In an age when most communities develop a signature, Perry Hall defies easy labels. It is a community of contrasts, with old and new housing creating a fascinating mix with established residents yearning to protect the ways of their neighborhood even as more people want to become part of it.
This mix along with housing prices that range from $70,000 to $250,000, makes the community of about 40,000 an attractive area for homebuyers, although about a third of people who buy homes in Perry Hall have already lived there.
Perry Hall is bisected by busy Belair Road. In the 220 years since the community started, Belair Road has grown in concert with the community's needs. Once it was a one-lane dirt road for horses, connecting Baltimore to Philadelphia. But now, as its expansion to five lanes nears completion, residents await what each previous expansion of U.S. 1 has brought: more traffic and more development.
Despite the obvious signs of growth, many reminders of Perry Hall's past remain prominent. When the din from construction equipment stops at noon, the chimes at the Perry Hall United Methodist Church ring out, transporting a visitor back several decades to when Perry Hall was a place where people looking for an affordable, blue-collar community outside of the city's net moved for a new start in the mid-1950s.
Ann Webster remembers wanting a place "away from Overlea" when she and her husband, Irving, moved to a collection of brick ranchers on the east side of Belair Road in 1957.
"We came here because it was a well-built house," Webster said. They paid "in the teens -- in fee" for it. Unlike lots of their neighbors, the Websters never made a third bedroom out of the loft area.
Webster points to an intersection that used to be a dead end but now carries residents back to two-story, vinyl-sided houses, sitting closer together than her corner house sits to its neighbor.
"There's a lot more traffic and a lot more people, but it's still a good place to live, quiet," Webster said.
Across Belair Road in Cedarside Farms, clusters of two- and three-bedroom townhouses costing $90,000 to $120,000 sit on postage-stamp lots. A few feet away, four-bedroom, single-family houses, with big decks on quarter-acre lots that back up to busy Belair Road, offer a buyer a $200,000 to $250,000 option.
"The diversity of housing around here is just wonderful," said Sharon L. Blough, manager of the Perry Hall Long & Foster office. "We have homes for newcomers, empty-nesters, in well-established and new areas."
Just about every housing appetite can be met, with condominiums in Seven Courts, an area where Berg's dairy used to be. When coupled with the schools -- Perry Hall elementary, middle and high -- the area rivals or betters most of those schools north of Baltimore, residents say.
Bob Honeycutt, a tire salesman, and his wife, Julie, a teacher at Jacksonville Elementary School, moved from Northeast Baltimore to Perry Hall 2 1/2 years ago because "it was close to everything and it had a really good school system," he said. The couple's three children, Andrew, 7, Abbey, 4, and Allison, 1, enjoy the one-third acre yard outside their three-bedroom, single-family house on Transoms Road.
For someone who grew up in Parkville, Perry Hall is "more of a suburb," but their street is not a through street, meaning that traffic won't get too bad in coming years, Honeycutt said.
"It's definitely a lot better than where we were," he added, referring to their former home in Northeast Baltimore.
With Perry Hall's growing population of empty-nesters, rush hours there aren't as busy as in some Baltimore suburbs. In 10 minutes, residents can be to Interstate 95 at White Marsh, heading toward Baltimore, Annapolis or Washington.
Most every shopping need can be met at White Marsh Mall, the assortment of strip centers along Belair Road, or even in Towson, a mere 15 minutes away.
For recreation, Gunpowder Falls State Park's U.S. 1 parking area is to the north of Perry Hall, offering miles of trails for hikers, bikers and a place to walk the dogs.
Children find dawn-to-dusk recreational level sports at the Perry Hall High School complex.
Despite efforts by groups such as the Perry Hall Improvement Association, boasting about 500 dues-paying members, Perry Hall continues to move farther from its beginnings. In 1775, Harry Dorsey Gough bought a 1,000-acre estate just below the Big Gunpowder Falls called "The Adventure," and renamed it "Perry Hall."
Around his vast holdings emerged mining, milling and other working class, riverside industry, which brought a rush of German and Irish immigrants at the end of the Civil War. Their names still occupy mailboxes -- Klausmeier, Kraft, Kahl and Butt -- making it one of Baltimore County's best melting pots.