A stop in the past on way to Pa. Union Mills maintains ties to early days

Neighborhood Profile

December 15, 1996|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

What a difference a day made in the history of Union Mills.

One day apart, opposing Civil War troops camped there -- on June 29, 1863, Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart and his cavalry, spending the night at the Shriver Homestead, and on June 30, the same grounds were filled with Union soldiers.

They were on the way to Gettysburg.

Today, people still pass through the Carroll County community as they travel along Route 97 (Littlestown Pike), north to Gettysburg or southward to Baltimore and Washington.

But the name -- and origin -- of Union Mills date much further back, to the early days of the nation when brothers Andrew and David Shriver settled along Big Pipe Creek in 1797 and began a family dynasty that dominated the fertile valley through the early part of this century.

They put Union Mills on the map, first with a store, post office, flour mill and tannery, and then their descendants opened a cannery that gave local farmers a steady market for their crops. The town was named for the partnership of the brothers.

For all the travelers passing through, few opt to stay, acknowledges Charles W. Cull, an associate broker with Remax Ambassadors in Westminster who is currently listing a property in the village.

With no infrastructure to support a major subdivision and none planned in the future, Union Mills offers primarily residential resales of single-family homes, Cull said.

There is an eclectic mix of ranchers, split levels, Colonials and log homes, many on wooded lots large enough to accommodate a pool or a paddock for ponies.

A handful of restored Victorians -- in the village and just on the edge of the community -- add a historic flair. Clapboard farmhouses dot the landscape farther out, though most of the farms are gone now, their fields subdivided.

Cull said properties in and around Union Mills are a bit pricier than similar homes in other parts of Carroll County because the community is considered an outlying extension of the county seat, Westminster.

Union Mills' proximity to Pennsylvania -- it's just a 10- to 15-minute drive to Adams County -- complicates the local real estate market, since homes there tend to cost less, Cull said. As a result, many people overlook Union Mills as they search for cheaper homes north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

But some -- such as Garth and Kitty Baxter, and Bill and Sharon Connor -- appreciate Union Mills' attributes.

The Baxters moved a decade ago to a rancher on a quiet side road.

The Connors, who live about 15 miles away in Finksburg, opened antiques business in Union Mills this fall and say they hope to move after their retirement a few years down the road into a rancher home they own behind the business.

Both couples said they searched far and wide to find a property to suit their needs, only to have the solution presented to them in Union Mills.

The Baxters left Colorado to be closer to Garth's relatives -- most of whom live in the Baltimore metropolitan area, but none in Carroll County. The family's one-acre lot on a well-populated country road brought a rural flavor to their life without sacrificing the security of having neighbors nearby, the couple said.

Longtime city dwellers -- in Colorado Springs, Colo., and, before that, Los Angeles -- the Baxters said they embraced their new life when they moved, which may be part of the reason they have felt like they belonged in Union Mills from the beginning.

They shop in nearby stores, are friendly with their neighbors, and when their children -- Mark, 20, and Allison, 18 -- were younger, avidly supported the local schools. In fact, the Baxters were so enamored of their new home that they settled on the property before finding jobs -- figuring that no matter where they ended up working, life in Union Mills would make the commute worthwhile, Kitty Baxter said.

Garth Baxter -- a published composer and accomplished classical guitarist -- teaches music at Western Maryland College and Carroll Community College, the county's two colleges. His wife works for the Department of Transportation in Baltimore.

Though their children now find Union Mills and its lack of activity "boring," the Baxters said, they wouldn't trade the peace and familiarity of their life for anything. The Connors found Union Mills on the way to somewhere else. They had a contract on a property in Manchester which had fallen through and were headed to Pennsylvania for an afternoon of antiquing when they happened upon the town's dilapidated schoolhouse, Sharon said.

"We never thought we'd be able to afford it, but we decided to call and check anyway,' " Bill Connor said.

After 12 years of searching, it seemed only fitting that the Baltimore schoolteacher and his wife ended up at the former Carroll Academy, which they have since restored. Their business is named Academy Antiques.

The one-acre site includes a two-bedroom apartment in front of the store and the rancher behind it, both being rented out to help pay their mortgage, the couple said.

UNION MILLS

Population: About 400

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: One hour

Public schools: Charles Carroll Elementary, East Middle School, Westminster High School

Nearest mall: Cranberry Mall in Westminster

Points of interest: Union Mills Homestead

ZIP code: 21158

Average price of a single-family home: $135,085 *

* Based on 14 sales since Jan. 1 through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies' multiple listing service.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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