Clinging to identity in a sea of change


Residents appreciate the small-town aura

May 23, 1999|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Dorothy Good was growing up in Reisterstown, the neighborhood to the east -- Owings Mills -- was just a name of a place on a map.

"Why, there really wasn't anything even there," said Good, a resident of Reisterstown for 71 of her 72 years. But in the last 15 years, Reisterstown, on the map for 241 years, has been overshadowed and practically engulfed by the high growth of Owings Mills and Owings Mills New Town.

Still, residents of Reisterstown think of themselves as a separate town with its own identity, quite apart from Owings Mills. The main street of Reisterstown and its surrounding community is doing rather well these days. In fact, many consider Reisterstown a real town when compared to Owings Mills.

While Owings Mills' definition of a town center is a shopping mall and office buildings, Reisterstown is a traditional community with churches, schools, a library, and businesses at its heart.

Its Main Street, at the junction of routes 140 and 30, has just had a face lift that -- including new sidewalks and lighting -- that gives its business district with its antique shops a more unified look.

"The sidewalks were narrow and broken, and the road was a mess," recalled Carolyn Eichler, chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce's Main Street council. The council and property owners, with the state and Baltimore County, pushed the project through to completion in the fall of 1998.

"It's really improved the business climate," added Eichler.

The renovation was important because, within Reisterstown, two shopping centers several blocks from the Main Street business hub on Route 140 drew business away from the original shopping area. But with a new Food Lion grocery story and gas station at routes 140 and 30, Main Street is attracting a new wave of shoppers. Almost all the residences that line Reisterstown Road have been converted ti professional offices or small businesses, including a Queen Anne-style house, which is now Newport Assisted Living.

The Reisterstown Business Center, a complex built in the early 1990s off Chatsworth Road, is fully leased, providing an employment center for the area. Most residents, however, commute to Towson or Hunt Valley or take the metro at Owings Mills to go to downtown Baltimore.

Homebuyers are drawn to Reisterstown because of the small-town atmosphere, something that doesn't exist in Owings Mills, said Robin Hodel, an agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler Real Estate Inc., who moved to the area from Vermont.

"It's just like my little hometown in Vermont," said Hodel. Many buyers feel they must move to Carroll County, but they can get a reasonably priced home in a country-like setting in Reisterstown, Hodel said.

Although Owings Mills has become an important employment center with companies such as T. Rowe Price and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, a lot of corporate people choose to live in Reisterstown. "Some people don't want to live where they work," explained Glenn Barnes, manager of Coldwell Banker Grempler's office in Reisterstown.

The new homes that have been built recently along Route 140 are all townhouse developments such as Goldsboro Manor, an upscale gated community, and Timbergrove. There's not many large tracts left for development, said Hodel, adding what's available are mainly scattered lots for detached homes.

Properties on the market average from the low $100,000 range to almost $200,000. "Sales have been excellent," said Barnes, who credits a lot of the purchases to corporate relocation buyers.

Reisterstown's schools along Main Street enhance its community feel. Franklin High School is undergoing an expansion, a sign of the area's popularity. Farther west, Franklin Middle and Elementary schools form one academic complex.

The Hannah More Academy, a former private school for girls, has been converted into a county park with the original building housing a senior center and county offices. A new Hannah More School for special-needs students has been established on the grounds.

Before Reisterstown was a town, Reisterstown Road was an Indian footpath. In 1736, it was included in a route called the Conewago Road that was constructed between Baltimore and Hanover, Pa. It became an important route to western Pennsylvania traveled by settlers on horseback and in covered wagons. After the American Revolution, its improvement became one of the first large-scale public works projects of the new nation. After the work was completed, tollgates were erected charging 2 1/2 cents per mile for a wagon drawn by two horses.

As soon as John Reister founded the town in 1758, its economy centered on this route. It was one day's travel by wagon from Baltimore, and taverns, lodging houses, stables, and general stores catered to travelers' needs. Until 1921, when it was taken over by the state and designated Route 140, Reisterstown Road was made of dirt and stones.

"I can remember farmers driving horses and wagons taking their produce to Baltimore," said Dorothy Good. Her husband, Charles, remembers coming to Reisterstown after World War II. "There was only one stop light between Pikesville and Reisterstown," he said.

Now, "Reisterstown and Owings Mills have come together," lamented Dorothy Good. But when asked which one is the best place to live, she gives the nod to Reisterstown.


ZIP code: 21136

Average commuting time to Baltimore: 30 minutes

Public schools: Franklin Elementary School, Reisterstown Elementary, Franklin Middle School, Franklin High School

Shopping: Reisterstown Shopping Center, Chartley Park Shopping Center, Owings Mills Town Center

Homes on the market: 36

Average listing price: $147,966*

Average sales price: $147,966*

Average days on market: 182

Sales price as a percentage of listing: 97%*

* Based on 70 sales in the past 12 months as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

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