Slaves, presidents populate history of just-folks area

NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE : Bowleys Quarters

Wooded and rural, it also has Miami Beach

August 29, 1999|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On any given day, Thomas Lehner can observe an abundance of wildlife from his 1.75-acre property -- from deer to nesting turtles, from snakes to several species of birds. In describing his land, people would assume Lehner lives in one of the bucolic suburbs of Baltimore County -- say Sparks, Long Green or Granite.

Better, says Lehner, he lives next to the water in Bowleys Quarters.

"It's still really very wooded and it gives you a feeling of isolation. It has a very nice rural feel to it," said Lehner, who moved to his waterfront home about eight years ago. "My wife and I lived in a rehab in upper Fells Point with the idea of always having a waterfront [home]. It was our long-range plan that worked out."

Lehner, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association for the past two years, chose the location after looking at several other waterfront communities.

"We looked around at a lot of areas. We were looking for something with a yard. This property was originally classified as a water view because it was on marsh land, so it was a good price. We got the permits and put in a pier and had it reclassified as a waterfront," Lehner said.

"The houses are spread out here. You do meet your neighbors, but not like the suburbs where you are right on top of one another. And it's not a transient neighborhood, and that's what we were looking for. We are always impressed when we meet people that have lived here their whole lives."

Fred Conrad, who owns a recreational park called Conrad's Ruth Villa and the Parkside Marina, is one such person. Conrad has lived in Bowleys Quarters since 1931.

"It's a great neighborhood. The people are down to earth. We don't have a lot of snobs here, even though we have a lot of rich people with shore homes," Conrad said.

"There's enough country around to feel like you're out in the suburbs. And its great because it's a nice place to live and also a nice place to visit. The water is a strong attraction, but we have other strong attractions beyond the water."

Conrad's family originally ran a restaurant that existed until World War II when gas and food rationing killed the business. From there, he drifted into the catering business and opened up his waterfront park for company picnics and other events. Just last year the Parkside Marina opened.

"The neighborhood has changed a lot. It was a farming community in what they used to call `the sticks.' The houses were mostly shore homes that people lived in just during the summertime."

Bowleys Quarters is a Middle River peninsula bordered by Eastern Boulevard, Carroll Island Road, Seneca Creek, Frog Mortar Creek, Galloway Creek and the Chesapeake Bay.

The area was originally settled by Daniel Bowley, a sea captain and merchant, in the mid-1700s. Bowley owned nearly 2,000 acres around Baltimore, including what became known as Bowleys Quarters and was used to "quarter" his slaves.

Hunter presidents

The property was eventually turned into a game preserve where goose, pheasant and ducks were hunted. Famous visitors to the pristine hunting grounds included President Grover Cleveland and President Benjamin Harrison. In 1907, the property was sold as a vacation spot, and in the 1920s summer homes were developed along the waterfront.

The homes today range from $300,000 waterfronts to townhouses under $100,000. In between are ranchers, bungalows, Cape Cods and Colonials. Many of the original one- and two-room bungalows have been transformed into modern three- and four-bedroom homes.

Bowleys Quarters is still on well and septic. And with the failure of some wells in the area, the county has declared temporary limits on development in certain environmentally sensitive sections of Bowleys Quarters.

The development controls were needed to limit access to new sewers being installed. The county planning board is expected to draft a more permanent plan for addressing future growth.

Yet the water remains the main attraction.

"Bowleys Quarters is well known for the waterfronts. The water is deep, and they never have a problem with having to dredge," said Jo Ann Folk, an agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty.

"It's also a very good area for first-time buyers because once they get down there, they don't want to leave," Folk added. "The value of the homes holds very well down there. You're getting your money's worth when you buy in Bowleys Quarters."

The attraction of waterfront activities, the convenience of being close to the Baltimore Beltway, plus houses in just about every price range keep the area attractive, says Folk.

"You have a lot to choose from. You have ranchers, contemporaries, split-levels -- you name it, you got it. People are always looking for the relaxed atmosphere and you get that in Bowleys Quarters year-round. But you also have easy access to Route 702 and the beltway. So everything is right there for them and yet it's out of the hustle and bustle of other neighborhoods," Folk said.

Grew up there

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