A variety of homes in a place where spirits ruled

Neighborhood profile: Whiskey Bottom

Plenty of renters, but the for-sale market is robust

March 31, 2002|By Tony Glaros | Tony Glaros,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In the slice of North Laurel known as Whiskey Bottom, daily reminders of the wild world of bootlegging and revenuers live on in several street names: Moonshine Hollow, Bourbon Street, Sylvan Still and Whiskey Run. Then, once the potion has had its desired effect, you can always retreat to Mellow Court.

This densely populated section of southeastern Howard County, where rolling fields once yielded tobacco harvests, is a grab bag of moderately priced apartments, townhouses, condominiums and single-family dwellings.

While the exact origin of the name Whiskey Bottom remains hazy, there is evidence that its roots are in the illegal activity associated with the spirit.

A local historian, John Calder, offered one theory.

Writing in a community newspaper, Calder stated that the name focused on a commercial whiskey distillery that was set up on Whiskey Bottom Road in the 1800s, where barrels of liquor were rolled to a nearby railway station. Calder said the name brought to mind the illegal stills that were in business in the river bottomlands on Laurel's north side.

One of several pupils who lobbied for a new name for their elementary school in 1990 produced a vintage survey map that showed Old Annapolis Road as the earlier name for Whiskey Bottom Road. Based on the limited information at hand, the student surmised that its present name didn't evolve until Prohibition was ordered in the 1920s.

The community lies just over a mile north of Main Street in Laurel, past motels and the California Inn, a country and western dance hall. There's the Armstrong residence, a century-old Victorian farmhouse that the owners claim is inhabited by a ghostly dark-haired woman in a white gown. The account has even merited a chapter in the book Ghosts and Haunted Houses of Maryland, published in 1988.

Shopping on foot is limited to a small strip center that sells everything from cut-rate cigarettes to chop suey. A Weis supermarket, a McDonald's restaurant and two gas stations are the only other retail outlets.

From a residential angle, Whiskey Bottom is dominated by The Seasons, a development of 1,088 apartments and rental townhouses. The complex opened as Whiskey Bottom Apartments between 1973 and 1978, property manager Ken Sleeths said.

When the name was dropped several years ago, Sleeths said, every unit was rehabilitated with changes that included new exterior siding and new kitchen appliances. Rent for one-bedroom units at the Seasons runs from $845 to $855 a month. Two-bedroom apartments start at $1,040; rents on townhouses range from $1,070 to $1,110.

While renters make up a large part of the area, the for-sale market, as in the rest of Howard County, is robust.

"The market in Howard County is very strong, and Whiskey Bottom is part of that," said Bob Mamula, a real estate agent for Weichert Realtors in nearby Burtonsville. Mamula is a 30-year resident of the Laurel area.

"In this price range, you've got a lot of first-time homebuyers. They also get the Howard County school system, with its high test scores," he added.

In 1973, Whiskey Bottom Road Elementary opened on a dead-end street behind the apartments. Over the years, though, some pupils had grown embarrassed by the negative image they felt the name projected. In 1990, a group of them took matters into their own hands and asked the school board to change the name. The kids even provided officials with a list of suggestions. The name selected: Laurel Woods Elementary.

School demographics

The demographics at the school reflect the changes in the Laurel area itself.

For generations, Laurel was labeled as a haven for white, low- to middle-income, blue-collar workers. A growing number of the school's 436 pupils are Asian and Hispanic, Principal Rosanne Wilson said. There are also a number of pupils with African and Middle Eastern heritage.

"We're probably more diverse than a lot of other schools in Howard County," Wilson said. "We are definitely different from other schools, and it's something that we celebrate."

At DSN Cleaners, Maria Martinez, 29, was writing up a ticket for an alternation on a turtleneck sweater. "I like the area," she said. "The people are nice."

Martinez and her husband, a computer programmer at the National Institutes of Health, pay $1,050 a month for a two-bedroom apartment at the Seasons that's within walking distance of the shop. The native of Mexico explained that living in Whiskey Bottom is cheaper than living in Arlington, Va., where she paid $1,300 for a two-bedroom unit.

Across All Saints Road, the parking lot at Canterbury Riding is dotted with motorcycles, campers and boats. The towering brown-and-white brick structure, which offers as many as four levels of living space, contains units for sale and rent.

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