Live music revives train depot in Carroll County's Sykesville

August 13, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Sykesville's train depot used to be the center of commerce in this tranquil town.

Between 1827, when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad opened the station, and 1949, when passenger service ceased, life was regulated by the trains that puffed into town twice a day.

Those trains brought goods, mail and wealthy Baltimoreans headed for their vacation homes. They returned to the city with fruits, vegetables, milk, cattle and pigs. Sykesville still has a law that prohibits anyone from driving swine along Main Street to the depot.

That should not be a problem for the depot in its current incarnation -- Baldwin's Station & Pub, a restaurant that has become a regular stop on the folk music circuit, drawing acts from around the region and patrons from as far as Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The station that once was a place to conduct business, chat with neighbors or say goodbye to loved ones has come back to life.

"There was a hubbub of activity there when the trains came in," said Wiley Purkey, a member of Sykesville Historic District Commission.

When the trains stopped, the station began a slow deterioration that ended in 1988, when the town bought the building and started restoring it.

Jack and Helen Aum opened a restaurant there in 1990 and dubbed it Baldwin's, after the architect E. Francis Baldwin, who designed the building. The existing structure, opened in 1883, replaced the original, which was damaged by floods in 1868.

Last year, restaurateur Stuart Dearie took over and, under its new name, the restaurant took off.


Dearie and his wife, Ridia, revamped the interior, added patio seating and outdoor lighting, changed the menu and -- most important -- started booking music acts once a week.

Sherree Lance, general manager of the restaurant, said business has quadrupled since it opened as Baldwin's Station & Pub a year ago.

"The new Baldwin's has generated a lot more foot traffic in town," said Purkey.

That is due in no small part to the music.

"It's the music that brings people to the restaurant, not the restaurant introducing people to the music," said Joyce R. Sica, the concert promoter whose Uptown Concerts books acts into Baldwin's Station.

"People will follow where the singers go," she said.

She books a variety of acts for Baldwin's small stage. Most can be classified as folk acts, but that covers a lot of musical ground -- from bluegrass and country to rock and Celtic.

The stage is tucked into a corner of the larger of Baldwin's Station's two dining rooms. Both dining rooms are small, but feel cozy instead of claustrophobic thanks to high beamed ceilings. A bar separates the two rooms. Additional seating is available outside on the restaurant's deck, which overlooks the still-active train tracks and a shallow arm of the Patapsco River.

Among acts that have recently played at Baldwin's Station are Tom Meltzer, lead singer for Five Chinese Brothers, and Garnet Rogers, an acclaimed singer-songwriter.

'Neat place'

"I didn't know this was here," said Baltimore resident Cindy Christensen, who made her first trip to Sykesville last week to hear Meltzer.

"I'm definitely coming back," she said. "And not just for the music. This is just a really neat place."

Ekkehard Hegener, a resident of Hamburg, Germany, liked Baldwin's Station so much that he visited it twice during his monthlong vacation in the United States.

"It's a great place," he said.

He was staying with Maria and Joe DeAusen, who live in Potomac and said it was worth the hourlong drive, as did their daughter, Baltimorean Joanne DeAusen.

"We had a great time on our first visit," Joanne DeAusen said, of the reason for their return. "I like the ambience of the place."


Lance, the general manager, said the restaurant has developed a regular clientele.

"Some of them are in here once a week or more. I know them by name," she said.

She said she frequently takes reservations from people who live in Rockville, Laurel, Washington and Northern Virginia.

"I think they think it's a nice drive in the country, a good outing," she said.

Baldwin's Station also offers a children's theater about once a month. Dearie and his staff push back the tables and chairs in the restaurant's main room so the youthful audience can sit on the floor to see the show.

Ticket fees for the Wednesday night music and the children's theater go to the artist. Baldwin's Station collects nothing from the shows except the price of a meal if the concertgoer orders one.

"It's a good way to reach out into the community," said Dearie. "It's good publicity."

Trains, too

The building has not abandoned its heritage. Trains still roar by -- to the delight of children and train buffs but sometimes to the chagrin of performers in the middle of a set.

In addition to the Wednesday night shows and children's theater, Dearie started holding a farmers' market Wednesdays on the restaurant parking lot. Next month, he plans to offer cooking classes in the restaurant kitchen, presided over by Baldwin's Station's executive chef, Donald Spence.

Also under consideration is converting a large basement room into another dining room, or perhaps a banquet room.

Dearie is everywhere in the place. He can be found greeting diners, serving drinks behind the bar or wandering from table to table, chatting with patrons.

When no music acts are scheduled, Dearie is the mix master of the restaurant's compact disc player. Diners are likely to hear anything from Louie Armstrong or traditional Scottish airs to Ladysmith Black Mombassa.

"I want this to be an experience," said Dearie. "Not just a meal."

Pub Date: 8/13/98

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