Forget the traffic, they 'just love living here' Jessup residents don't let drawbacks dim their enthusiasm

Neighborhood profile: Jessup

November 16, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Vicki Zelenka loves the small section of Jessup in Howard County, its woods, its close-knit neighbors, its small-town feel. She says you hardly know that U.S. 1 is only yards away.

To Zelenka, 38, Jessup -- boxed between Interstate 95 to the west, U.S. 1 to the east, Route 175 to the north and Route 32 to the south -- has the best of all possible worlds: affordable housing, a rural flavor, wonderful neighbors, children, great schools, not to mention proximity to Columbia.

"I just love living here, the people," said Zelenka, who lives in a quaint neighborhood, with tree-lined streets and multicolored woods behind houses. "It's the nicest place I've lived."

Yet, just yards from Zelenka's two-story home, cars and trucks whiz down U.S. 1 toward industrial parks, prisons and business centers located near the highway -- something that overshadows this neighborhood's attributes, according to residents and real estate agents.

It's a shadow that will probably keep this small-town paradox from becoming a "sought-after community," Realtors say.

But don't tell residents that. They enjoy living here, near Columbia but without being subject to the Columbia Association fees, and being close to Baltimore and Washington. In fact, many residents said they moved here recently -- most within the last 10 years -- because of the area's hidden flavor.

"You don't even know [U.S.] 1 is there," said Zelenka, who has a 4-year-old son. "We have lots of roads, easy access, but it's isolated. I like having the woods across the street. Everybody knows each other back here. It's like living in a small town."

Traveling down U.S. 1, you'd never really know Jessup -- a series of clustered neighborhoods of townhouses, single-family homes and a mobile home park just off the highway -- even existed in the vicinity of the Patuxent Institution, the Maryland House of Correction, the Howard County Detention Center, the Maryland Wholesale Food Center, the Baltimore Washington Industrial Park.

The town of Jessup is in Anne Arundel County and no one seems exactly certain why this small sliver of eastern Howard County received that name.

Some say it's because local post offices in Howard wouldn't process mail for African-Americans a century ago, forcing them to use the Jessup post office.

Others doubt that and say it's simply the area's proximity to the B&O railroad, which is how Jessup got its name.

According to local historian Joetta Cramm, it seems that a railroad engineer, whose last name was Jessup, cut through hills to get the railroad through, hence, what became known as Jessup's Cut finally became Jessup.

"It should really be Guilford," Cramm said. "When I think of Jessup, I think of the area in the corner of Route 175 and [U.S.] 1."

But during the last decade, people have been moving to new and old homes here, fleeing what they say are cities with problems, and they're finding small-town communities filled with local flavor.

Population up 50%

In 1980 about 780 people lived in the Jessup area; in 1990 about 1,210, the majority of them residing in family households, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

One family, the Thompsons, moved in two doors down from Zelenka two years ago.

"I just love it here," said Marie Thompson, 24, who has a 4-year-old daughter. Marie and her husband, Les, 23, built their two-story home's basement themselves, then had a company install a modular unit.

They moved from Laurel for the quieter feel of Jessup, they said, and the easy access the neighborhood provides to major highways. They also moved here so their daughter could attend Howard County schools, a system with a good reputation.

Schools and shops

Children here can attend a variety of elementary schools -- Bollman Bridge, Guilford and Deep Run -- and, later, Patuxent Valley Middle School and Howard High School.

For shopping there is the The Mall in Columbia and strip centers in Laurel, residents say, and they frequently visit Washington and Baltimore, the latter only about 30 minutes away.

"It's a fairly easy commute," said Ron Nenno, 38, a jeweler who works in Hill Crest Heights in Prince George's County. "Once rush hour dies down, it's quiet, not a lot of traffic."

Off Guilford Road, which runs south of the area, lives Katherine Paye, who's been calling the area home for 32 years. She says it has changed a lot since she arrived, with all the construction and new residents. But she likes having closer neighbors.

Stable community

"You can still know your neighbors," said Paye. "There are still yards here for kids to play in. There's also a lot more convenience now than in the past."

The average single-family detached home here sells for between $129,000 and $179,000, and the average townhouse goes for $119,000 to $140,000, said Shirley Judd, a real estate agent for Century 21.

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