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At the circle in the middle of Towson, major streets branch out like the spokes of a wheel. The bustling stretches of York, Joppa and Dulaney Valley roads are buttressed by a melange of restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and stores. On any given night, the streets are throbbing with music, advertising drink specials and hawking the latest fashion trends. It's the quintessential scene that young adults flock to, and that's the whole point.

With Towson University and Goucher College just scant miles apart, Towson is dominated by older teenagers and young twentysomethings. Keeping pace with this age group, favorite hangouts offer music, dancing, pool and revelry.

It's not all collegiate decadence, though. Another hotspot is the Towson Commons at the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue, with a movie theater and art gallery inside and prime shops and eateries on the surrounding streets.

For more shopping, Towson Town Center, the mall located right at the center circle, has a roster of stores as varied as customers' wants can be. Nearby is the hub of big boxes at Towson Place. However, if the crowds and noise don't seem appealing, retreat outdoors and stroll along the sidewalks for some window shopping.

Beyond the neon crush of the crossroads lays a surprisingly quiet suburban spread. Single-family houses and several public and private schools lend Towson a double life; it is both an urban center and a quaint neighborhood. It's in these residential areas that one gets an idea of what Towson was like before the colleges and highways.

Founded in 1750 by Thomas and William Towson, the area began as a town for local farmers. That same intersection that marks the hub of Towson today -- the meeting of York, Joppa and Dulaney Valley roads -- was also the hub of the early Towson.

To the northeast, across the beltway, is the Hampton National Historical Site. The mansion, whose construction was wrapped up in 1790, is now operated by the National Park Service for visitors to tour the house, picnic on the grounds and get a feel of what Towson was like back in the olden days.

As Towson entered the mid-19th century, things got livelier, and building around the crossroads increased. Construction of what is now the Baltimore County Courthouse broke ground in 1854 and marked the town's assumption of the county seat -- a title it still holds.

Towson is a junction of varied places, personalities and people. It started as a crossroads town and continues that legacy -- minus the farmers.

Location: North-central Baltimore County

Boundaries: I-695 to the north, Baltimore City to the south, Loch Raven Boulevard to the east, Charles Street to the west.

Highlights/Landmarks: Baltimore County Courthouse, Hampton National Historic Site, Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson Center, Towson Commons, Towson Town Center

Schools: Towson University, Goucher College, Towson Catholic High School, Notre Dame Prep, Loyola Blakefield, Baltimore Lutheran School, Calvert Hall College High School, Towson High School, Loch Raven High School, Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Dumbarton Middle School, Loch Raven Academy Middle School, Riderwood Elementary School, Rodgers Forge Elementary School, Stoneleigh Elementary, Pleasant Plains Elementary School, Cromwell Valley Elementary School, Ridge Ruxton School

Trivia: The character Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld" is from Towson.

NBA forward Carmelo Anthony went to Towson Catholic High for three years.

Just north of what is now the Recher Theater sat the very first tavern in Towson.

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