This has been a big year for history buffs interested in eastern Baltimore County, as a quintet of books, all published this year, proved that the county's one-time rip-roaring industrial heartland was pretty fertile literary ground.
Bob Staab's oral history of life in Dundalk during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Growing Up in Dundalk, was the first to hit the shelves.
It was followed by newspaper reporter and columnist Mary Jacqueline "Jackie" Nickel's Essex, which is part of Arcadia Publishing's "Image of America" series. Nickel died this year after publication of the book.
W.W. Stevens, a former Dundalk resident and poet, published Dundalk Proud: Poems and Slices of Life, which was followed in late summer by retired Baltimore County public school educator Elmer J. Hall's Shipbuilding at the Sparrows Point Yard: A Century of Pride and Tradition.
With little more than three weeks to go, it looks like final honors go to sisters M. Linda Martinak, 60, a professor in the business school of the University of Baltimore, and Angela Martinak Sutherland, 50, an inspector for the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. Their Essex and Middle River was just published by Arcadia Publishing Co.
Essex natives through and through, the sisters have impeccable Essex credentials - Our Lady of Mount Carmel School and St. Clare's School - and parents who moved there as children and spent the remainder of their lives in the neighborhood.
"In 1963, our father, George Martinak, was a student at Essex Community College, and as an English class project, wrote a book, A Short History of Essex and Middle River," said Martinak.
"He also collected all of the photos for the book which we used. What we did was update the last 44 years," she said. "We got in touch with Greg Connelly at the Connelly Funeral Home in Essex, who let us use his funeral home as a drop-off place for materials that people loaned us."
In early January, Martinak contacted Arcadia Publishing with a query centering around updating her father's book, and, once accepted, the two sisters threw themselves into the work.
"They have pretty tight deadlines and schedules. Angie did the photos and I did the writing," said the Marriottsville resident.
"I had no idea she had a book up her sleeve, but once we started, my job was to take the `then' photos and take `now' pictures," said Sutherland, who lives in Perry Hall with her husband and daughter.
Both sisters agree this assignment resulted in some hilarious moments.
"I tried to match up the picture and Linda would say, `Do you know what that means? You have to go into a median strip or out into the middle of Eastern Avenue, and after the cars pass, quickly snap a picture,'" she said with a laugh.
"I got a little nervous when I took pictures of what is now Martin Marietta because I was on private property. And then another time, Linda said, `Stop the car and shoot the Martin State Airport through a fence.' I was afraid we might get locked up, but we didn't," she said.
Essex and Middle River, which date to the late 1700s and early 1800s, are roughly bounded by Back River, Mace Avenue, Back River Neck Road and Duck Creek.
The area remained a bucolic haven well into the 20th century, offering Baltimoreans a respite on a summer's day to Hollywood Park on Back River, which, after it burned in 1921, was replaced by Eastern Amusement Park.
Perhaps the biggest and most lasting change came in 1929, when Glenn L. Martin purchased 1,260 acres for his aircraft plant, which at its height had 54,000 workers and was the major employer of local residents.
The company that built communities with aviation names such as Aero Acres, Mars Estates and Victory Villa, and named streets such as Fuselage, Compass and Altimeter, is now Lockheed Martin Corp.
Another flourishing landmark, which has been showing movies since its opening in 1956, is the Bengies Drive-In on Eastern Boulevard.
The outdoor "passion pit," as 1950s-era moralists described such theaters, drew moviegoers with its 6,240-square-foot screen, the largest on the East Coast.
"It's so drastically changed from when we grew up there, and I yearn for the old days when Essex was more rural and there wasn't so much traffic," Sutherland said.
Find previous columns at baltimoresun.com/backstory.