The words "tight-knit" can be overused when describing a community, but not in Relay, where neighbors have formed their own book and card-playing clubs. Residents get together in the Baltimore suburb for the "Victorian Tea" in the spring and for community day in the fall. They take turns as hosts of the monthly covered-dish dinner.
Faith Hermann borrowed an egg recently from her neighbor, who in turn took some butter. She has lived in her 1911 home for the past 20 years.
"I like being in Relay because of the people," said Hermann, who lives with her husband, William, and enjoys sitting on her home's wraparound porch. "We know our neighbors."
The neighborhood, however, is not cliquish, as some small towns can be, said Kimberly Box, the current president of the Relay Improvement Association. The Relay Bookies and the Men's Club are open to new members.
Relay is bordered to the north and west by Interstate 95, to the south by the Patapsco River and to the east by Route 1 and Herbert Run. The enclave, only 10 minutes from the city, is removed from the hustle and bustle and rapid construction transforming other areas. Relay, which is near Halethorpe, was largely built out decades ago, so it has not changed much.
"It's like being in a time warp," said William Hermann.
Relay earned its name as a changing point for the teams of horses that pulled train carriages between Baltimore and Ellicott City in the early 1800s. Drivers needed a fresh team midway through the trip, so they stopped at a station in the town to make the switch.
The community has a notable rail history and is the site of the Thomas Viaduct, a national landmark and the world's oldest stone arch railroad bridge still in use. It was once known as a summer getaway for Baltimore & Ohio Railroad executives who built grand Victorian homes, some of which remain.
Last month, Richard Gloth, vice president of the Relay Improvement Association, and his neighbors repainted the interior of Relay Town Hall, which was built around 1910. The hall sits in the heart of the historic district and once housed one of the first fire stations in Baltimore County. Over the years, it was a library before it finally became a town hall.
Today, the top floor is home to Supporting the Arts in Relay (STAR), which puts on children's theater productions. The bottom floor often is rented out for private parties.
Gloth's family moved to Relay in 1942 when he was 2 years old. He said relationships were cemented when children attended the old four-room elementary school, which operated from 1920 to 1964. Gloth sent out 250 invitations for a reunion next weekend. So far, more than 160 people are coming back from as far away as England.
It is not uncommon for sons and daughters to return and buy homes a few streets over from their parents.
"We get a lot of people coming back (for good)," he said.
The improvement association will host the annual community yard sale Sept. 21 at town hall, followed a week later by Relay Day. The theme this year is firefighting, in honor of the hall's original use.
"It promotes the old kind of feeling of a small town," Box said.
Housing stock Relay has a wide range of housing that includes condominiums and town houses. The historic district is peppered with grand Victorian homes but there are a wide range of styles. At this time, there are three Colonials, one rancher and one split-foyer home on the market, said Kendall Skirven, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Catonsville. For the past 12 months, sellers are getting an average of 92.4 percent of their original asking price.
Schools Students at Relay Elementary School scored much higher than the state standards in reading and math. Arbutus Middle School met its annual yearly progress, but two classes scored slightly less than state standards: sixth graders in math and seventh graders in reading.
Lansdowne High & Academy of Finance met its annual yearly progress except with its special education students in math. The school's graduation rate was 79.1 percent last year, below the state average.
Crime is very low in Relay, said Cpl. Michael Hill, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police. There was one assault on the edge of town in 2007. Residents said they feel safe because most people watch out for neighbors.