Frietchie the Fredneck

November 03, 2006

We don't know what's sillier: Democrat Douglas F. Gansler's recent attempt at humor by referring to Frederick County as "Fredneck" - and then denying that he said it - or Republican Scott L. Rolle's you-can't-say-that dudgeon.

First of all, mashing the term "redneck" with the name of the county in order to crack wise about the area's rural character is almost as old as, well, the hills around Frederick. And second, no bona fide Frederick County native (like Mr. Gansler, Mr. Rolle is from Montgomery County) takes serious umbrage at the label. Some locals are even proud of it.

The puerile dustup between the two candidates for Maryland attorney general did little to shed light on the important issues of the office they seek. But it did remind us that, like many parts of the state, Frederick County and its biggest city have been experiencing growing pains for a number of years.

Growth and its challenges - traffic, crime, water shortages, crowded classrooms, increased demands on public services - are part of the everyday lives of Fredericktonians as the city attracts more newcomers and continues to shift away from its country roots. The effects are felt not only in the outskirts but also in the heart of the downtown. Often overlooked is what happens to historically tight-knit neighborhoods such as West All Saints Street, as described recently by Sun reporter Rona Marech.

For decades an enclave of low-income, mostly black families, the All Saints section of town has seen its property values climb beyond the reach of many of its residents. Outsiders are buying and renovating buildings and generally improving the 1 1/2 -block stretch just a short stroll from Mount Olivet Cemetery, the final resting place of Barbara Frietchie, one of the most famous Frednecks, immortalized in a fanciful John Greenleaf Whittier poem for waving the Stars and Stripes in the faces of Confederate troops as they marched through town.

The Rebels couldn't scare away Mrs. Frietchie, but the looming gentrification of All Saints is forcing many longtime residents to look elsewhere for affordable homes. And what's happening in Frederick is happening in many places across the state.

Accommodating municipal growth and redevelopment without destroying the character of neighborhoods is one of the most vexing - and therefore generally ignored - hurdles facing local governments. Too few cities and towns, including Frederick, have adopted meaningful affordable housing ordinances. Unless and until they do, the day may come when there are no more Frednecks.

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