'Hidden village' on western edge of Baltimore

This is one in a series of occasional articles exploring neighborhoods in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Tucked away on Baltimore's west side is Franklintown, a neighborhood marked by its serene natural setting and an almost rural feel.

The neighborhood of about 1,200 residents is on the city-county line. A former mill town first settled in the 18th century, it's quiet, private and surrounded by greenery, with plenty of outdoor activities available in nearby Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park.

Franklintown's architecture encompasses a wide range, built over a period of more than two centuries, including late-1700s mill houses, Victorians, early 20th-century bungalows and more contemporary styles. 

In 1999, a portion of Franklintown was designated a historic district by Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, according to longtime resident Carroll Frey. Forty-two properties comprise the district, he said.

The Franklintown Inn, at 5200 Franklintown Road, has played a large role in the area's history.

"Franklintown was built around the inn," said Tony Cardinale, 59, who co-owns the property with his son. He decided to buy it as an investment in 2013.

The property became an inn in 1832 and was owned by William Freeman. Freeman, who also owned most of Franklintown in the 1830s, had big plans for the area, complete with a resort community around the hotel, Cardinale said. But Freeman didn't have the money to finance his vision, so the plans never came to fruition.

The inn was vacant for about 10 years before Cardinale bought it, and the recently renovated space no longer provides lodging or meals. It's now used as an event space for reunions, weddings and birthday parties. Cardinale also opens it to the Franklintown Community Association for their meetings.

Cardinale, who's been living at the inn for four years, said "the location's great here. The neighborhood's been in decay for years, but I think it's got possibilities because it's secluded here and [there is] accessibility to I-70 and downtown. ... It's got real potential."

Dana Khassian, 29, who manages the inn's greenhouse, said the neighborhood's "obscurity is a damn shame. ... It's right in front of everything, yet nobody knows about it."

Frey, 69, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than three decades, acknowledges that Franklintown is a bit off the beaten path.

"It is sort of hard to find because it is at the end of Leakin Park," he said. "Some people say it's a little hidden village. It's not immediately visible from a major street."

The neighborhood's history is what drew Frey to the area, he said.

He first became acquainted with Franklintown after visiting friends who lived there. He said he liked the neighborhood because "it had a lot of historical houses — mill houses — and it was surrounded by woods and water."

At the bottom of a hill near his two-story, wood-frame home on Hamilton Street, there's Dead Run, which flows into the Gwynns Falls.

Real estate agent Megan Richardson lives in Franklintown with partner and fellow agent Wendy LaGrant.

"It's an interesting little neighborhood to try to sell," LaGrant said of Franklintown. "In [people's] impressions, without really spending time and understanding it, I think that they miss the boat on the privacy of it, the quietness of it, the idyllic-ness of it."

The agents for the Richardson LaGrant Group, a part of Keller Williams Legacy Metropolitan, say there's not much turnover in the older Franklintown houses, although they're now selling a house in the relatively new development of Ashmans Hope in the city for $359,900. The cul-de-sac off Beechwood Avenue has nine homes built between 2005 and 2016, LaGrant said

"Things don't sell [in Franklintown] so much because people don't leave here," LaGrant said.

Richardson added that they have neighbors in their 90s who have lived in the area for over 40 years.

Newcomer Susan Levine, who's semi-retired, has lived in a home in the Ashmans Hope cul-de-sac for about two years.

She said she thinks of Franklintown as a "little jewel." Still, she noted that it has its problems.

Levine often frequents the nearby trails, but said she wishes they were better maintained. Trash builds up along the banks when Dead Run floods, she said, and Leakin Park isn't getting the attention it needs.

She also noted that there are a couple of congested streets in the area.

"Forest Park Avenue is only two lanes," she said, "and it's hellacious in rush hour."

The Franklintown Community Association, which includes residents from both the city and county portions of the neighborhood, meets semiannually to address problems like the ones mentioned by Levine.

A recent example was a gas station in the 2000 block of N. Forest Park Ave., which residents complained was drawing criminal activity.

"We immediately got in front of it as a community organization," said Krystle Housley, president of the association. She said the group joined with nearby apartment complexes, business owners, churches and the neighboring community of Dickeyville, and the station was ultimately padlocked by police in June 2016. It later reopened under new management.

The association also has a hand in beautification. In April, it participates in Project Clean Stream, a statewide event, to clean up Dead Run. And in August, the organization is planning to reopen Carmine Gardens, a community garden with about 20 plots.

Housley said her hope is to "bring the community together."

Levine said she enjoys living in a small, tight-knit neighborhood because it's easy to become a part of groups such as the community association. But she acknowledges that the privacy that many value comes at a cost.

"I wish we were within walking distance to a Starbucks, a restaurant," Levine said. It takes her about 10 minutes to get to the closest Starbucks, and it's a 15-minute drive to restaurants in Catonsville. Though she said Bullwinkle's Saloon, a local watering hole, does make a good burger.

But overall, she said, she's happy with her choice.

"We're on the edge of a forest, but we're still part of a big city," Levine said. "I could be downtown in just a few minutes, and yet I'm sitting here. ... There's no sound except for the birds and the breeze. I mean, how lovely is that?"

mpryce@baltsun.com

At a glance

2010 Census data

Population: 1,282

Families: 316

Total housing units: 546

Home sales

2016 sales and median price: 5, $78,750

2015 sales and median price: 8, $141,951

2014 sales and media price: 2, $43,013

Amenities

Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park, 4921 Windsor Mill Road

Carrie Murray Nature Center, 1901 Ridgetop Road

Bullwinkle's Saloon, 1660 Ingleside Ave.

Franklintown Inn, 5200 Franklintown Road

Carmine Gardens, 5120 Carmine Ave.

Nearby schools

Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle, 5025 Dickey Hill Road

Edmondson-Westside High, 501 N. Athol Ave.

Edmondson Heights Elementary, 1600 Langford Road

Crime

In 2016, Franklintown had 45 incidents of crime, according to Open Baltimore. There were no homicides or shootings reported. There were 12 reported auto thefts, three reported burglaries and four reported street robberies that year.

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