Easy to miss, but hard to forget

Neighborhood profile : Dickeyville

Historic mill village in a `serene' setting

December 09, 2001|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's easy to miss the tiny historic village of Dickeyville.

But if you have ever visited the neighborhood, it's not easily forgotten.

That's because not only does it offer a charming look at a well-preserved historic mill town along Gwynns Falls, but it also offers its residents a strong sense of community.

Wendi Snowberger, who moved to Dickeyville in August, found out just how neighborly its residents can be.

While talking with her mother on the phone one day about her plans for the weekend, which included cutting the lawn, Snowberger realized that it had already been cut.

"I found out it was my neighbor who knows I work for the Red Cross. It was right after Sept. 11, and he knew I was going to be very busy. So he took it upon himself to mow the grass for me," Snowberger said. "And it's not uncommon for things like that to happen here."

After moving from Atlanta to Baltimore a year ago, Snowberger fell in love with Dickeyville and waited until the right house came on the market.

"It's so close to downtown Baltimore but has a serene, homey setting," she said. "It's hard to believe Dickeyville is part of the city with the number of trees and quietness of the community. I can't think of any place I would rather be while living in Baltimore."

Just off Forest Park Avenue in west Baltimore near the county line, Dickeyville is considered by its residents to be a hidden treasure.

"The secret of Dickeyville is part of its charm," said Susan Wiest, an agent with the Catonsville office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA. "It's a unique place. It's a special place because you can be certain that almost always, your neighbors are interesting and friendly people."

Wiest, who grew up in Dickeyville, said the houses are nontraditional.

"The houses usually have a quirkiness to their floor plans. They are not traditional floor plans, so you have to use your imagination."

Many of the homes in Dickeyville are historic, dating to the 1800s when mill workers were the only inhabitants of the village. They include workers' cottages and more spacious dwellings that belonged to the superintendents who oversaw the mills. Some of the homes that were originally duplexes have been turned into single-family homes.

There are also newer homes, built during the 1940s, that conform to the style of the original mill houses.

Dickeyville homes can vary greatly in size and cost.

They include attached houses in the $115,000 range to stone Colonials that cost more than $300,000. On the market is a gingerbread house, priced at $219,000, that served as an infirmary in the War of 1812, and a custom-built Dutch Colonial, with views of Gwynns Falls, for $215,000.

"I don't know of many other neighborhoods where there is such a diversity in price and yet each person can be just as happy, no matter what price range they buy in," Wiest said. "It really is a good value."

Wiest's mother, Mary Mayo, lives in Dickeyville and said little has changed since she moved there in 1954.

"It seems to draw people who like this kind of place. So it really hasn't changed. It's a charming place. People who had to move away always say they could never find any place again like Dickeyville and that they miss it," Mayo said.

The village of Dickeyville, which includes about 130 houses, is named for William Dickey, who bought three cotton and wool mills, 300 acres and a number of houses in 1871. Under Dickey, the mill town expanded, and many new homes were constructed along with a Presbyterian church and a village store.

The Dickey family sold the mill in 1909 to Glasgow Mills, but with the decline of the textile business it soon closed.

In 1934, the village and mills were sold at auction to a local development company that restored the village and preserved many of the old buildings. In 1968 Dickeyville was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The only remaining mill, called the Ballymena Mill, is home to a number of craftspeople and small businesses.

It is not uncommon for current Dickeyville residents to know the lineage of their homes. Peter and Kelly Auchincloss, whose house dates to 1860, live in what served as the overflow jail during the mill days.

Peter Auchincloss, who heads the Dickeyville Community Association, was infatuated with the community after visiting with a friend who lived in the neighborhood.

"I was invited to the community's July 4 celebration, and I found myself sitting in front of a house I had dreamt about since I was a kid, and it was for sale," he said. "I took a look around the outside on a Saturday. Looked at it on Sunday and bought it on Monday."

John Fields, who has lived in Dickeyville for 20 years, said the community "has the kind of things most people like and long for but is pretty rare in America anymore."

"Even in small towns, you don't have the sense of community you have in Dickeyville. It feels more like a fraternity or sorority than a town," Fields said.

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