Still a retreat

Historic railroad town is worth more than a whistle-stop visit

Destination : Sykesville

A monthly feature exploring the stores, restaurants and sights of Maryland neighborhoods.

June 21, 2008|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Reporter

Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Baltimore divorcee for whom the king of England gave up his throne, used to slip quietly into Sykesville to visit relatives, hoping the press would not follow.

And Betsy Patterson, whose whirlwind romance with and marriage to Jerome Bonaparte infuriated his brother Napoleon, fled her father's summer house in Sykesville to rendezvous with the love of her life.

That's pretty heady stuff for a town that grew up around a "horse train stop" on the old Baltimore & Ohio railroad line where they once changed and watered the horses that pulled the earliest railroad cars.

Thanks to the enterprise of founder James Sykes, and the proximity of that railroad line, Sykesville became a 19th-century summer retreat for Baltimoreans determined to leave the heat and stench of the city.

The Carroll County town is still a delightful retreat today. Historic Main Street, which climbs uphill from the rush of the Patapsco River and the rumble of the CSX trains that still move through town, is a compact collection of shops and restaurants in buildings that mostly date from the defining flood of 1868.

Plan your visit to Sykesville's Main Street from Wednesday to Sunday, when most of the shops are open. Here's a proposed itinerary for an ideal day:

11 A.M. COTTAGE CORNER TREASURES

Enter Sykesville from Route 32, turning left at the historic marker for Main Street and passing over the old aluminum bridge and going to the bottom of Main Street, where you will find plenty of parking near the Visitor's Center on Baldwin Drive. Cottage Corner Treasures is just that -- a tiny free-standing cottage in the corner of a parking lot where you will find unique gifts for the home and garden.

7615 Main St.

410-549-9191

11:30 A.M. FINDERS KEEPERS

Linda Tracey's consignment shop holds lots of surprises --even for her. "Every time I come in to work, there is something new here," she said. Depression glass, botanical prints, Longaberger baskets, pottery, old-fashioned jewelry, table linens and furniture are packed tightly into this shop.

7610 Main St.

410-549-1976

NOON CONTRARY MARY'S

Mary Martin lives less than a mile away, and she drove by the predecessor of this shop on her way to work for a long time before she decided to make it her shop. That was seven years ago, and she has developed a loyal customer base among her neighbors, who don't want to drive 30 minutes to the nearest mall when they need a gift. "One customer came in and needed a baby gift and a housewarming gift," said Martin. "A few minutes here and she was all set."

7606 Main St.

410-549-9005

contrarymarys.com

12:30 P.M. E.W. BECK'S

If you like your sandwiches huge, your french fries crispy and your beer cold, this is your stop for lunch. Place your order but hang onto the menu long enough to read a brief history of Sykesville and of the Beck family. Save room for dessert -- your waitress will bring a tray of treats from which to choose. There's also a variety of sports playing on large-screen TVs around the restaurant.

7565 Main St.

410-795-1001

ewbecks.com

1:30 P.M. PURKEY'S TOY TRAINS

You don't have to be a model-train buff to visit Wiley Purkey's shop. But if you are, Purkey has everything you need for your O-gauge, standard gauge, MTH and Lionel trains. He also has an elaborate "train garden" (a phrase he says only Baltimoreans use) running through both rooms of his shop that will delight adults and children alike. And there's an amazing collection of old-fashioned tin toys for sale.

7604 Main St.

410-549-6061

purkeystoytrains.com

2 P.M. A LIKELY STORY

Debbie Scheller's shop is what bookstores used to look like before the giants like Barnes & Noble took over. She has a collection of new and "lightly loved" books shelved side by side. "If you need a gift, buy the new one. If it is for you, buy the other one and save a little money," she said brightly. Scheller schedules regular events for children, families and authors because, she said, "People don't want to drive forever to have some fun."

7566 Main St.

410-795-1718

sykesvillebooks.com

2:30 P.M. ST. PAUL'S UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

The church is closed to visitors except during church services. But you can still stop and glimpse the stained-glass memorial windows, which date from 1914. They are stunning in their simplicity and their color. And the memorial rose garden planted at the entrance is radiant.

7538 Main St.

410-795-0714

stpaulssykesville.org

3 P.M. SWEET SIMPLICI-TEA

Sisters Robyn Zumbrun and Lisa Meyer have just opened this classic tea room, and their tables are set with antique china and colorful linens, just waiting for you to stop by and drink in the ambience -- and the tea. They serve traditional tea sandwiches, homemade scones with jams and spreads from local purveyors and fresh sorbet. You can enjoy a hot or iced tea, and there is lemonade for the little ones. The shop is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, and the sisters will also help you host an after-hours event.

7520 Main St., Suite 102

410-549-7676

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

LOOKING FOR MORE? HERE ARE SOME OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN SYKESVILLE

. Gate House Museum of History. This stately old home turned museum was once an entrance to Springfield mental hospital. 7283 Cooper Drive, 410-549-5150, sykesville.net / gatehouse.html.

. Baldwin's Station and Pub. This destination restaurant is in a railroad station that was built in 1883. 7618 Main Street, 410-795-1041, baldwins station.com.

. The Inn at Norwood. If you can stay the night, try this bed-and-breakfast located in the heart of historic Sykesville. 7514 Norwood Ave., 410-549-7868, bbonline.com / md / norwood.

. The Girlzone. Open by appointment, this funky shop offers spa party packages for girls of all ages. 7540 Main St., 410-549-7465.

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