When Ray Chism, 74, bought the Relay Hotel in 1972 with his wife, Diana, he wanted to learn more about the history of the building, where he has lived with his family for more than 30 years.
The couple began sorting through archives and talking to older residents in the community.
"For a small area, there is so much history here," Chism said of the designated historic district, which is bordered by Viaduct Avenue to the west and Maple Avenue to the south. It is one of 17 Baltimore County Historic Districts and received the designation Nov. 4, 1996.
Chism will share some of what he has learned over the years during a presentation at 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22 at the Arbutus Senior Center, 855 A Sulphur Spring Road.
Through his research, Chism discovered that the original Relay Hotel, then known as the Relay House, had burned down in 1898, but was rebuilt shortly after and renamed the Relay Hotel.
A number of famous individuals passed through the hotel, including President Abraham Lincoln, Gen. Benjamin Butler of the Union Army during the Civil War, President Zachary Taylor and President John Quincy Adams, Chism said.
He has learned that the history of the hotel dates back to 1830, when it was built on the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad line.
After researching the past of the area for nearly 30 years, he's become an expert on the hotel building, Relay and surrounding areas.
In addition to the history of Relay and the neighboring town of St. Denis, Chism will discuss existing buildings and those that are no longer standing.
"When you hear him tell the story, it sounds like he just saw the events yesterday. His delivery is just great," said Theda Mayer, president of the Relay Improvement Association, who plans to attend the talk on Friday.
The Relay area is also home to the Thomas Viaduct, a stone bridge that connects Relay with Elkridge. A National Historic Landmark, the bridge was built of local granite in 1835 and designed by Benjamin A. Latrobe, according to Maryland Historical Trust records.
Chism discovered that Relay was the first town created by a U.S. railroad in 1830 and was the first stop on the nation's first passenger railroad, the B&O.
Chism has lived in Relay since 1945. He, said many of the people who know about the past of the small community, bordered by the Patapsco River, Interstate 95 and Interstate 195, have passed away or are growing older.
He has made it his mission to ensure the history is documented and has become a local historian for the community.
"I think that Ray is pretty amazing. History is his passion, although it wasn't his original profession before he retired," Mayer said of Chism, who ran an auto repair service.
Mayer said Chism's research benefits the entire community.
"If you don't have someone to document the history of these historic homes, you lose it," Mayer said
Chism began giving talks about the history of the area about 10 years ago, and said they have been a learning experience for him, as well as his audience.
"Each year that I do a talk, I find out new things," said Chism, a longtime member of the Relay Improvement Association.
While Friday's presentation is free, Chism charges a $5 or $10 fee for some of his lectures, which he donates toward the maintenance of the town hall building.
The association holds its meetings in the Relay Town Hall, which was built in 1910 and once housed the second public library in Baltimore County, according to Chism.
The organization will hold its annual Relay Day Festival on Friday, Sept. 19 through Sunday, Sept. 21. A number of family friendly activities will be held Sunday.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun