Parkville, for the record

Residents turn to their oldest neighbors in preparing a book and a video on the history of the Baltimore County community


It's all coming back to Ray Davidson. The streetcar that ran up Harford Road. The 15-cent hot fudge sundaes at Read's drugstore. The blackberry bushes in an area now filled with houses.

He remembers when his hourly wage for installing carpet was 25 cents, when the taverns in Parkville had shuffleboard teams and when Carney was just countryside. At 83, Davidson can describe the history of this Baltimore County community with details not recorded in any book.

But they are now on video.

To complete a history of the area, pieced together from land records and newspaper clippings, a group of Parkville residents has been taping interviews with their oldest neighbors. That includes Davidson, who moved to the community in 1938 and helped build many of the houses there today.

"You can't imagine that these things ever went on in the town you live in," says Joyce Trageser, chairwoman of the Greater Parkville Community Council's history committee. "Watching these residents' faces as they describe things that went on 40, 50, and 60 years ago has been one of the greatest parts of the project."

Much of the material will be used for a book on the history of Parkville, Cub Hill and Carney, but the group also plans to make a video, then show it to area civic groups and post clips from it on the section of the county library Web site that includes the history of the Parkville library.

Although many communities have made efforts to trace their roots, few have interviewed the residents who remember the history, says John McGrain, Baltimore County's historian.

"They may not always remember the correct dates," he says. "But they can remember the flavor of times gone by."

Having a videotape of the interviews is particularly valuable, says Barry A. Lanman, an oral history professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and director of UMBC's Martha Ross Center for Oral History.

"You can't get the richness and depth of detail from any other source," says Lanman, who has collaborated on several oral history projects for the Maryland Historical Society.

If there were only a book, Parkville residents wouldn't get to see Davidson sitting at his dining room table, reminiscing with 86-year-old Forrest F. Gesswein Jr. about the 1940s.

Davidson recalls a Christmas tree farmer who always set up a stand outside a local bar, figuring it was the best place to sell because, when the patrons got drunk, they would forget they had already bought a tree.

He remembers that his family's record player was cranked by hand and that houses were heated with coal.

Few people remember more than Gesswein, whose family moved to Parkville in 1925, when his father opened Parkville Ice and Coal Co.

Gesswein, who also serves on the history committee, can tell you where the shoemakers' shops were and the names of the well digger -- not driller -- and the doctor who made house calls. He remembers the policeman who served the area between Towson and Overlea, and going to school in the fire hall while Parkville Elementary School was being built.

Gesswein, who has lined up many of the interviews, helps jog the old-timers' memories.

Joy Piscitelli, who helps conduct the interviews, remembers the 1950s and 1960s, when children paid 2 cents for their milk at lunch and it came in glass bottles. She recalls playing songs on the jukebox in the pavilion of Double Rock Park and seeing cartoons, newsreels and movies at the Colony Theater.

"I was interested in the history because I grew up here," says Piscitelli, 60. "Each person has had something different to add, a little piece that we didn't have." For example, she says, one interview revealed how Putty Hill Avenue got its name. "When it was a dirt road and it rained, it became slick like modeling clay. People couldn't get up the hill," she says.

Nancy Eubert, who conducts the taping and asks many of the interview questions, calls the local history items "nuggets."

"I've always loved stories," says Eubert, 55, who works for Comcast Corp. She grew up in Parkville in the 1950s and moved back as an adult. Since the first interviews in September, during Parkville's annual street festival, the history committee has interviewed more than 20 residents, Eubert says.

Although the group plans to have its book complete or nearly finished in time for this fall's festival, Trageser says she isn't sure when the video will be considered done. "It's so tempting," she says, "to just keep going."

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