Two towns: one up, one down

Neighborhood Profile

February 16, 1997|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jacksonville, on the edge of northern Baltimore County near Harford County, boasts a modern, upscale country life.

Phoenix, named optimistically for the legendary symbol of rebirth and vitality, bears little resemblance to a once-thriving 18th century mill town of 400 people. The Phoenix post office was moved to Jacksonville in 1967, and with the use of the same ZIP code, Phoenix and Jacksonville seemed to merge.

The Gunpowder River flowing through Phoenix powered a cotton mill that started up about 1820. When purchased in 1851 by George Slothower, the cotton mill occupied 187 acres, with a store and 21 houses for workers.

The millworkers, mostly women and children, were slightly more prosperous than residents in similar towns, even though their incomes were meager.

Slothower established a church and Sunday school in the company store. Like other mill towns, Phoenix was dry -- the temperance meetings were noted by local newspapers in 1853.

By the 1870s, a hotel was in operation, and mail and passengers were arriving via the Northern Central Railroad.

The Gunpowder River, so beneficial to Phoenix, ultimately became its nemesis.

Planning for the Loch Raven Reservoir began in 1908, but its water and watershed would eventually consume the low-lying parts of the village.

By the 1930s, the mill was out of business. Local passengers weren't carried by train after 1959, and the railway ceased operations after being pummeled by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972.

Today, Phoenix is a cluster of hill-hugging homes and two tiny churches surrounded by woodland. Several former millworkers' homes survive on a promontory above the watershed, and there's an entry point to the bicycle trail built on the Northern Central's old rail bed.

Healthy neighbor

Jacksonville is the healthy neighbor to the east of Phoenix, a village with a clean-swept look. Old buildings were burned or demolished; another old house is slated for removal to yield space for a proposed supermarket.

Everyone refers to the intersection in Jacksonville, where Paper Mill Road and Sweet Air Road intersect Jarrettsville Pike, as Four Corners, and several businesses have long used Four Corners in their names.

The roads and "the Pike," as it's called here, define quadrants of local businesses. Two shopping centers, Paper Mill and Manor Center, anchor opposing corners.

People still remember Abe Goldberg's Four Corners tavern, where the melodrama "The Drunkard" was standard dinner theater for years. The tavern burned down, said Annette Armstrong, the Phoenix postmaster, and an Exxon station took over the site.

Longtime resident

Armstrong, 54, moved to Jacksonville at age 12 in the 1950s. The Phoenix post office, in the Paper Mill Village Shopping Center, is near the site of the old Carroll's Grocery. "A place where you could charge without signing anything," she recalled.

Jacksonville at the time had the grocery, three gas stations and two bars. "The bank asked why my father wanted to build out here. It was God's country. And he said that was exactly why he wanted to come," she said.

Scott Walker's Sweet Air Nursery has created an oasis of trees, ** perennials, and log houses amid the macadam and surging traffic.

"There's something peaceful, an ambience, about old buildings," said. "It's a shame that some people let them go. There are a lot [of log houses] that are waiting. We track them down."

Log by log

Log by log, Walker and his associates have reconstructed three tiny log cabins at his garden center.

A fourth building, a stone structure, is getting an addition made of beams from a 140-year-old barn in Columbia, Pa.

The garden center has gradually become a tiny village, with each log structure selling goods such as horse tack, animal feed and garden tools.

"It's a build-it-and-they-will-come thing," Walker said. "I'm not one for shopping centers. I like to do what I do and do it well."

Jacksonville seems to relish the old with the new.

An established group of senior citizens gathers every morning at Bagelmeister, just to talk, in the style of European cafes. On Thursday afternoons, owners Kathie and Mark Peotter sponsor the Jacksonville Senior Citizen club bingo games.

The Peotters opened Bagelmeister three years ago, after he was laid off from his engineering job.

"Mark was very good at making his own beer in quarter-barrels," Kathie Peotter said. "To our family, he was the 'brewmeister, the master brew maker.' "

Inspired to make bagels like those from their New Jersey childhoods, Mrs. Peotter drew the store's image of a "bagelmeister" and they purchased bagel-baking equipment in New York. Neither had made a bagel before.

'Test bagels'

"There isn't much my husband can't do," said Mrs. Peotter, who had been a Baltimore County teacher before getting into the bagel business. "We started putting out baskets of test bagels and people would knock on the door trying to pay for them," she said.

The Jacksonville area has an artistic side as well.

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