Modern Perry Hall proud of its history


Fast-growing suburb builds on tradition of religion, farming

July 02, 2000|By Frederick Rasmussen | Frederick Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Perry Hall Improvement Association is touchy on this point.

It doesn't like the fact that "county planners and developers have seen fit to blur Perry Hall into White Marsh and Nottingham, but these are historical boundaries," writes David Marks in his recently published history of the community, "Crossroads: The History of Perry Hall, Maryland."

Marks is president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association and a lifelong resident of the 13-square-mile community that - after Owings Mills - is the hottest growth area of Baltimore County.

He produced the detailed history of Perry Hall as part of the community's 225th anniversary, which is being celebrated throughout 2000 with a series of events culminating with a Millennium Ball in November.

The association identifies its boundaries as "the Great Gunpowder Falls on the north, Philadelphia Road on the east, White Marsh run on the south and Putty Hill on the west," writes Marks, a congressional relations officer for the U.S. secretary of transportation.

Major north-south highways such as Interstate 95, U.S. 40 and U.S. 1 serve the community 10 miles northeast of Baltimore. Marks writes that Perry Hall "is clearly located at Baltimore County's crossroads."

And, he writes, "in a broader sense, Perry Hall has been at the crossroads of economic, religious and political history for four centuries - a place of remarkable significance in Maryland."

Capt. John Smith was the first European to visit the Gunpowder River Valley in 1608. On that expedition he confronted the Susquehannocks, a fearsome nomadic tribe that roamed Baltimore County to the shores of the Chesapeake, hunting, fishing and gathering food.

Smith described them as a race of giants who were "greate and well-proportioned men."

By 1697,the last Indian sightings were recorded in Perry Hall, their numbers greatly reduced by warring tribes and by smallpox epidemics brought by Europeans moving into the rich land.

According to Marks, by the 18th century, Perry Hall had become the epicenter for one of the most active mining and industrial centers in the United States. By the 19th century, farms and businesses complemented the mining activity and helped tame the Gunpowder River Valley.

In 1744, the industrialization of the Gunpowder River Valley had begun with the establishment of Steven Onion's Gunpowder Iron Works, the first iron furnace in the valley.

Early settlers mined iron ore and transported it to the smelters, while others cut wood and dug the limestone for the furnaces.

In 1775, Harry Dorsey Gough, a wealthy Baltimore businessman, purchased the Adventure, a 1,000-acre estate on the Gunpowder Falls, which he renamed Perry Hall after his family's castle in Staffordshire, England.

Methodist history

It was at Perry Hall Mansion, which stands today, that one of the significant moments of the development of the Methodist church in America took place.

Gough, a heavy drinker, gambler and racing enthusiast, one evening in 1775 attended a Methodist meeting conducted by Francis Asbury, an itinerant preacher.

Riding home afterward, Gough exclaimed, "What we have heard is the truth, the truth as it is in Jesus."

He later erected a chapel on his land. In 1784, Methodist leaders gathered at Perry Hall and rode to Baltimore, where they gathered at Lovely Lane meeting house and elected Francis Asbury the first bishop of the United Methodist Church.

In 1852, William M. Meredith and Eli Slifer purchased the Perry Hall estate and subdivided it among German and Irish immigrant families who later developed the land into dairy and truck farms and nurseries. Because so many Germans lived in the area, it became known as Germantown.

One of the most prominent farms was the Berg Dairy at Joppa and Belair roads, a popular destination for Sunday drivers in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The little white cottage was known for its thick milkshakes and homemade ice cream.

After the death of Katherine Berg in 1979, the 15-acre farm was sold by her family and bulldozed. The site is now occupied by the Seven Courts townhouse development and a Weis Market.

In 1867, the Baltimore and Jerusalem Turnpike opened, which is today's U.S. 1, better known as Belair Road.

Homes and shopping centers

The transformation of Perry Hall began in earnest after World War II, when developer William "Dick" Schaefer persuaded Baltimore County to extend sewer and water lines up Belair Road.

He erected homes and built the area's first shopping center in 1961, and in 1963 he built the Perry Hall branch of the Baltimore County Library.

In 1981, White Marsh Mall opened on Silver Spring Road, and in 1997 came The Avenue at White Marsh, featuring theaters, restaurants and large warehouse stores.

Much to the consternation of preservationists, many historic sites and old inns have disappeared in the name of development.

But Perry Hall has fought to retain its spirit and identity.

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