Naturally, Freeland maintains its heritage Mills once dotted lush countryside

Neighborhood Profile

November 17, 1996|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Clusters of homes are widely scattered between broad sweeps of cultivated acreage. Streams tumble through valleys of mature hardwoods. Roads dip, twist and turn, following routes dating from last century.

This lush countryside -- the Freeland area of northern Baltimore County -- extends from the twin jewels of Prettyboy Reservoir and Gunpowder Falls State Park to the Pennsylvania border near Interstate 83.

"Freeland is for people who like to be in the country, people who like to hunt, be out around nature or who want horses," said Stephanie Lee, 24, a local wildlife taxidermist whose studio seems like a Noah's ark -- frozen in time.

"My parents wanted to buy country land for years, and when they found these 10 acres in 1985, they decided to go for it," she said.

Her parents, Roger and Kathleen Lee, built a farmette on Millers Mill Road. When their daughter graduated from the Maryland Institute, the Lees built her a studio adjacent to the family home -- a studio that brims now with the seemingly watchful eyes of mounted deer, bear, lynx, birds, fox, mice and other animals.

More than a century ago, Freeland was a busier place. Clear water -- essential for paper manufacturing -- flowed here, and the Little Falls and Gunpowder Falls supported at least 10 paper mills by the mid-1800s.

Mill heritage

The mill heritage lives on as street names: Gores Mill Road, Valley Mill Road, Clipper Mill Road and Rockdale Road all once led to paper mills. Gristmills were at Keeney Mill Road and Millers Mill Road. Trees became lumber on Bulls Sawmill Road.

The Northern Central Railroad broke ground in 1829, laying tracks for nine years from Baltimore to York. The Freeland station received and forwarded almost 7 million pounds of freight in 1865.

But downtown Freeland today has no commerce. Freshwater fisheries biologist Howard Stinefelter, who stocks several area streams for the Department of Natural Resources, tells of how he saw the tracks thrown 100 feet up into the trees after Tropical Storm Agnes blasted through in 1972. The railroad did not recover, and its path became the Northern Central Railroad Hike and Bike Trail.

Bicyclists pass by the old hotel, post office and Red Men's Hall -- all long converted to residences. The tiny rail station houses cattle at a nearby farm. The post office was moved to New Freedom Road near the state line.

Lifelong resident Tim Poe, 33, can show you the stone curb of the hotel baggage platform, hidden under tufts of grass along the bike trail.

The train timed his childhood. "I knew when I had to be in bed, because the house would shake at 9 p.m. as the train went by," he said.

Along the rail bed on Freeland Road, his sister, Linda Poe, is restoring the three-story gray Victorian with mansard roof that was the general store and post office. Their grandmother, Carrie Poe, 91, owns the sagging clapboard house that was the lodge hall of the Red Men's fraternal order.

In the 1950s, Carrie Poe and her husband ran a general store at Maple Street and Freeland Road, where the old Gulf gasoline station sign still hangs.

The other street in old Freeland is Railroad Avenue, where Gail Southern lives with her husband, Hal, a welder for Baltimore County, and their two young children in an authentic Victorian with wraparound porch.

When the Southerns were to be married about 12 years ago, they chose to settle in Freeland -- close to Gail's sister in Middletown.

They purchased one of the "twin" houses on Railroad Avenue -- identical homes built along the tracks by brothers Chester and James Royston. They once shared a well, and are said to have been prefabricated homes purchased from a Sears catalog in 1910.

"There are a lot of fixer-uppers in Freeland," Gail Southern said.

There also are new homes, with subdivisions cropping up along the main routes -- housing planned to maintain open acreage. Single-family homes are clustered on 30 percent of the land in a development, leaving the other 70 percent untouched, said Linda Borgman of Riley & Associates Realtors in Parkton.

Thirty years ago, it was possible to purchase a home and 35 acres for $12,000. The average home today sells for $184,000, with far fewer acres.

The impact of an increasing population is most noticeable in the traffic along main roads leading to Interstate 83.

Holland greenhouses

"Up here, everyone wants to live off the road, but they all have to go down 83," says Jack Radebaugh, of the Radebaugh florist family. "Middletown Road in rush hour is bumper to bumper. On 83, it's solid."

Jack Radebaugh chose Freeland in 1964 as the place to raise his family.

He commuted to Towson until 1973, but since then he and a small staff have been raising flowers in state-of-the-art greenhouses, imported from Holland, that form a glassy five-acre vista from his Ruhl Road home.

"You have to live close to the furnace," said Radebaugh, who shovels snow from the sides of the greenhouses in winter, when Freeland's temperatures are about 10 degrees colder than Baltimore's.

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