If you want to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the streets of Hampstead, just mention the word traffic, advises Chris Cavey. "You'll have a compadre for life," he said with a laugh.
The first reported appearance of a car in Hampstead was in 1903. For the next 80 years, the houses that lined the Hanover Pike watched a slow trickle of cars pass by their front porches.
Then, in the mid-1980s, the trickle turned into a torrent with the opening of Interstate 795, which set off a deluge of development in northern Carroll County and southern Pennsylvania.
Now it's almost impossible to walk across the street safely at rush hour, said Cavey, a lifelong resident who remembers when you could cross without looking. Thousands of cars pass through Hampstead along Route 30 on their way to Baltimore in the morning, then back in the evening. This makes the word "bypass" another guaranteed conversation starter."The bypass is 100 percent important to Hampstead," said Cavey, who owns Cavey Insurance and Eagle Embroidery on Main Street, which is Route 30. "Without it, the viability of the town dwindles." The bypass will begin north of town, near Brodbeck Road, then loop to the west and reconnect to 30 near the Wolf Hill subdivision.
Hampstead Mayor Chris Nevin agreed with Cavey and has made the creation of the bypass the focus of his administration. Despite opposition from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the funding for the right-of-way acquisition was grandfathered in, according to Nevin. He added that land acquisitions will begin as soon as environmental assessments are completed.
The bypass will be of great help to Main Street's small businesses that have suffered because of the choking traffic. "It's hard to persuade someone to stop at a store and then try to get back into traffic," Cavey said. "It's near impossible to make a left turn sometimes."
The North Carroll Shopping Center at the northern edge of town will be revamped with the addition of a Wal-Mart that many fear will bring more congestion as well as tough competition for local businesses. Along with the building of the bypass, Nevin's other major project is to expand the town water supply with a 400,000-gallon water tower that will also balance water pressure throughout Hampstead.
It's a tribute to Hampstead's resilience that it continues to prosper and grow despite its traffic woes. People view the area as a safe community with a small town atmosphere that's more affordable than Howard or northern Baltimore County, Nevin says."You'll find a variety of housing in Hampstead, from a condo to a single-family house on a golf course," said Russ Blackburn, an agent with O'Conor Piper & Flynn ERA in Hampstead. The golf course is the 155-acre Oakmount Green, and a custom-home development by the same name overlooks it. All 89 one-acre lots, which listed for $70,000 to $80,000, are taken but not all have been built out, Blackburn explained.
Another development just south of town is Roberts Field that began in the mid-1980s and is completed. A four-bedroom, two-bath house built in 1988 lists for $164,000. A majority of the sales in Hampstead in the past year have been made here.
North Carroll Farms, adjacent to Oakmount, is the last major development in Hampstead, according to Blackburn. It currently offers detached single-family homes in the low-to mid-$200,000 range. Older homes near the center of town are also available, among them a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage built in 1925. It's being offered for $137,900.
Besides the redevelopment of the North Carroll Shopping Center, there's another major project in town. The old bank at the corner of Shiloh Avenue and Route 30 is being converted to a new police headquarters.
Built in 1911, the building, most recently Ray's Never Stop Clock Shop, will replace the cramped police facility now in town hall, said architect Dean Robert Camlin, whose firm is doing the renovation."The first floor will house a squad room and holding cells, and there'll be offices on the second," Camlin said.
People have been traveling through Hampstead since the late 1700s. Horse-drawn wagons loaded with farm products traveled to Baltimore and returned with manufactured goods for trade. Union and Confederate soldiers passed through during the Civil War and, by 1879, the railroad came to Hampstead and the town grew rapidly with new homes, banks and a fire department.
Prosperity came to Hampstead in 1951 when Black and Decker Corp. built a plant that eventually would cover 325 acres and employ nearly 3,000 people.
Part of the operation moved to North Carolina in 1985. The company eventually sold its property and now leases back a small part of it, employing about 300 people.
Jos. A. Bank Clothiers located on a portion of the former facility and remains an important employer.
Recently, the Sweetheart Cup Co. built a 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse near Route 30 south of town.
Hampstead has seen a lot of new faces in the past 15 years. But the "immigrants," as the old timers call the new arrivals, have the same sense of community."It's still a community-oriented town," Cavey said. "That's what draws people here."
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes
Public school: Hampstead Elementary, Spring Garden Elementary, North Carroll Middle, North Carroll High
Shopping: Owings Mills Town Center, Cranberry Mall, Roberts Field Shopping Center
ZIP code: 21074