Landmark swimming hole is up for sale Fixture: The owner of the Milford Mill Swimming Club, used by generations of Baltimoreans, wants to retire.

June 27, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF Staff writer Jamie Smith contributed to this article.

For nearly half a century, Milford Mill Swimming Club has been an emerald oasis in Randallstown, a neighborhood fixture whose scrapbook includes a race discrimination suit and a part in the John Waters' movie, "Cry Baby."

But the swimming hole popular with generations of Baltimoreans -- and known for its Tarzan ropes that let the adventurous swing and leap into the cool quarry waters below -- is up for sale.

Owner Linda Schlee Gamber, in hopes of retiring, is asking $1.5 million for the 18-acre club her father started in 1952.

"I'm letting go of a baby," Gamber said. "My mother and father ran this, then my brother and then me -- it's left everything on my shoulders, and it's a big weight to carry."

Just off Interstate 695, the club can accommodate up to 3,000 patrons and has three pools, a deep, water-filled quarry, floating dock, sandy beach, picnic grounds, horseshoe games, two-story water slide, hot tub and catering facilities.

Billing itself as a "family facility," it draws patrons who pay fees of up to $11 per day -- $5 for children 5 to 11 and $2 for children under 4 -- to swim until nearly 9 p.m. A theatrical day camp for school-age children is held every June and July.

Yesterday, the club was filled with the sounds of summer, as children played in a shallow pool next to the quarry, adults relaxed under shade trees and teen-agers splashed down from the ropes.

The sand next to the pool was a familiar scene of beach umbrellas, toy shovels and lounge chairs. Elsewhere on the grounds, patrons played horseshoes, ate lunch and slapped on sun block.

Chrissy Gonsalves -- fresh off a back flip into the quarry -- waited her turn at the high rope and expressed dismay that the property was for sale. "They shouldn't sell it," said the 13-year-old. "They should keep it."

Carol Matthews, 42, a mother of three who has come to Milford Mill for 16 years, hopes the club will remain the same if it is sold.

"It's a great place to spend the whole day," she said, as her 6-year-old daughter, Patrice, slid down the higher of two slides into the pool. "The kids always have a ball when we come here. Every summer, that's always the first place they want to go -- to the 'big pool.' "

Others liked the history of the quarry.

"There is a lot of background here very nostalgic," said Greg Maus, 42, as he swam at Milford Mill earlier in the week. "I live in the city and was out this way on a job interview and thought I'd stop in. I hadn't been here in 20 years. I had no idea this was still here -- it brings back great memories."

But the club has experienced some difficult times in the past.

Last summer, two swimmers drowned within two weeks in the 18-foot-deep quarry, after Gamber said they ventured into waters too deep for their swimming abilities. In 1995, a 16-year-old drowned in the club's pool area.

Controvery in 1968

The club was embroiled in controversy in 1968 when owner Joseph F. Schlee, Gamber's father, refused to admit black swimmers.

After the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit in federal court, Schlee agreed to admit blacks. The July 1969 agreement included mailing 11,000 letters to residents of northwest Baltimore County inviting them to visit the pool.

Gamber said the settlement helped open up many private clubs on the East Coast. Today, black and white swimmers patronize Milford Mill, and the club employs blacks as lifeguards.

Community leaders in surrounding neighborhoods generally like having the swim club in their area, but they also say there have been complaints about it in recent years.

"Over the past three summers, there have been a series of fights, a kid drowned there, and people in the surrounding communities have called me concerned about the loud noise and other problems that have spilled out into the community," said Ella White Campbell, executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council, a coalition of organizations in the Liberty Road and Pikesville areas.

Overall, she said, "it's good to have a swim club in the community."

"At the same time, if it's creating problems, it's creating problems," she said. "It's an institution, it's been there a number of years, and I think the owners are tired of dealing with the foolishness."

Officer Joseph Goralczyk, of the Garrison precinct community outreach office, said his unit had received no official complaints about the club.

No major crisis seen

"Anytime you have a facility which is open to the public, there's always going to be calls for service," Goralczyk said. "Nothing has been, to my [knowledge], a major crisis out there."

Barry Schleiffer, director of the Liberty-Randallstown Coalition, added: "It's a very important asset to the community; a place where people can get together. It's success is important."

Meanwhile, Gamber continues to seek a buyer for the club. Last week, she offered to sell it to Bethel AME Church in Baltimore after learning that church leaders wanted to expand to a site in the county. Undeveloped parts of the club sit on property zoned for 3.5 houses per acre.

But Bethel officials said they have entered into a contract to purchase a 256-acre site in Granite and could not legally consider the Milford Mill offer.

Gamber remains hopeful she can find the right buyer. "I won't close it," Gamber said of the club. "I am very finicky. I've had offers to sell -- it's a grand opportunity for the right kind of people."

Pub Date: 6/27/98

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