125 years of prettiness and personality

September 08, 1996|By ELISE ARMACOST

FIVE YEARS AGO I got married and went looking for a place that felt like home. I found it in Glyndon, a few miles from where I grew up.

I knew what I wanted: a reasonable facsimile of the fictional turn-of-the-century neighborhood in ''Meet Me in St. Louis,'' where Judy Garland and her siblings sang on the trolley, exorcised imaginary demons on Halloween night, built snow people and kissed on the front porch. It would have big old trees and a little grocery where the checkers would know my name. There'd be pretty Victorian houses; a school my children could walk to; peace without isolation; a sense of history and character.

Historic Glyndon circa 1996 doesn't have all those things -- my kids will take a bus to school, and the noise on Butler Road has driven many of us off our beautiful front porches and into the back yard -- but it has most of them, plus other charms I hadn't counted on. A little post office where historic-district residents, who aren't allowed to have mailboxes, pick up their mail and socialize. An unsophisticated Fourth of July parade starring the town's children. Church bells pealing every New Year's.

Next weekend our town, in northwest Baltimore County just off the Hanover Pike, celebrates the 125th anniversary of its founding by Dr. Charles Leas, who in 1871 got tired of living alone on his huge farm and decided to lay out a town on part of his property. Birthday and anniversary celebrations are a dime a dozen these days, but this one truly is worthy of the planned three-day round of picnics, tennis tournaments, parades, concerts, teas and dances.

Worthy because what's being commemorated is more than a town's survival. We're observing an increasingly rare feat: a town holding on to its original identity through 125 years of unprecedented change -- partly by revering the past and being willing to live with the restrictions of a historic district, but also by being smart enough to know that time is an undefeatable adversary, sometimes better compromised with than fought to a bloody end.

Glyndon has never welcomed change; few neighborhoods do. But, unlike many communities, it has known how to pick its battles, been willing to meet some opponents halfway and, when necessary, accepted defeat graciously.

Oh sure, it can be nitpicky. There are stories about a minor ruckus being raised over the color of someone's shutters. But generally speaking Glyndon residents have known when to stop fighting and consign certain notions to the scrapbook.

In the 1980s residents fought construction of a small shopping center. Eventually, however, they saw which way the wind was blowing and compromised, demanding covenants so the center would blend in with the old town. Now even folks who didn't want it, like my neighbor George Wroe, admit that it's pretty nice having Santoni's within walking distance.

''You don't want to lose the character, but reasonable changes make sense,'' he says. ''We wouldn't want to go back to the days without penicillin, would we?''

Demon rum

Then there is the temperance issue. Aversion to alcoholic beverages is as much a part of the town's heritage as the railroad and wraparound porches. Methodist camp meetings promoting abstinence were held here shortly after the Civil War, before Glyndon the town existed. One community, Glyndon Park, began as the state's first prohibition camp; bylaws still prohibit alcohol in the park, even on the front porches of the private cottages where we lived during our first year here -- though that rule, I can attest, has been broken without consequences.

Eight years ago Glyndonites launched an all-out war against a request for a liquor license by a restaurant at the aforementioned shopping center. They were good losers. They saw an era had ended, and accepted that.

Today, temperance is a part of the town's history, not a contemporary controversy. Next weekend's anniversary ball will be held under a tent, with champagne punch and BYOB setups, instead of at the logical location -- the old Emory Grove hotel, a part of the Methodist camp where alcohol still is not allowed.

Some residents were disappointed about that, but acknowledged that a festive glass of bubbly is important to a lot of people.

Not all changes can be swallowed so painlessly. Like small towns all over, Glyndon finds itself under siege from new residential development. Aesthetically and practically, these new homes will not be part of the old town, but they will profoundly affect it, perhaps altering Glyndon more in a few years than it has changed since 1871.

While we can't be so selfish as to deny people's desire to enjoy life near a small town, experience shows that tacked-on subdivisions and infill development can be harmful, if not fatal, to established villages. Elected leaders must recognize such towns for what they have become -- endangered resources in need of greater protection so their prettiness and personality survive for the next 125 years.

Next weekend, we Glyndonites should all drink something -- bubbly or no -- to that.

=1 Elise Armacost writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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