Old-fashioned Quarry Town Untainted By Modern Builders

Neighborhood profile

Community Striving To Preserve Charms

April 27, 1997|By Pat Brodowski | Pat Brodowski,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Granite is a community as solid as its name implies.

With the era of quarrying its legendary granite long gone, this quiet, rural village, which borders Patapsco Valley State Park southwest of Randallstown, has remained vibrant with a network of community groups and residents bent on preservation.

Somehow, modern development had overlooked this town. Historical structures circa 1740, many of which are made from local stone, remain intact. Concerned citizens formed the Granite Historical Society, and got Granite designated as a National Historical District in 1994.

"Granite is a place out of time, another world surrounded by new development," said real estate agent Elaine Kogan of Re/Max in Columbia and Ellicott City.

"It's a hidden neighborhood that people don't know about," she said. "This community is watching that it's not overrun with creeping urbanization."

Nevertheless, it has become an active real estate market. About 13 residences near the heart of Granite have sold within the past year. A restored cross-gabled Victorian house on 2.6 acres on the attractive St. Paul Avenue is listed for about $245,000. Several older homes are for sale on Old Court Road, the town's main thoroughfare.

Edrich Manor, Altieri Homes and Harvard Homes are developing exclusive custom homes that have sweeping views of the area.

But today's development is a far cry from those long ago days in Granite when men moved mountains here to rebuild them elsewhere.

The fine-grained, softly pink-hued granite was discovered in the early 1800s at "Mount Welcome," the first farm in Granite. It was built in 1740 by Samuel Walters and the farm is still standing. The quarry provided Belgian blocks for streets and foundation stone. As the quarry grew, so did the population of the town, called Waltersville at first.

In its heyday, Granite's stone was used in the Library of Congress, what is now the National Portrait Gallery, and the interior of the Washington Monument. In Baltimore, the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, Custom House and the exterior trim of Lovely Lane United Methodist Church are made with the stone. And Granite supplied blocks to the B&O Railroad to build the eight 60-foot arches for the Thomas Viaduct, which has spanned the Patapsco River since 1835 and was the first curved, stone-arched bridge in America.

After mining stopped about 1929, the quarry became Sylvan Dell, a local swimming hole which is no longer in use. Lockheed Martin Corp. uses it for sonar testing.

"My dad built the ladder and diving boards, so I got in free," recalled Marion C. Ashburn, 64, who brought his wife, Adelaide, as a newlywed 44 years ago to Woodstock, a town just over the Patapsco River from Granite.

"This area is stable. Many in the area were born and raised here. Very few houses have changed hands," said Sarah Swan, a resident for nine years. She enjoys riding her horses one block from Offutt Court to miles of trails in Patapsco State Park. She enters the park beside one of the two decommissioned Nike missile bases there.

One of the area's largest businesses is Edrich Farms Nursery, the family lumber business of Dick Stanfield and his brother, Ed. The nursery has about 100 employees and spans acreage as far as one can see off Old Court Road. It's a place where nursery stock is grown, logs are mulched and harvested trunks are milled. The Edrich Mills Woodshop uses generations-old designs for its solid-wood furniture, crafted for sale at small retail outlets from Connecticut to Georgia.

The evolution of Granite from a quarry town of 600 people to a quiet residential niche can be seen at the former public school.

Built in 1879 of local stone, the school was closed in 1941 and turned into the residence of Dr. Eugene Torrey and his wife. About a year ago, Brenda Hamilton and her husband Don, both from Granite, turned the home and many former furnishings of the Torrey family and their own into a museum-like shop of antiques and local crafts.

At Mount Welcome, the unmarked graves of slaves rest next to the granite markers of the town's first families: Walters, Worthington, Blunt.

Black, Scottish, Welsh, British, French and Italian immigrants arrived to work the quarries after 1870.

One former black schoolhouse is now a residence on Old Court Road. St. Peter Claver's, a church for black children, was supported by the Jesuit fathers at Woodstock College in the 1920s.

"Christmas in Granite helps to unify the community," said Abe Granek, who retired as principal of Patterson High School and moved to Granite about 25 years ago, becoming a historian and active association member. He serves on the public relations council for the Woodstock Job Corps.

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