Randallstown had a population of 100, including two physicians, two blacksmiths, a tavern keeper and two storekeepers. Families moved to Randallstown as far back as the 1950s, turning farmland into the Beltway suburbs that exist today.

Though Randallstown is well established now, there is still growth. New homes are going up at Marriottsville and Liberty roads, and new townhouses are under construction at Winands and McDonogh roads.

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