In a city that prides itself on its traditions, Pikesville is a shining example of just how little can change, no matter how much time goes by. Reisterstown Road is still the main retail thoroughfare. The housing stock mostly dates back to the 1960s. Essentially, Pikesville remains the same close-in, quasi-urban neighborhood it has always been.
The Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company has been around since 1897. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
"Always," in this case, refers to 1770, the year settlement began in the area. The town was named for Gen. Zebulon Pike, who surely merits a mention. He was an explorer who tracked the upper Mississippi in the early 1800s. During the War of 1812 he was killed by the accidental explosion of a powder magazine. The editor of Pike's letters and journals, Donald Jackson, later wrote: "Nothing that Zebulon Montgomery Pike ever tried to do was easy, and most of his luck was bad."
Despite its inauspicious namesake, Pikesville has fared quite well over the years. Quiet middle-class neighbors have tended to their 1950s- and 1960s-era homes. Retail still thrives along Reisterstown Road, with small restaurants and import groceries nestled among jewelers, toy stores and the like.
Even the local fire company is a model of stability. Founded in 1897, the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company continues to protect some 80 square miles of Baltimore County.
Another proud institution in the community is the library, which opened to the public in 1946. It moved to its present location in the Pikesville Community Center in 1982, having outgrown its previous home. With more than 65,000 books and recordings, and well over 100 periodicals and newspapers, it is among the busiest libraries in the Baltimore County system.
Margo Schwartz reads to her grandson Yehuda, 2, at the Pikesville library. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
Also worth a visit is , operated jointly by the Maryland State Police and its alumni association. Located on the grounds of the Maryland State Police Headquarters, the museum displays artifacts, photographs, equipment and memorabilia documenting police activities.
Pikesville's professional-services sector has been thriving in recent years, thanks to its proximity to downtown Baltimore and its relatively high-income population base. In fact, nearly a dozen new office buildings have gone up in Pikesville over the last decade, many of them occupied by doctors' offices and other professionals.
There have been some hotly contested issues, too, as the community looks for ways to direct its slow but steady growth.
Residents have been especially vocal in expressing their views on the redevelopment of the 167-acre Bonnie View Country Club property as a residential community. With proposals on the table in early 2003 to convert the defunct country club into either a single-family home community or a neighborhood for active adults, residents pushed hard for assurances that any redevelopment would not wreak havoc on the local traffic scene.
There has also been debate over the future of the commercial district, with some saying that the community should demand a more upscale vision from incoming retailers.
But all these conversations have been slow to result in any actions -- which should not come as a surprise, considering how slowly the Pikesville community itself has evolved over the years. Pikesville was predominantly Jewish in the 1950s, and it remains so today, although the arrival of Asian and Hispanic immigrant groups has begun to change the face of the neighborhood. Still, while some Jewish families have migrated to more distant suburbs, newly arrived Russian Jewish emigres have taken their place in Pikesville's ethnic mix. Meanwhile, the core of the Jewish presence here remains the Orthodox Jews, whose religious laws require them to live within walking distance of their synagogues.
Thus among the offerings on Reisterstown Road, one will encounter not just Judaic bookstores, but also kosher groceries, kosher bakeries and Russian import shops.
One can also dine out at , a small and comfortable eatery known for its crab cakes and other aquatic fare. Or, Al Pacino Cafe, whose menu includes Middle East-inspired dishes and wood-oven pizzas.
For another take on traditional fare, locals have long patronized , an edible paean to chopped liver, matzoh ball soup, blintzes and very large deli sandwiches. Don't be afraid if you happen to hear "Bam!," "Crack!" or "Mahj" shouted out among a group of women. They're probably regulars holding their weekly Mah-Jongg get-together.
Upscale eats and shops can be found at the Festival at Woodholme, located less than a mile outside the beltway, somewhat afar from Pikesville's older central district.
Even further upscale is the historic , site of many a high-class wedding. The columned portico was fashioned after Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. The library is paneled walnut, with Scarsdale carvings decorating the fireplace. The Grand Ballroom boasts a 25-foot ceiling, chandeliers, wall sconces and a 100-year-old hardwood floor.
For something a bit less 18th century, the offers a garden-like setting, oversized rooms and amenities such as in-room movies and dual line telephones with data ports and voice mail. There's a hair salon on site, along with a jewelry shop, travel agent, camera shop and a bank. Recreational facilities include half a dozen indoor tennis courts, a fitness center, outdoor pool and saunas.
The Hilton -- situated just off the beltway -- helps to illustrate just how much Pikesville is a bedroom community. Once visitors tire of the ethnic eateries and culture that the suburb has to offer, they can head for the beltway and the 20-minute trip into downtown Baltimore.