Welcome-sign sparks Glen Burnie's identity crisis

Officials unsure of community's limits

April 04, 1999|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The plan was to give Glen Burnie a little respectability, distinction even, with four large welcome signs strategically placed at the community's limits.

But after three months of talks on financing and design, the commission appointed to oversee the project stumbled upon a rather important -- and apparently difficult -- question.

Where is Glen Burnie?

"Ask anybody, nobody knows," said Joe Corcoran, second in command of the community's sign commission.

The once simple plan has thrown the community into an identity crisis. The commission is thinking about creating another commission to study the weighty question. One civic leader said the community might have to hire a consultant.

The answer has remained elusive.

The U.S. Postal Service says Glen Burnie is the area contained within the ZIP codes 21060 and 21061. But those ZIP codes also encompass Marley, which is considered part of Pasadena, and Ferndale which is, well, Ferndale.

"This is definitely not Glen Burnie," Ed Wilson, a 46-year veteran of the Ferndale Fire Department, said with a huff. "Ferndale is Ferndale. Nobody comes in and nobody goes out. Glen Burnie is full of transients. If people put up a sign calling this Glen Burnie, well, we will probably have a civil uprising."

Several Glen Burnie residents have offered unsolicited advice, commission members say. One suggested Glen Burnie "starts at the Kmart." Or it "goes until you reach Pasadena; once you're in Pasadena, you're not in Glen Burnie."

A local business map, which includes Marley, but not Ferndale or Solley -- another point of contention -- comes with a disclaimer: "We can not guarantee complete authenticity," it reads across the bottom. "We would appreciate additions or corrections."

It seems two things are known for certain: Glen Burnie is in the northern part of Anne Arundel County and its center is the Anne Arundel Community College building on Crain Highway and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, once the WB&A Railroad station and now the heart of "town center" revitalization efforts.

Many people say they know when they are in Glen Burnie; they just aren't sure when they leave it.

"I know people who live up by the Wal-Mart, and that's Glen Burnie," suggested Cathy Dittmar, who works at Tangles Salon on Crain Highway near the community college. "And down by the votech school is also Glen Burnie, so maybe it ends somewhere in there."

"I always tell people Glen Burnie is between Annapolis and Brooklyn Park," said Robert Sieck, a Glen Burnie bricklayer. "But if you told somebody to meet you on the edge of Glen Burnie, nobody would know what you were talking about. It's weird like that."

That one of the oldest communities in Anne Arundel County can't figure out where it is -- or worse, should have to define itself by where other communities are not -- is a point of vexation for residents. Some community historians say it is because of Glen Burnie's long, rich history that it is so hard to outline.

When the Curtis Creek Mining, Furnace and Manufacturing Co. bought 3,000 acres in the 1880s and named it after the owner, John Glenn, Glen Burnie was comparatively easy to define. It consisted of three houses and a blacksmith shop.

But the community started growing almost immediately, enticing Baltimoreans tired of the city. By 1889, Anne Arundel County made it an election district and described its boundaries as the place "where the Baltimore Short Line Railroad crossed Light Street Road," neither of which exists anymore.

Members of the sign commission say those boundaries are not helpful.

By World War II, Glen Burnie's civic officials set the community's limits, largely marking business and residential areas inside the community, and farms -- which have since disappeared or become subdivisions -- outside the limits. The problem with that, Corcoran said, is that Glen Burnie as most people know it today didn't really come of age until it expanded to three times its size during the postwar march to the suburbs.

It is those limits no one seems able to discern. "It has been quite a problem," said Al Brandt, in charge of the sign and arch projects. "We're going to have to get together with the historical society, I think, to figure this out."

For the time being, the commission has shelved the welcome-sign project as members make final preparations for a two-year project to hoist a giant arch emblazoned with the community logo near the community college building to mark the town center. Corcoran and Brandt said they are confident this spot is in Glen Burnie.

Of course, Corcoran added, "Nobody can say for sure."

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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