Falls Road relics link past, present

Endurance: Two of Baltimore County's oldest businesses have thrived despite changing times.

August 13, 2002|By Ben Piven | Ben Piven,SUN STAFF

Jack Tyrie fondly recalls excursions as a teen-ager to the dog track behind the Valley Inn in Brooklandville.

"I used to go there in my youth," Tyrie said, especially after Hunt Cup races. "We would eat at the inn afterwards - until they stopped the track when it got too rowdy."

The dog track was closed in 1949, but Tyrie, 74, a Cockeysville resident drawn to the inn by its friendly clientele, still visits once a month for a lunch of crab cakes.

Seven miles north on Falls Road is John Brown's Store, another relic of the past. Once known as the Shawan Store, neighborhood legend holds that it dates from the mid-18th century, when the Worthington family, for whom the surrounding valley is named, constructed a wooden building to be used as a saloon, inn and general store.

No records are kept on the oldest businesses in Baltimore County, but these two are at or near the top of the list, historians say. Together, they have withstood the onslaught of development to remain vibrant hubs of their communities.

Baltimore County historian John McGrain said their survival can be traced in large part to being located on Falls Road, an important route for moving goods between the port of Baltimore and Pennsylvania.

The Valley Inn, at 10501 Falls Road, opened in 1832 to serve travelers along what was then a private turnpike. "Its survival is the greatest thing about it," said McGrain.

A vestige of the time when Andrew Jackson was president and 24 states were in the union, the Valley Inn was built on land leased from Charles Carroll of Carrollton. It is just north of several former mills that relied on the Jones Falls and other streams as power sources.

George Brown - the son of Alexander Brown, who founded Baltimore company Alex. Brown & Sons - lived in a room there in 1901.

Today, it is solely a restaurant. "I'm happy. I've got a life here," says the owner, John "Bud" Hatfield Jr., who has run the restaurant for about 40 years. Hatfield recalls that the Valley Inn once was a general store and post office for Brooklandville.

`Casually elegant'

The inn is a few hundred yards north of the spot where the last 25-cent tollgate on the Falls Road Turnpike stood, giving the inn an important location at the intersection of a turnpike and the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad's Green Spring Valley Branch that ran between Brooklandville and Owings Mills.

The inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and the county Landmarks Preservation Commission placed it on its preliminary landmarks list in April last year.

"We come to the Valley Inn because it's a casually elegant restaurant with consistently good food and a strong tradition," said F. Brian Richter, 59, a medical consultant from Kent Island. Richter, who has dined at the inn for more than 20 years, stopped by recently with his daughter.

The inn was the nucleus of Green Spring Valley activity. Though illegal, cockfights held in the mid-20th century drew gamblers to the inn for prefight carousing, said Hatfield. The inn always tended to attract a rural, upper-class clientele for such events. Spectators from the Maryland Whippet Club, which operated the dog track, also were frequent visitors.

Except for a slump during World War II, when travel was restricted by gas rationing, the dining room of the inn has never been closed.

"The Valley Inn's going to be here forever, I hope. I'm historically inclined," said Hatfield.

John Brown's Store is thought to have been part of Baltimore County life for more than 2 1/2 centuries. Although the current building at 13501 Falls Road was constructed in 1938 after the original structure burned down, the business has retained its place in Butler community life.

"The name recognition, great area and reputation make the store popular," said Meg Enns, co-owner of the Filling Station, a coffee shop next door. Enns said that motorcyclists and bicyclists often stop by the two businesses on treks across northern Baltimore County.

`Like the quaintness'

John Brown's owner, John Holman, thinks his store's long-term survival stems from the abundance of cross-county traffic from Carroll County to Hunt Valley on Shawan Road. Moreover, because few stores are nearby, it has little competition.

The store is a two-story stone structure with four columns and a pediment over the entrance.

"I like the quaintness, the atmosphere. The people here treat you in a friendly way, and everybody gets to know everyone else," says Donna Holman, a former employee and the owner's sister-in-law.

John G. Brown, for whom the general store is named, was the proprietor during the early 20th century. The store sells everything from ice cream and toothpaste to liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets.

"I come to John Brown's Store because it's clean and the people are nice," said Hank Suchting, 49, a Worthington Valley resident who recently visited the store with his two children. "I also really like the management."

Suchting's son, Jimmy, 10, picked a skylite snowball; his daughter, Deedra, 8, went for lemon-lime.

As Cockeysville native Marie Ponzillo, 23, sipped her coffee and watched the two children eat their summer treats, she recalled frequent trips to John Brown's during her childhood: "When I was really little, it was the only place [nearby] that carried Pepperidge Farm Goldfish."

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