Historic district label propels rejuvenation of old mill village

Neighborhood profile: Franklintown

Designation brings state tax credit for building renovations

April 23, 2000|By Charles Belfoure | Charles Belfoure,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The future of Franklintown is its past, say its residents.

The little mill village wedged between Leakin Park and the city line was designated a Baltimore City Local Historic District in March 1999, opening opportunities for rejuvenating the neighborhood.

"The designation was an absolutely critical catalyst for Franklintown," said Fred Worthington, a resident since 1964. Becoming a historic district brings one very important tool in preserving buildings: It offers property owners financial incentives to renovate historic properties. One of them is the historic tax credit that allows owners to reduce their Maryland income tax bill by 25 percent of the cost of their rehab work.

Worthington, who lives in the original Franklintown Mill, is working with an architect to look into rehabbing a warehouse across the street from his home into professional offices. Only the thick stone walls are left of the structure.

"Without the historic tax credits, doing the warehouse would be difficult, if not impossible," said Worthington, who owns five properties in the community.

Bill Eberhart, president of the Franklintown Community Association and owner of several properties along North Forest Park Avenue, agrees that the historic designation will help the neighborhood.

"Being a historic district will stabilize the neighborhood and improve property values," said Eberhart. "Franklintown's really been reinvigorated in the last 18 months. Everybody's been really involved."

Eberhart, whose association also includes Windsor Terrace and Windsordale across the city line, will be rehabbing a barn on one of his properties and will take advantage of the historic tax credit.

The community has a small commercial area at North Forest Park and Franklintown Road, consisting of two eating and drinking establishments, well-known to Baltimoreans, The Franklintown Inn and The Millrace.

"We established a good working relationship with the owners, and they were in favor of the designation," said Worthington, who rehabbed a farmhouse into professional office space next to The Millrace.

There are 42 properties in the historic district, which does not encompass the entire Franklintown neighborhood. Currently, few houses are for sale in or outside the district.

Susie Rippel, an agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA in Eldersburg, is listing a home built in 1920 with four bedrooms, including an in-law suite on the third floor, for $112,900.

"The inside is in mint condition," said Rippel.

Rippel's listing is on Maple Park Avenue, a street lined with charming houses dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries that is in the historic district boundaries.

"Driving down the street is like stepping back in time, but the neighborhood is incredibly convenient to everything," said Rippel.

Franklintown sits directly across Security Boulevard from the eastern terminus of Interstate 70 that connects with the Beltway, making commuting easier. Edmondson Avenue is a few blocks away and is the fastest route into the city.

Franklintown makes a dual contribution to Baltimore's history. Aside from the collection of mill buildings that illustrates the region's industrial heritage, the neighborhood was one of the first attempts at suburban development in the United States. As with many suburban schemes, it started with the building of a road.

In 1827, Franklin Turnpike was established to give farmers a direct, well-maintained route into the city to bring produce and other goods for sale.

In 1831, the Maryland Jockey Club built the Central Race Course at the western terminus of the road. Its one-week racing season became an important social event for the city.

William Freeman, who donated the land for the race course, believed Franklintown was a prime spot for residential development and in 1832, laid out Freeman's Oval. The Oval, which is Hill Street today, was to be the site of housing for the elite. But a bank panic in 1834 put an end to Freeman's plans, and no homes were built.

To entertain the social elite during the racing season, Freeman built The Franklintown Inn.

The race course closed after the Civil War, and the community eventually became a suburb on its own with houses being built one by one until World War II.

In the 1960s, I-70 was originally planned to go through the neighborhood and continue into downtown, but the plan was defeated and the community -- to its relief -- remained a hidden historic enclave.

"It's a very unique part of Baltimore," said Eric Holcomb of Baltimore City's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation, who helped the community with its designation. "There's new enthusiasm in the neighborhood."

FRANKLINTOWN

ZIP code: 21207

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

Public schools: Dickey Hill Elementary School, Dickey Hill Middle school, Walbrook

Shopping: Security Square Mall, Westview Mall

Homes on the market: 1

Listing price: $117,000*

Sales price: $116, 000*

Days on the market: 23

Sales price as persentage of listing price: 99.15%*

*Based on 1 sale in the past 24 months compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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