Historic village shaped by what didn't happen


April 09, 1995|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

Don't look for Uniontown, Carroll County, in the annals of important historical places.

No president ever slept here, and it was never capital of the United States (not even for a day). In 1837, it lost its bid to be named county seat to Westminster, and the Western Maryland Railroad decided to bypass the village in 1862.

There's never been an important battle fought here (although Union soldiers did spend a night nearby on their way to Gettysburg in 1863).

No, important figures and historical events haven't earned Uniontown its reputation as "the gem of Carroll County," a phrase repeated often in promotional materials.

What makes this tiny village of 200 important to county residents is its status as a well-preserved rural village, with homes dating back to 1802, a one-room schoolhouse established in 1810 and even an old-fashioned general store, which still doubles as a post office.

"I really enjoy going to the general store every day to pick up the mail," says Georgia Groomes, who lives with her family on the fringe of the historic district. "It's a nice town. Even if you don't know everybody, you at least know their faces. I like the friendly atmosphere."

Residents say they love the village's quaint characteristics and diminutive size. With only 70 houses in the historic district, most residents know each other and participate in village events, such as the annual Christmas party and caroling, the summer picnic ** and biannual house tour.

David and Susan Petrie moved from Baltimore City to Uniontown three years ago in search of a little history and a quieter lifestyle.

Four years earlier, they had purchased a 1903 Victorian farmhouse in the city's Lauraville neighborhood, which they restored. But then they starting leaning toward 19th-century architecture and ended up in Uniontown.

"We decided we didn't really like the 100-year-old house. What we really wanted was a 200-year-old house," explains Mr. Petrie, an exercise physiologist at Union Memorial Hospital and amateur carpenter. Mrs. Petrie, a registered nurse and antiques dealer, commutes to work in Frederick.

They looked at houses in a half-dozen communities in Carroll County, where Mrs. Petrie grew up, and fell in love with their Federal-style house in Uniontown.

The original part of the house, a log cabin, was built in 1797, says Mr. Petrie, and additions were made in 1805 and 1930. The couple tore out the first floor to restore much of the house's original layout and are preparing to start on the second floor, he says.

Although the house has been more work than they bargained for and Mr. Petrie has tired of his hourlong commute to the city, the Petries have no intention of moving.

'I'm not moving'

"I'd change jobs to be closer to the house before I'd change houses to be closer to the job," Mr. Petrie says. "I'm going to be buried in my back yard. I'm not moving."

Uniontown, six miles west of Westminster, four miles north of New Windsor and four miles southeast of Taneytown, is an interesting mix of old and new.

Architecturally, it has far more old than new, with most homes built between 1802 and 1908. A few 1960s ranchers and two pTC 1980s Colonials also are located within the historic district.

With regard to its residents, however, there's more new than old, as the number of residents born and raised in Uniontown has dwindled over the years and the number of new families looking for old houses to restore has increased.

Caroline and Robert Devilbiss, siblings who run the general store, are among the shrinking number of native Uniontowners.

Caroline Devilbiss, 74, who lives in the house which includes the store, can be found ringing up a carton of milk, making sandwiches and handing out mail from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

"Every day but Sunday," she says cheerfully, when asked about her demanding hours. Mr. Devilbiss, 67, also works at the store every day, but leaves for a couple hours Monday through Friday to drive his school bus route.

The siblings are the third generation to run the store, which was started by their grandfather, Frank Eckard, and later run by their father, Thomas Devilbiss.

"I've lived here my whole life. Never thought about leaving," says Caroline Devilbiss, who adds that only about a half-dozen houses are still owned by natives.

Nick and Chris Vincent are among the newcomers.

They purchased their house eight years ago, and he now works as a blacksmith in a shop behind the house. He gave up his job and hourlong commute to C&P Telephone in Baltimore six years ago. Mrs. Vincent works as a teacher in Westminster.

"I've always lived in old houses. And this is a really nice old house, built about 1810," says Mr. Vincent, explaining what attracted the couple. He freely admits the village isn't Colonial Williamsburg and never will be. "It's a nice, little town, just a little rural town," he says.

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