Development further fuels fears that Freetown will lose identity

Residents are pleading to preserve its name

August 22, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The small Glen Burnie neighborhood of Freetown has always been more than a place to live to its residents. Homeowners have regarded it as hallowed ground, a destination for runaway slaves in the mid-1800s who bought land there, and a refuge from a segregated society during the next century.

But for 20 years, community members have watched the historic African-American area shrink as residents have sold property to developers.

Those who remain complain about development. But the latest subdivision proposal has residents worried that something less tangible -- the Freetown name and its rich history -- may be lost to future generations of African-Americans.

Lillie Caldwell-Walker, a county teacher, grew up in Freetown. She, her parents and her eight siblings live in homes in a compound-type arrangement on family property adjacent to the proposed 32-home project called Mountain Valley.

"They're chiseling away all around, and pretty soon there won't be a Freetown," she said. Caldwell-Walker was among a group of residents who attended a county zoning hearing last month to express concerns about the proposed subdivision. The Baldwin Corp. of Arnold plans to build on 11.5 acres near Freetown Road and New Freetown Road.

Residents say the name "Freetown" doesn't appear in surrounding or proposed developments.

"We've tried to preserve as much as we can, but it seems to be eroding real fast," said Willie Johnson, president of the Freetown Improvement Association.

Free blacks established Freetown in the 1840s, buying land across the Marley Neck peninsula.

Donna Ware, the county's historical site planner, said the community is right to worry about losing its identity: "There are deep roots there, and it's got a great history."

"We'd be very open to anything that might fit the area better," said Patricia Baldwin, a vice president of the Baldwin Corp. The name of a subdivision typically changes during the development process, she said.

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