Little town came of age down by the mainline Stable community, highway access are among attractions

Neighborhood profile: Halethorpe

November 30, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

They had ice cream and cake the other night at the Halethorpe-Relay United Methodist Church on Ridge Avenue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Halethorpe Improvement Association.

Joseph B. Kinsey, a Halethorpe resident who has been active in the association since 1963 and now serves as president, pronounced the evening a success.

"We have 210 households, which translates into about 400 members, and we're still growing," said Kinsey, 66, a metallurgist who retired in 1995.

Kinsey is effusive in his praise of the quiet little community that is 6.9 miles from Baltimore and is bisected by two railroads and such major thoroughfares as U.S. 1, better known locally as Washington Boulevard, and Southwestern Boulevard, Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Beltway.

Residents seem to hardly notice their proximity to roaring highways, which seem to hum behind the trees. Nor do they seem to care about Amtrak's mainline, which daily carries a plethora of express trains as well as the long CSX freight drags and MARC commuter trains on the old B&O mainline.

In fact, all this mechanical noise, so apparent to an outsider, only briefly fazed the Kinseys.

"When we first moved in and for a couple of nights, every time I heard a train or a whistle I'd think, 'My God, what have we done?' " Kinsey said with a hearty laugh.

But Kinsey and his wife of 41 years, Helen E. "Stormy" Kinsey, 64, a lifelong Halethorper who was born during the great hurricane of 1933 and given the nickname by her father, have nothing but praise for their neighborhood.

"It's a very stable neighborhood, and it seems you can only buy a house in Halethorpe if someone dies," Mrs. Kinsey, a retired secretary, said laughing.

"I've been attending Ascension Roman Catholic Church for 64 years," Mrs. Kinsey said from her kitchen the other day. "I was christened there, married there, and I guess I'll be buried from there."

Stability and continuity seem to be among the attractions of the little town that grew up alongside the railroad tracks next door to Arbutus and Lansdowne.

Along with Relay and St. Denis, Halethorpe became home to generations of Baltimore and Ohio railroad workers, who daily took the company's commuter trains to jobs in Baltimore or Washington.

As association president, Kinsey's time is taken up with staying on top of developers, zoning violators, going to Towson for hearings or before county officials and other matters -- almost like a full-time job.

It is one that he clearly enjoys, but at the same time expresses hope that a younger person will step forward and take up the good work.

"If we hadn't been involved like we have been over the last 40 years, this community could have gone down and stayed down. I want to see Halethorpe remain viable and, if it stays viable, then property values will stay up," Kinsey said.

Kinsey enjoys taking a visitor on a tour of the community that is noted for its hilly streets. Summit, Ridge and Fairview avenues, for instance, come by their names honestly as they dip and soar to the tree-shrouded heights near Halethorpe Elementary School and the Good Shepherd Center, a residential treatment facility for emotionally and behaviorally challenged adolescents that was built and opened by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1970.

Standing on the school grounds, Kinsey is quick to point out the spectacular views of distant Catonsville and the Baltimore skyline, and says that he occasionally spots fox and deer on his walks through the area.

Housing stock ranges from spacious, turreted Victorians complete with decorative ironwork crowning their towers that are right out of "The Magnificent Ambersons" period to 1920s-era bungalows, clapboard and cedar-shaked two-story houses with shutters to a modern garden apartment complex built several years ago.

"Safe and stable"

Most houses are set on spacious, tree-shaded lots with broad lawns that are ringed with carefully groomed hedges.

The Rev. Claire Fiedler is pastor of Halethorpe-Relay United Methodist Church that was built in 1893 and has 350 members.

"It's an active congregation in an old, established community that is both safe and stable," said Fiedler, whose church is used by several local groups for meetings as well as by four Scout troops that call the church hall home.

She is quick to point out that it is a church that reaches beyond the borders of Halethorpe to those in need and is an active participant with Southwest Emergency Services.

According to Diana Becker, an agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. in Halethorpe, the market is "strong," with the average house remaining on the market for 85 days.

She attributes the popularity of the community to convenience.

"The convenience factor is wonderful. In 10 to 12 minutes you're at the front door of Baltimore-Washington International Airport or on Interstate 95 in three minutes."

She also explains that the housing stock of "big old houses with large rooms" is attractive to potential buyers.

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