With quaintness gone, it's time to move on

May 09, 2004|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,Perspective Editor

Moving from one home to another may be one of the most overwhelming tasks ever inflicted on mankind. The larger the family and the longer it has lived in the old place, the worse it is. Leaving is difficult. Getting there is decidedly not part of the fun.

For the past 17 years we have lived in a marvelous, stately, old Victorian house. Built about 120 years ago, it was one of the original homes constructed in Glyndon, which began about that time as a summer retreat from the heat for people in Baltimore. These grand houses with their steep, gabled roofs and high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows and wrap-around porches were striking, but they were not built for winter.

Our own stood on a promontory with a large lawn sweeping down toward the tracks of the old Western Maryland Railway, which used to bring people to Glyndon from the city. In the winter, our children sledded down the hill. In the summer, we played badminton and bocce on the great lawn. The house, it is said, was once used as a boarding house for short-time visitors.

The train stopped in front of the house, at a place then known as St. George's Station, and vacationers walked up the hill to the building. Amazing as it may seem, public transit in this area was far better than it is today. Now the only reminder that St. George's Station ever existed is the name that was taken by a developer who built a very unappealing sprawl of rowhouses about a half-mile to the east.

We bought the house practically sight unseen. Living in Jerusalem, where I was stationed as The Sun's Middle East correspondent, and planning to return with four children, then ages 3 to 8, and with my mother-in-law living with us, we knew we needed a large house. A small ad with a photo of the house in The Sun's Real Estate section caught our attention because the place seemed big enough and there was an elementary school across the street. We asked a friend to go look at it and made an offer, which the owner accepted with alarming promptness.

A few months later, I came home to settle on the house, still never having seen it, and then went to see the place with a contractor. That was in May 1987, and the property was surrounded by huge hemlocks, other tall trees and big bushes that hid the road and the railway tracks. As we sat on the porch going over plans to fix up the place, a whistle shrieked nearby.

"What the hell's that?" I asked the contractor.

"Why that's the train," he said. "Didn't you know about the train?"

A train nearby, I recollected, at a distance far enough away to make it a romantic notion, somehow tied to Glyndon's place in the history of Baltimore County. This train was on my front doorstep.

By the late 1980s, there were no more passenger trains - there was no more Western Maryland Railroad - only the long freight trains of the CSX, which lumbered past the house carrying stuff from Western Maryland, mostly coal and building material.

Never mind. In time, we got used to the train. The children would go down and talk to the engineers while they waited there for the train coming from the opposite direction to pass. The engineers got to know us, and even our dog, by name. One day, the dog was standing on the tracks when the train approached. The engineer stopped his locomotive, leaned out the window and hollered, "Happy! Get off the tracks."

But the quaintness of the train and the stature of its owners was dashed four years ago, when our son was fatally struck by a CSX train in Worcester, Mass., where he was a junior at the College of the Holy Cross. No one from the CSX ever even called to apologize. And from then on, each night when the train shrieked its whistle and trundled past our house in Glyndon it was a reminder of unthinkable tragedy.

That became the chief incentive for leaving the great stately home where our children had spent most of their lives. That, and the development going on around us.

It seems as if a million houses have been built within walking distance of Glyndon Village in the last decade and a half. The huge cornfield on what used to be known as Watson's Farm is gone, leveled and being prepared for big, expensive houses. The quiet summer camp up Central Avenue has lost many of its trees to the development of a new private school that will bring more traffic into the neighborhood. New highways cover what used to be vacant land. The neighborhood hardware store has gone out of business. The local grocery we thought was so charming when we arrived is an antique store now.

When we bought the house, the Baltimore County master plan called for the road we lived on to dead-end at the railroad tracks, which we anticipated would give us a quiet cove. They tell you to check the master plan before you buy. But the truth is it's better to check the politics of the place. The road is not being dead-ended; it's being "upgraded." The road that was supposed to take the traffic around us has been dead-ended. The whole plan has been dead-ended because the people who live on the great estates and horse farms of the valleys nearby did not want an improved artery bringing more traffic into their pristine and bucolic environment.

We are not bitter about this. People have a right to want to protect the environment in which they live. God knows, it's being destroyed in too many places. So, I say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And you can guess where we're going to live.

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