Hardware polished by history in the hamlet known as Fork Jerome Bonaparte went courting there

Neighborhood Profile: Fork

March 09, 1997|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Hi Guv'nor," a customer greets the silver-haired Mark Danenmann, presiding at Fork Hardware, where he's been a fixture longer than the nuts and bolts he shelves. People call the store "Mark's," because hardware and Danenmann's own brand of local wisdom have been hand-in-hand for 45 years. In the Harford Road community of about 80 homes, he's known as the unofficial mayor, dogcatcher and chief of police.

"Fork was never a town," Danenmann said, "just a post office location. No Andy Griffith, no Barney Fife. It hasn't changed much, although we now have a gas station."

Named for a split in the nearby Gunpowder Falls, Fork's hilly acreage was first sold as investment properties for sea captains docking at Annapolis, said the Rev. Ron Standiford, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and school on Mount Vista Road. "Fork is semi-country and not that far from Baltimore," he said, so it became a choice place for summer homes and large farmed estates during the last century -- and people still find it attractive.

Homes are few, clustered on large lots in newer developments or a sparse number of older dead-end lanes. Only 12 homes sold here last year, including a 1950s-era three-bedroom brick rancher for $149,000 at the center of Fork and a newer, $270,000 four-bedroom Colonial on seven acres within a half-mile of the post office.

Lorraine Whitmore moved from Towson 43 years ago to a house on Upland Road in Fork. "It was a dirt road then. When they paved it, my kids were thrilled because they could roller-skate," she said.

"Families came up and stayed for generations," Standiford said, from a historian's perspective that grew from the family stories to which he listened as a child.

He's the great-grandson of Charles O. Burton, carriage maker with John Arthur at White Hall Carriage Shop, one of the first shops in Fork. The shop was later converted to Fork Hardware and a funeral home. About eight years ago, resident John Fiorini purchased the place and put up the big, bright Fork Plaza shopping center -- the new Fork Hardware store, plus three others -- currently a pizza shop, a convenience store, and a cleaners.

"Up to a year ago, we didn't have pizza delivery," says Angela Cherry, 24, who moved to Fork as a child when her father's cabinet business expanded beyond their Middle River garage. Four years ago, they refurbished the decaying Fork barbershop, across the street from Fork Plaza to showcase kitchens, custom children's furniture and exquisite home bars.

"We found this little spot up here in Fork," says her father, John Cherry, 49, a cabinetmaker for 20 years. "The car always headed this way. It's 10 miles from the Beltway, yet you think you're in West Virginia."

Fork generally wakes up daily to the scent of Edna Mueller's Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired pastries and breads. A visit to "Miss Edna" is recommended by just about every Fork resident.

"We bake from scratch. It's my Mennonite background," she said, and she's imparted personal recipes to her full-time baker, Jean Guyer. Mueller lighted the bread ovens in Fork because she enjoyed the fresh-baked aroma at Long Green Market, where she had worked for 15 years.

The local hero of Fork is Ishmael Day, whose gravestone near the four-pointed steeple of Fork United Methodist Church bears the inscription "defender of the War of 1814." But it was his unwitting defense of the Stars and Stripes during the Civil War that cost him his farm and house.

There's only a state marker on Sunshine Avenue where the Day family farm went up in flames July 11, 1864.

Confederate cavalry commanded by Col. Harry Gilmor, moving up the Gunpowder to destroy bridges, spotted the Union flag at Day's home, and Day heard a Confederate sergeant call the flag "a damned old rag." From an upstairs window, Day shot the soldier and ran to tell his daughter, Louisa Riddle, who was teaching in the one-room school now adjacent to the century-old Fork Christian Church.

Gilmor's men burned the Day farm as the soldier lay dying at Dampnann's Hotel at the Fork crossroads. Day lived until age 82. The hotel became a general store and post office. Now it's the veterinary office of Dr. John R. Brooks. A two-lane bowling alley added in the 1940s has become an antique shop.

"As far as we know, George Washington did not sleep here," said Malcolm McKnight, a local historian whose 1814 home of local fieldstone on Harford Road was built in the Bonaparte era of Fork's colorful history.

Washington never slept in Fork, but Jerome Bonaparte did -- at least until his marriage to Baltimore native Betsey Patterson was annulled by Jerome's famous and unapproving brother,

Napoleon Bonaparte. Patterson lived until her 90s in a mansion off Harford Road south of Fork. The Bonaparte legacy lives nearby in street names (although Bonaparte Avenue is dubbed locally as World's End Hill) and in the quirky fact that Sunshine Avenue, between Fork and Kingsville, was the first macadam road in Maryland.

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