A place where people stay put

Neighborhood Profile: Uniontown

Escape: The town tends to attract people who have grown tired of the fast lane.

February 20, 2005|By Natasha Lesser | Natasha Lesser,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In Uniontown, newcomer is a relative term. Zoa and Kevin Barnes have lived there for 15 years, and they're still considered Johnny-come-latelies. Many town residents, for instance, still refer to the Barneses' home as the "Leatherman House," in reference to the previous owner, who lived there for more than 40 years.

That's not to suggest that Uniontown is unfriendly. The Barneses love it, and in fact it can be hard to move in, because once there, people tend to stay.

"The most welcoming people in town were the older generation," Zoa Barnes said. "They really encouraged young people to come in and restore these homes to how they once were."

Founded in the early 1800s, Uniontown retains its 19th-century feel. In Carroll County, about 30 miles northwest of Baltimore, the town is surrounded by farmland and has only 83 houses - most along a less than one-mile stretch of Uniontown Road.

Caroline Devilbiss exemplifies the town's link to its past. She has been a resident for all of her 84 years. And not only that - she was born in her grandparents house and has lived at the same address ever since. "I always said I never got very far," said Devilbiss with a smile.

At its height in the early 19th century, Uniontown was the area's commercial center. The town's three general stores served the surrounding farm communities. When Carroll County formed in 1839, Uniontown was considered for the county seat. Instead Westminster won out because the Western Maryland Railway opened a station there.

"The Western Maryland railroad ended up putting Uniontown to sleep," said Nick Vincent, president of the Uniontown Improvement Association.

But in dozing off, the town preserved its bucolic character. Uniontown has also been saved from encroaching suburban development by the farms surrounding it, which are protected under Maryland's Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

"The nice thing about living here is that you go out the front door and it's a town, and you go out the back door and it's country," said Barbara Childs, who has lived with her husband Roland in Uniontown since 1955.

In 1970, Uniontown was designated a historic district, which means that exterior changes to any building must be approved by the Carroll County Historic Preservation Commission.

The town tends to attract people who want to escape the fast lane. Vincent, for example, is a former economist who became a blacksmith in middle age. He and his wife Chris, a schoolteacher, have lived in Uniontown for 18 years. They decided to move after she visited on a class trip and fell in love.

The Vincents live in a two-story house built in 1810. Like many in Uniontown, it was constructed with logs, and later covered in brick.

The town is not incorporated, and residents are expected to take care of themselves. Homeowners rely on wells and septic tanks for water and sewerage and contract for private garbage pick-up.

Uniontown is a close-knit community, and throughout the year, residents get together for group events that recall an earlier time. At Christmas time, people go caroling; there's a Memorial Day parade with a service at the cemetery; and a town picnic in September. The Improvement Association sometimes even holds a town meeting at The Academy, an old one-room schoolhouse that has been renovated and is now used for town gatherings.

Today the town has an antique shop and a bank, a branch of Westminster Union that serves as the town hangout. "The bank is just wonderful - it has three tellers," said Vincent. "This is old-time kind of banking."

The town has no other commerce. For almost 50 years, Devilbiss ran the family general store and post office, which was attached to her house. But with the death of her brother Robert in 1999 and competition from nearby chain stores, Devilbiss decided it was time to close.

These days, residents shop in nearby Taneytown, Union Bridge and Westminster; where big-box retailers proliferate along Route 140.

Residents generally like living in Uniontown, so houses don't often come on the market, says Westminster real estate broker Jamie Billingslea. And in the last three years, prices have gone up. "We've seen a rise in prices," said Billingslea, "as in the rest of the area."

Housing prices in Carroll County average between $250,000 and $275,000, Billingslea says. Prices in Uniontown vary, depending on the condition of the house and its location. There have been no sales in the past year, and just one house is currently listed - a large Queen Anne Victorian built in 1908, with stained glass windows and a carriage house. Priced at $599,900, it's been on the market since April.

The houses are predominantly colonials, though there are also farmhouse-style structures, Victorians, and a few 1950s ranchers; they vary from two to six bedrooms. Many of the structures are constructed like the Devilbiss house, with a commercial space attached to the living area. Some have been renovated, while others remain handyman specials.

Childs says the town has changed. "You used to walk up the street and there would always be people sitting on the porch," he said. "But it's not like that anymore." People commute, he said, and aren't at home as much.


ZIP code: 21158

Drive time to downtown Baltimore: 50 minutes

Public schools: Runnymeade Elementary School, New Windsor Middle School, Francis Scott Key High School

Shopping: Big chain stores in Westminster, Union Bridge, and Taneytown

Homes on market: 1

Listing price: $599,900

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