Stop by for a visit, remain for a lifetime

Neighborhood profile: Boonsboro

A treasury of homes, including Victorian, log cabins, Colonials

September 02, 2001|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Heading west from Baltimore on Interstate 70, it is impossible to ignore the pastoral scenes in Washington County: red barns, huge gray silos and lazing cows.

Just a few miles off the interstate, along Alternate U.S. 40, a winding, narrow road that crawls high into rugged hills, is the sleepy town of Boonsboro.

The town is rich in Civil War history, and its residents will tell you it's well worth a visit - or a lifetime's stay.

To get a sense of the detailed architecture found along Main Street, all you have to do is catch a glimpse of George Messner's house, which many consider the most beautiful house in town.

The restored Victorian home, circa 1886, serves as both residence and office for this insurance salesman. His wife, Vickie, a retired teacher from the Washington County school system, recalls the first time she saw the broken-down property.

"I walked in and said [to my husband], `Are you kidding?'"

The house was hardly in "move-in" condition. A true labor of love, it took the Messners, who furnished the home by purchasing period furniture at antique houses, years to complete the restoration.

"You can't work continuously," George Messner said of the home that was purchased in 1986 for $84,000. "You will burn out physically and emotionally, [and] your wallet gets drained."

In fact, patience is good advice for anyone wishing to buy one of Boonsboro's originals. There are many treasures to be had - log cabins and Colonials made with stone quarried nearby at South Mountain.

But when Vickie Messner looks for a bit of big-town excitement, she's off to Baltimore, having no problem with the little over an hour's drive east on I-70.

The appeal of Boonsboro intrigues buyers who desire country living, and ever-growing Frederick, about 15 miles east - is a bit too pricey, according to local real estate agent Yvonne Thomson.

"Great restoration possibilities [are here]," she said, "along with quaintness."

In addition, Thomson said, Ryan Homes is selling new homes, ranging from $200,000 to $250,000, but smaller, existing three-bedroom ranchers can be purchased for around $110,000.

Those who buy in Boonsboro range from young couples looking for the perfect starter home to "weekenders" whose cabins become a refuge especially with the wealth of nearby outdoor recreation at the Appalachian Trail, Greenbrier State Park, The C&O Canal and the Potomac River.

The small-town atmosphere is what helps Brenda Dellinger cope with the 55-mile commute she makes each morning and evening to and from Chevy Chase. Before taking a job there, she commuted to Columbia.

"I get up at 4:30 ... you have to beat the traffic. My regret ... is that I don't get to spend enough time [at home]," she said.

Likewise, Sharon Reeves lives in a Cape Cod off Main Street with her husband and two children. She finds life in the town to be "uncomplicated" and can't imagine living anywhere else.

Reeves, however, does find the daily commute of 37 miles to her job at the National Institute of Science and Technology in Gaithersburg to be a bit grueling at times. She admits there are no really good days on the road, but for her, the small-town atmosphere of home is worth the travel.

Back on Main Street, the heartbeat and history of Boonsboro is found in its homes as well as in the quaint diners, ice cream parlors and shops that line the road for about a quarter of a mile.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Boonsborough Museum of History. Owner, director and Boonsboro native Doug Bas will proudly take the visitor through his three-story Colonial that houses his lifelong collection of historical objects.

His displays of Civil War relics from the local battlefields of South Mountain, Antietam and Harpers Ferry are extensive and astounding. As undisputed town historian, Bas is ready for his guests with a three-page chronological history of Boonsboro.

Boonsboro was founded by brothers George and William Boone, relatives of the more famous Daniel Boone. The original land deeds of the town listed the name as Boones Berry.

The brothers subdivided a farm that included parts of what are now Shafer Park, Potomac Street and Young Avenue.

The town went through many name changes in its early history. In 1798 the town carried the name Margaretville, in honor of George Boone's wife, Margaret.

By 1805, the name had changed to Boons Borough, with the "e" dropped out. The name was shortened to Boonsboro around 1841 or 1842 when a local newspaper editor couldn't get the town's name to fit on his nameplate.

Even so, some official documents as late as 1903 list the town's name as Boonsborough. The town was laid out in the late 1780s and incorporated around 1830.

Its citizens built in 1827 the first monument to honor President George Washington, according to a history of the area compiled by Bas.

During the Civil War, all of the town's churches, public buildings and many private homes were used as hospitals, as the Battle of South Mountain raged around the residents.

The rich historical past of Boonsboro, seen in so much of Main Street's architecture, is also celebrated annually during the July Fourth celebrations at the Town Park's gazebo.

The locals recognize their town as a throwback to another time and have developed a practical sense of humor about it.

"You're going to have to drive a bit to get to the supermarket," Thomson said with a laugh. "Yet, life in Boonsboro is like stepping back."


ZIP code: 21713

Commute to downtown Baltimore: 75 minutes

Public schools: Boonsboro Elementary, Boonsboro Middle, Boonsboro High

Shopping: Frederick; Prime Outlets of Hagerstown; Valley Mall in Hagerstown

Homes on market: 34

Average listing price: $171,696*

Average sale price: $167,432*

Average days on market: 106

Sale price as percentage of listing price: 97.52%*Based on 71 sales in the past 12 months, compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

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