Where folks talk nicely about their neighbors Historic Dickeyville is quietly enticing

Neighborhood profile

October 01, 1995|By KERRY O'ROURKE | KERRY O'ROURKE,SUN STAFF

Dickeyville's quiet, narrow streets and historic homes may lure buyers to the West Baltimore neighborhood, but once residents settle in, they rave about the neighbors.

"People know each other, which makes you feel you have a real community to come home to," said Sarah Hoit Whitman, who moved to the area with her husband, Burke Whitman, 2 1/2 years ago.

"We were looking for an old New England village in Maryland," said Mrs. Whitman, 29.

Sam McCready, who has lived in the city neighborhood with his wife, Joan, for five years, said, "There's a real commitment to place, to environment, to people. They value connections between people."

Neighbors organize impromptu dinner parties, take daily walks together and, come Fourth of July, they rope off a whole block for a dinner and square dance.

"The Fourth of July celebration every year goes on for three whole days," Mrs. McCready said.

The McCreadys, who moved to the United States from Belfast, Northern Ireland, 10 years ago, refer to Dickeyville as "a village" and say it reminds them of home.

"It combined for me the feeling of Ireland -- the sort of primitive feeling -- with the sophistication of a major city," said Mr. McCready, a theater director and professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County. Mrs. McCready is chair of the performing arts program at the Park School.

With just under 300 residents, Dickeyville has been able to hang on to a small-town atmosphere even though it's minutes from the Beltway.

The neighborhood, a former mill town dating to the 1760s, is off Forest Park Avenue near Leakin Park and Woodlawn on the Gwynns Falls.

It has two main streets -- Wetheredsville and Pickwick roads. All but about 20 homes are on the east side of Forest Park Avenue.

Dickeyville has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, which means that residents must follow guidelines when working on the exterior of their homes.

Houses are affordable -- six sold in the past year for an average price of $83,917 -- but maintenance adds to the cost.

No vinyl siding is allowed, said James W. Bowen, president of the Dickeyville Community Association.

"Living in an historic community requires people prepared to do a little more maintenance," said Mr. Bowen, who works in human resources at St. Agnes Hospital.

Diverse, well to do

Dickeyville is one of the city's 15 wealthiest neighborhoods, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Residents include physicians, architects, lawyers and Social Security Administration employees. The neighborhood is ethnically diverse. More than 41 percent of the residents are African-American, figures show.

Millie Tyssowski, a 19-year resident, said, "What's nice about the community is we have people of all ages -- quite a few babies and quite a few retired people."

Residents enjoy learning about and sharing the neighborhood's past.

"One of the fascinations of Dickeyville for me has been its history," said Mrs. Tyssowski, 75, who lives in what is considered the neighborhood's oldest house. The two-story structure on Pickwick Road was built around 1790 and may have been an Indian trading post, she said.

During its long history, the neighborhood has had at least three other names, depending on which family operated the mills. It acquired its current name in 1871 when William J. Dickey of Ballymena, Ireland, bought the mills. The mills prospered until the early 1900s; the area eventually became a shantytown.

Village sold for $42,000

In 1934, the entire village and its 60 acres were sold at auction for $42,000 to a development company that began restoring the homes to create "an ensemble effect," according to a neighborhood history.

The general store, jail house, warehouse and chapel have been converted to homes.

The different styles of homes reflect the neighborhood's history. The three-story stone structures with large gardens in back were owned by mill managers. Workers lived in one-story, wooden buildings.

Houses that don't have a stone exterior must be painted white, according to historic guidelines.

There is one exception -- a home on Wetheredsville Road that has been painted red since it was built in the 1700s, Mr. Bowen said.

The Mill

The main mill buildings, known simply as The Mill, are owned by Robert Goldstein of Maryland Sound Inc.

In addition to housing his business, the buildings contain offices, artists' studios and the Sankofa Dance Theatre, a 6-year-old African dance troupe.

One "regret" about Dickeyville, Mr. McCready said, is "there are no good restaurants." He said he and his wife drive to Baltimore, Ellicott City, Annapolis or Columbia to dine out.

Most children in the neighborhood also travel outside to private schools.

Little serious crime

Break-ins are a worry, but Dickeyville has been somewhat insulated from serious crime because it's tucked away and relatively unknown, he said.

Residents deal with city pressures, but they continue to work at making their neighborhood a quiet, soothing place to come home to.

They have applied for a city grant to turn a 6-acre plot on Tucker Lane into a community park.

"It has a truly old-world feel," Mr. McCready said of the neighborhood.

Dickeyville

Population: 289 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to Baltimore: 15-20 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 45 minutes-1 hour

Public schools: Dickey Hill Elementary (pre-K to 8th grade) and Walbrook Senior High

Shopping: Chadwick Shopping Center and other shopping areas Security Boulevard, Giant Food and Wal-Mart at Route 40 and Rolling Road

Nearest mall: Security Square Mall

Points of interest: Leakin Park, Gwynns Falls Park, The Mill in Dickeyville

L Average price for single-family home: $83,917 (6 units sold)

ZIP code: 21207

* Average price for homes sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies' multiple listing service over the past 12 months.

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