'A lot of charm to it'

Carroll County town lures those wanting serenity, peace

Insider's Guide To Union Bridge

June 29, 2008|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Originally settled as a farming community in the 1700s and later known as Buttersburg because the town's general store operator would take local butter for payment on goods, Union Bridge didn't get its current name until 1820.

This came after a bridge was built over the Pipe Creek and swampland. Because residents on both sides of the bridge pitched in to help, it became known as Union Bridge.

Today the sleepy country town located just 11 miles outside Westminster in rural Carroll County offers residents an amiable retreat.

"I've always thought of it as a diamond in the rough," said Jim Rowe, who grew up in Union Bridge and serves as the president of the Union Bridge Area Heritage Committee. "It's changed, but not to where there's nothing left. It still has a lot of charm to it."

The town offers a plentiful history, including being home to world-famous sculptor William Henry Rinehart and to the first reaping machine. A map, sponsored by the heritage committee, lays out a detailed walking tour of almost 50 historical sites and places of interest in Union Bridge.

Rowe, who owns the Buttersburg Inn on Main Street, said he remembers when the town was bustling with a movie theater, bowling alley and lots of shopping. The building his restaurant is in used to include a popular ice cream parlor and soda fountain.

"We were really a cute, self-contained community," said Rowe. "It's quaint. It's friendly. It's a relaxed area."

Two main industries dominate the town - cement and the railroad.

The Western Maryland Railroad came to Union Bridge in the early 1860s, with several passenger trains arriving daily during its heyday. Maryland Midland Railway still runs its freight line service out of Union Bridge.

Lehigh Cement Co. has operated here since 1926, taking over a cement plant started in 1911. With strong ties to the community, Lehigh has provided jobs for many generations of Union Bridge residents.

The Union Bridge Fire Company's carnival and the business association's depot day, both annual spring events, bring people out to celebrate the town.

Housing stock : Many of the homes in Union Bridge are historic, dating back to the 1800s. Those found in the center of town are part of a nationally designated historic area. Other historic homes are found on large lots and farms on the outskirts of town.

While several older homes have been rehabbed, others have not, and they attract ambitious homeowners who want to take on the task of restoration or buy the property for the land.

Farther away from the town's center, the homes become more modern, offering ranchers, split-levels, Colonials and bungalows. Elaborate horse farms and other agricultural uses are found here as well.

"The flavor that draws people out there is the serenity and the peace," said Janet Kraus of Long and Foster Realty in Westminster. "They know that their neighbors are always willing to help, no matter what needs to be done."

Restored and large modern homes fetch prices of about $300,000 and up, while smaller homes and those still needing renovations start at about $100,000.

While not much has changed in the way of new housing in recent years, two projects are in the planning stages. The Villages of Union Bridge is expected to offer a mix of housing options and Jackson Ridge will include single-family homes.

Rentals: A few rental options exist in Union Bridge, usually in the form of detached, single-family homes. Monthly rentals start at about $1,500.

Crime : Most crimes in Union Bridge are considered nuisance crimes, according to Capt. Clarence Lust, the assistant chief in the investigative services bureau of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office. In 2007, there were two robberies, 10 burglaries and 21 incidences of theft.

Schools: Union Bridge residents are served by Elmer A. Wolfe Elementary School, New Windsor Middle School and Francis Scott Key High School. All three schools have surpassed state proficiency levels in both reading and math. Fourth-graders at the elementary school scored 89.7 percent in reading and 98.3 percent in math, and seventh-graders at the middle school scored 85.6 percent in reading and 72.7 percent in math. All three schools have met the state's Adequate Yearly Progress requirements, a tool used to track academic progress and make accountability decisions. The high school has a graduation rate of 92.3 percent.

Shopping: Union Bridge has a few specialty shops in town, including barbershops, a general store and gun shop. Residents must drive to big-box stores and malls in Westminster, Frederick or Pennsylvania. Stambaugh's Inc. is headquartered here, providing construction services and equipment for rent.

Dining in: Myers Supermarket is the closest grocery store.

Dining out : There are three choices in town, E.J.'s Restaurant, Original Pizza and the Buttersburg Inn.

Nightlife: There's not much nightlife in Union Bridge, but Westminster or Frederick are easy options.

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