In Upperco, they wave to friends or strangers A place where horses wander in pastures dotted with buttercups

Neighborhood Profile

June 02, 1996|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ask someone with an Upperco mailing address where they live, and they're more likely to answer Arcadia, Fowblesburg, White House or one of the other small villages that make up this rural area straddling Baltimore and Carroll counties.

The search for the town of Upperco leads only to a post office that sits on Arcadia Avenue just a few hundred feet from the Arcadia Volunteer Fire Company and the handful of homes considered to be the once-thriving community of Arcadia.

Though Upperco is divided by some of the busiest roads in this part of the state -- including the traffic-laden Maryland Route 30 and the northern end of Falls Road -- change has come slowly here.

Settled first by traders who bartered goods with the Susquehannock, Shawnee, Iroquois and Delaware Indians living in the region, Upperco didn't began attracting families until the Indian trails were widened into roads during the mid-1700s, according to Baltimore County Historical Society records.

Though many modern residents believe that the area was named for its location in the upper portion of Baltimore County, in fact, the community was a monument to one of its earliest settlers -- Jacob Oppercock, who later changed his last name to Uppercoe, records show.

On the Baltimore County side -- which is more than three-quarters of the community -- the population has slightly more than doubled since 1870. Then, 2,014 people lived in the area and J. Thomas Scharf -- author of the "History of Baltimore City and County" -- dismissed it this way: "The Fifth district extends over a considerable area, but there are few towns within its borders and the population is sparse."

Scharf's faint praise was not quite fair. Noted further in his book is the fact that the sawmills, paper mills and flour mills operating in Upperco during the late 19th century made it an important industrial contributor to Baltimore County's economy.

Today, the biggest business in Upperco is agriculture. Freshly tilled farm fields stretch as far as the eye can see in some areas. In others, hilly pastures dotted with hundreds of bright yellow buttercups are framed by split rail fences that seem to continue into the horizon.

People here raise everything from grain and vegetables to flowers and horses. Even those employed away from the community are likely to have a large garden or a number of dogs or other pets roaming their property.

Farms and small-scale "farmettes" are the most common type of housing in the area, though there are also some historically significant older homes in the small villages, said Glenn Barnes, manager of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty's Reisterstown office. There are no major developments in Upperco, however, so turn-over is slight, Barnes said.

In 1995, only 13 homes were sold in the area, at an average price of $174,615, according to Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc.

Barnes said -- and area residents agreed -- that many homes are passed down in families or sold to other locals rather than ever coming on the open market. Handmade "For Sale By Owner" signs are still quite common along the roads that ramble through the community. So are signs proclaiming the name of the property, from "The Berry Patch"' to "Down The Road A Piece."

Upperco is a place where residents raise a hand to passers-by -- whether or not they're acquainted. Services at the picturesque country churches remain an important weekly gathering. And old-fashioned groceries and ma-and-pa diners -- like Sparks Store in White House and Elmo's Luncheonette in Fowblesburg -- continue to do a brisk business.

Cheryl Eby and her husband, John, moved to Upperco after their 5-year-old son, Colton, was killed and John was seriously injured in a car accident. The Ebys and their daughter, Hayley, 10, live in a tenant house on Petticoats Advance. The farm dates to 1759. Cheryl Eby's father purchased the 130 or so acres 26 years ago.

Cheryl Eby said the life she and her husband built in Upperco after their son's death more than a decade ago helped carry her through years of grief.

"Just living in the country -- it looked so much better every day," she said. Colton is buried on the farm and a Wye oak the Ebys planted flourishes over his grave. "I look at it every day and it tells me why I'm here," Eby said, "because life is so precious and you've just got to get your priorities straight. "

A former editor and project coordinator at Westinghouse, Eby traded her business suits and 90-minute commute from a previous home in the northern Carroll County community of Millers to board and care for other people's horses on her own property in Upperco. Last year, she expanded and opened an equestrian center -- complete with indoor arena.

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