Satisfied residents stay for generations

Neighborhood profile: Upperco

Peaceful life keeps natives happy, lures newcomers to area

October 14, 2001|By Amelia Cleary | Amelia Cleary,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Just 30 miles northwest of the bustling Inner Harbor is Upperco - what appears to be the epitome of rural America.

Vast fields of corn, wheat, barley and soybeans stretch across the horizon, connecting the small, northern Baltimore County communities of Arcadia, Fowblesburg, Boring, Woodensburg and Trenton. Tractors and horse trailers move along the lazy country roads at a long-ago pace, while local farmers sell their produce at roadside markets. It is a land of peace and tranquillity.

Doris Hoffman, a retired schoolteacher, said it is this laid-back environment that has kept her in the area the past 45 years. "I love it here. I mean, after working with 30 to 60 kids it was like coming home to a new world," she said.

In the early 18th century, this new world was discovered by settlers who established trading posts on land where Susquehannock, Shawnee, Iroquois and Delaware Indians had long roamed.

According to Baltimore County Historical Society documents, an existing Indian path was widened into the Old Hanover Road, connecting Reisterstown to Hanover. Mills, hotels and churches were built to accommodate the many new settlers, and eventually a railroad was completed in 1877.

"When they put the train through, it really started to develop. And you can see how much it's developed. To me it looks overpopulated," Hoffman said with a chuckle. "Basically it's untouched."

And the locals hope to keep it that way. Development is warded off by Maryland's Rural Legacy Program, enacted in 1997 to preserve agriculture and protect rural areas from sprawl, and by farmers who love the land.

"It's a real habitat for animals and birds, and where are they going to go if it's just houses?" said Julie Colhoun, a lifelong farmer, as she looked out on her 130 acres, home to peacocks, chickens and 13 horses, among others.

The large plots of farmland make smaller lots very rare and real estate activity stable. Doris Hoffman's daughter, Teri Hoffman, an agent for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., says Upperco is a very established area.

"The families have been here for a long time," she said. "They stay here for generations." She said it is the slow change and land preservation that makes Upperco special.

Valeri Balaz, an agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, agrees.

"There are not a lot of homes that typically turn over. People move in and stay. They like it there," Balaz said.

In the past year, seven properties in the area have been sold, with the average sale price of about $325,000. Balaz said that small lots selling for between $80,000 and $90,000 can be found, but most lots are large - closer to 100 acres - and sell for $1.5 million and up.

In August, Grace Carnell, an Upperco resident for 18 years, decided she wanted to move in order to build a house with enough room for her ailing mother.

"I'll tell you how much my husband loves it here. He only would move if we could get the land next door," Carnell said. In August, they sold their house and 5 acres for $285,000 in two days and are now making settlement on 20 acres next door.

Four years ago, Michele Bensch and her husband, Paul Bensch, bought a little more than an acre for about $35,000 and built their new home on it. Her husband had grown up in the suburbs and wanted to move out of the city.

Having grown up in Baltimore, Michele Bensch, who's African-American, was worried about moving to a very rural area and how residents might react to an interracial marriage.

But her fears were unfounded.

"No one has been rude or treated me indifferently," she said.

In fact, once Bensch started working from home - she is president of Records Recovery Services, a litigation support for attorneys - she met more people.

"People have started opening up and I've started making acquaintances just by going to the post office," she said. Bensch has gotten involved with the community but noted, "I have yet to go over to Elmo's."

Elmo's is the one spot where locals know they can get a hearty breakfast and a warm welcome and be sure to run into someone they know.

At the intersection of Route 30 and Route 91, Elmo's diner is also a pit stop for travelers. "In the morning we get a line that goes from the counter, out the door and around the corner," said Nettie Pohn, who runs the family restaurant with her husband, Dave Pohn.

Nettie Pohn's father, Joseph Elmo, opened the restaurant in 1959, serving three homemade meals a day. But Pohn changed that a few years back. Today, Elmo's is open only for breakfast - from 5 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday and 6 a.m. to noon on Saturday. "I'm getting too damn old. I've been here 42 years," she said.

Elmo's is not the only place to meet neighbors in Upperco. Nettie Pohn likes to play bingo for money on Friday nights at the Boring firehouse, where a game is held every evening at 7:30 p.m. Doris Hoffman joins about 30 other women for the Arcadia town luncheon every six months.

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