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 his brother infuriated Napoleon Bonaparte, literally "escaped" from her father's summer house in Sykesville to rendezvous with the love of her life, Jerome Bonaparte.
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 an 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 Consignment
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
Looking for more? Here are some other places to visit in Sykesville.
Gate House Museum of History
This stately old home next to Millard Cooper Park was once an entrance to the old Springfield mental hospital. Now it houses a city museum with a timeline marking the fascinating history of Sykesville from when it was a Native American hunting ground. Plan your visit to Sykesville for a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, when the museum is open.
7283 Cooper Drive, 410-549-5150, sykesville.net/gatehouse.html
Baldwin's Station and Pub
Located at the bottom of Main Street is the railroad station built in 1883 and now home to the destination restaurant Baldwin's Station. Much of the station, including woodwork and original glass in the windows, has been beautifully preserved. Finish your evening in the pub, where you can choose from more than 50 kinds of Scotch and the cigars in the humidor.
7618 Main Street, 410-795-1041, baldwinsstation.com
The Inn at Norwood
If you can stay the night, try this bed-and-breakfast located in the heart of historic Sykesville. Built in 1906 by the architect J.H. Fowble, the inn is a Colonial Revival home that retains much of its original charm. The large guest rooms are newly renovated, all with private baths, two-person whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, cable television, air conditioning and Internet connections.
7514 Norwood Ave., 410-549-7868, bbonline.com/md/norwood
Open by appointment, this funky shop offers spa party packages for girls of all ages. Prices range from $35 per person for a Pretty Princess Party, in which girls 5 to 8 can receive manicures and makeup and dress up in frilly princess costumes, to $60 for adult "Girlz Night Out" parties that include manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing and eye treatments.
7540 Main St., 410-549-7465.