A special identity forged in tragedy Chase more popular, but still the quiet place cherished before crash

Neighborhood profile: Chase

January 04, 1998|By Bob Graham | Bob Graham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eleven years ago today, Chase, a small, insular community near the water in eastern Baltimore County, was thrust into the national spotlight when an Amtrak train crashed into three Conrail locomotives, killing 16 people and injuring 170 others.

According to Realtors in the area, those who came as curiosity seekers found a close-knit community conveniently located near Interstate 95, Route 40 and Eastern Avenue.

Residents on that day took crash survivors into their homes, fed and comforted them and let them make long-distance calls to their families anywhere.

It was a defining moment for the community.

"It definitely made it more popular; it put it on the map," said Kathy Moran, a real estate agent with Re/Max Results Realty.

"Now, everyone knows where Chase is."

Located on the Gunpowder River at the end of Ebenezer Road, Chase has been undergoing a growth spurt in recent years, as more farmland is developed into residential housing.

Nowhere is the influx of new residents to Chase more evident than in the varying replies to a single question: Do you remember the crash?

Though some of the specifics of the tragedy may have been forgotten, longtime residents are quick to recall where they were when "the crash" occurred, its sounds and the effect it had on them.

Newer residents tend to assume that "the crash" refers to that of a military stealth jet during an air show at Martin State Airport.

L The jet crashed a few miles from Chase, in Bowleys Quarters.

For Marie Bartello, who grew up in Chase and returned to her hometown four years ago, the area is close enough to the city, but small enough for her to retain the feelings she had as a child.

She's at home with her two children, Molly, 8, and Jaynie, 5, in their three-bedroom, split-level house in Harewood Park.

"This is a quiet community, a quiet area, that just hasn't expanded as seriously as other areas, like Perry Hall and Bel Air and those type places," said Bartello, who works for Erie Insurance Group.

It's an easy four-mile drive to take her children to school at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church's school.

When traffic is light, her husband, Steve, can get to his job on St. Paul Street in the city in about 15 minutes.

"It's a short distance from White Marsh Mall, from Towson, because [Interstate] 95 is right there," Bartello said.

"And it doesn't feel like the walls are closing on you around here."

Chase has grown considerably during the past 85 years, said Martin Meyers, a lifelong resident and farmer.

Meyers remembers being taken in a horse-drawn carriage in 1919 to school at the Chase School, which still stands at Ebenezer and Earles roads.

The 100-acre produce farm he worked until he was 70 years old, off Ebenezer Road near U.S. 40, remains farmland, even though much of the land that used to be dedicated to agriculture is now the homes of mostly working-class residents.

"It's all been built up over the years," Meyers said, noting that he now has to wait -- sometimes for several minutes -- to get onto Ebenezer Road from his driveway.

"Traffic has really picked up. Chase is like a town compared to back when I was younger."

Familiar growth pattern

The growth of Chase has followed the pattern in many of Baltimore's suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s.

Many of those who moved to Chase did so because they had jobs at Glenn L. Martin Co., the giant aircraft building company located where the airport is now, or at Bethlehem Steel.

They found single-family homes they could afford, new schools and other amenities that appealed to baby boomers starting their families.

Charles and Anna Hajek came to Chase from Baltimore in 1950, moving into a new 27-by-54-foot rancher.

"It was way out in the county then," said Anna, a retired stenographer at Bethlehem Steel.

Her husband worked at Glenn L. Martin Co. until his retirement in 1982.

hTC "We loved the area because we had the woods," she said, noting that much of the open land has been consumed in the past decade by townhouse and single-family-home communities.

"It's a nice and friendly area," she added.

Diversity abounds

One thing that Chase offers is diversity.

Oliver Beach, a waterfront community established by Robert Oliver in 1932, offers beautiful open, waterfront homesites.

To someone driving along the waterfront road, Greenbank Road, it can resemble the seashore towns in New England or North Carolina.

A few blocks from the water, the appearance is of open, half-acre homesites, with vinyl-sided and brick-front houses between chain-link fences.

Closer to Eastern Avenue, other developments, such as Chase Manor, the Woods at Bay Country and Harewood Park, offer more modern townhouses or single-family homes, all sided in vinyl, dotting landscapes that used to be dedicated to farming.

Prices can range from the $70,000s for older townhouses away from the water to more than $200,000 for large, waterfront houses, agents say.

The diversity of housing options makes it a fluid housing market, according to Realtors in the area.

"It's a mixed bag with what Chase has to offer and with people moving in and out," Moran, the Realtor, said.

"This is one of the most affordable places for people who want to be close to the water, and for people who don't care about the water there are lots of different styles of house with different prices all over Chase."

Chase

Population: 16,850 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Public schools: Kenwood High, Perry Hall High, Chase Middle, Oliver Beach Elementary, Chase Elementary, Seneca Elementary

Points of interest: Robert Oliver Park, Gunpowder Falls State Park

ZIP code: 21220

Average price of a single-family home: $128,752*

* Based on 21 sales in last seven months by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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