Middleburg strolls as the world gallops Village's glory days are long gone, but few mind the quiet

Neighborhood Profile

March 10, 1996|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Middleburg is a place people pass through on their way somewhere else.

Residents of the once-thriving Carroll County village say they don't mind being scenery along the well-worn path between Westminster and Frederick. But it seems a cruel twist of fate for the community that had long fancied itself the Carroll County seat.

Named for its location midway between those two cities, Middleburg today is handful of houses that blur into one mass of brick, stone and wood as travelers whiz past on Route 77.

According to records kept by the Historical Society of Carroll County, activity around Middleburg dates to 1734 when a man named John Diggs had 100 acres surveyed in his name.

Many settlers followed Mr. Diggs, not just to Middleburg, but across the land that would eventually be named in honor of Maryland statesman Charles Carroll.

It wasn't until after the War of 1812, however, that Middleburg put itself on the map.

In his "History of Western Maryland," the late John Thomas Scharf refers to a number of structures built for uses deemed necessary when the town became the county seat. These included a bank, courthouse and jail.

When Carroll County was finally chartered in 1837, residents wanted the county seat more centrally located and chose Westminster. Most of the Middleburg buildings soon became private residences -- some of which are still occupied.

Mallie Gillespie raised three sons and two daughters in the town's proposed courthouse.

A transplant from West Virginia, Mrs. Gillespie resided in communities in Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City before settling in Middleburg 21 years ago.

The town's convenient location and her friendly neighbors have made Middleburg home, she said.

All but one of the Gillespie children still live within a half-hour's drive of the community. Gary Gillespie, 21, said that, although most his peers have left Middleburg, when he moves out on his own he hopes to stay near the only home he has ever known.

A trained mason, Mr. Gillespie was joined by some friends on a recent Saturday afternoon as he set about replacing the mortar in the stone foundation of his family's home on Middleburg Road.

The scrape of trowels and the rock 'n' roll blaring from a nearby radio were muffled only by the rumble of a passing car.

Middleburg did not retreat easily into oblivion, however.

In 1852, the Maryland General Assembly created the Middleburg Election District, which still encompasses the town and the rural area that surrounds it.

As recently as last week's primary, voters cast ballots in the social hall of the Middleburg United Methodist Church and then joined their neighbors for the post-vote soup and sandwiches traditionally provided by the church women. Wayne Repp, 75, lives next to the church and has worshiped there his entire life. He and his wife, Betty, moved to their Victorian home in the heart of the community in 1946.

When Mr. Repp was a boy, Middleburg boasted two general stores, two carpenters, a paper-hanger, a broom maker and a painter.

"Mr. Plank" ran the butcher shop then and made "the best beef sausage you ever tasted," Mr. Repp recalled. Haircuts at one of a few local barbers cost 15 cents and, later, a quarter.

As a youngster, Mr. Repp and his fellow students walked to the nearby one-room schoolhouse. Peddlers were a common sight. "There were two out of Union Bridge who'd pick up your eggs and calves; one of 'em sold butter," Mr. Repp remembered.

When he was born, his maternal grandmother, Emma Lynn, was winding down her reign over the town's longtime hotel. The Lynn Hotel -- run by the Lynn family for generations -- was noteworthy enough to be included in the Scharf history.

In the Walden mansion

Today, Middleburg is known for overnight accommodations of another sort. Bowling Brook Country Inn is a bed and breakfast that has operated for nearly four years in the mansion once owned by the late Robert Wyndham Walden.

Mr. Walden, who was one of America's most respected 19th-century horsemen, is best known for training five successive Preakness winners on his famed indoor track from 1878 to 1882. Three of those horses went on to win the Belmont Stakes.

Mr. Walden's eighth-mile track -- one of the first of its kind -- was not the only innovation at Bowling Brook. The Thoroughbreds there were stabled in a round barn, which attracted attention for more than a century.

As its Virginia counterpart is to this day, Middleburg was horse country as recently as the late 1940s. The Repps can recall a time when they had jockeys for neighbors and weekends brought droves of visitors who came just to see the horses run at Bowling Brook.

But the rare, round barn carried ill luck.

It was struck by lightning in 1892 and burned to the ground. Almost 100 years later to the day, the rebuilt barn was destroyed by fire. In both cases, horses were killed. Current owner Mark Gross has not rebuilt the structure.

Safe place for a family

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