Glen Burnie has evolved from a small mining town to a modern suburb. Throughout this urban hub of northern Anne Arundel County, snugly nestled just 10 miles south of metropolitan Baltimore and due east of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, visitors will discover many of the same attractions and businesses they can find in most city suburbs. But this densely populated (and surprisingly low-key) town also offers some unique retail and dining options to accompany its diverse atmosphere.

A family name

The groundwork for Glen Burnie was laid nearly two centuries ago, when, in 1812, a district attorney by the name of Elias Glenn established a county seat near what is currently known as Harlem Park in Baltimore City. He named his property "Glennsburne."

Kids let loose at the play area at Marley Station Mall. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

The name was changed to "Glennsbourne Farm," and eventually "Glenburnie," as the property was passed through Glenn's descendants. Records also show the name as "Tracey's Station" and "Myrtle," after local postmaster Samuel Sewell Tracey and one of Tracey's boarders, before the final decision was made.

In 1854, William Wilkins Glenn, Elias Glenn's grandson, incorporated the Curtis Creek Mining, Furnace and Manufacturing Co. into his family's property. The business flourished during the 19th century, and with it came several thousand acres of land in northern Anne Arundel County.

Upon the death of William Wilkins Glenn, his son, brother and nephew began to manage the family's business affairs, and Glenburnie became an official state subdivision in 1888. It wouldn't be until 1930 that postmaster Louis J. DeAlba decided two words were better than one, and gave the town a final name change to the current Glen Burnie.

Building through history

Among the earliest Glen Burnie schools was First Avenue Elementary, built in 1899. The oldest area church is St. Alban's Episcopal, which was built in 1904, with many of its bricks dating back to Marley Chapel, an early Maryland parish from the 1730s. Crain Highway, one of Glen Burnie's main thoroughfares (named after Senator Robert Crain), opened in 1927 and Ritchie Highway (named for Governor Albert C. Ritchie, the state's 52nd governor) followed in 1939.

These homes can be found on Guildford Road in Glen Burnie. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

Schools and churches were built in the ensuing decades and construction was completed on Harundale Plaza, the first enclosed shopping area east of the Mississippi River, in 1958. Glen Burnie Mall followed in 1962. Marley Station, Glen Burnie's most prominent shopping center, opened in the mid-1980s.

But perhaps Glen Burnie's most practical point of interest is North Arundel Hospital, which opened its doors on July 4, 1965 as a three-story, 107-bed hospital to serve Anne Arundel residents who previously had to travel to Baltimore or Annapolis for medical care. Today, after millions of dollars in upgrades and expansions, it boasts 270 beds, an inpatient psychiatric unit and several off-site care centers.

Necessities, noshing and stores galore

With any luck, you won't have to visit the hospital. Instead, opt for one of the many shopping choices that will strain only your wallet. Crain Highway's endless strip malls feature stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and Blockbuster Video.

Elsewhere on Crain, you're sure to find a few good bargains at the Big Lots discount store. Parrots Plus is a haven of supplies and necessities for your fine feathered (tropical) friends, and Twilite Zone Comics has a decent selection of graphic novels for the superhero geek in us all.

Barnyard Pit Beef is open year round to satisfy the cravings of Glen Burnie residents. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

And then there's The Loft, a bar/liquor store that's impossible to miss thanks to its large red barn facade. Operated in conjunction with The Loft are Barnyard Produce, a seasonal farmer's market with fresh vegetables, and Barnyard Pit-Beef, a made-to-order sandwich stand.

Further north is Ritchie Highway, which resembles Ellicott City's bustling Route 40 with its stretch of businesses and restaurants, not to mention the copious selection of car dealerships and auto repair shops. Glen Burnie -- jokingly dubbed "Chrome City" by residents -- should be named the vehicular capital of Maryland based on this strip alone. It's appropriate, as the state headquarters for the MVA is located in Glen Burnie.

Ritchie Highway's dining options mix the familiar fast food with a few rare offerings. Checkers offers retro burgers and shakes. However, the only available seating is outside so business tends to slow down in the winter.

Sitting down indoors and enjoying your meal in any weather isn't a problem at IHOP, where service is speedy and there's hardly a wait. Or you might prefer the 1950s trappings (and delectable home fries) of the Honey Bee Diner, or the sugary treats readily available at Krispy Kreme.

This is just one of the many car dealerships that line Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

Ritchie Highway also boasts the Glen Burnie locations of the popular independent music shop Record & Tape Traders and CD Warehouse, its more corporate counterpart. David's Bridal is the ideal, hassle-free place to search for the wedding gown of your dreams. Nearby, you'll find Carol's Western Wear. Stop in to shop for cowboy boots to wear while line dancing at the reception.

Valley of malls

Ritchie Highway is home to Glen Burnie's three malls. The retail linchpin of Harundale Plaza is Value City. Glen Burnie Mall offers a bit more variety, with a Best Buy, Toys R Us, Dick's Sporting Goods, the Chuck E. Cheese-like kiddie playland Jeepers and Sticks and Stuff, a furniture showroom that features bed headboards the size of small elephants.

Marley Station, located further southeast on Ritchie Highway, is a traditional two-story mall with a better retail assortment. Its anchors include Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's and Hecht's. In the early 1990s, it was one of the area's main shopping centers, with more than 100 specialty stores, a food court and an eight-screen movie theater. Now -- with Annapolis Mall and Arundel Mills nearby -- it's a shadow of its former self, mostly a hangout for teen-agers.

Even so, Marley Station does have a few noteworthy stores, like a Lego outlet and one of the few remaining Boardwalk Fries, that mid-1990s haven of high-carb bliss, in the area. Its United Artists Theatres, while unable to compete with the stadium-seating megaplexes at Annapolis and Arundel Mills malls, still offers first-run movies.

The Glory Days Grill is decorated with sports memorabilia and TVs. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

The food court features the usual mall staples (Subway, Sbarro's), but there's a nice Ruby Tuesday, a Double T Diner and a Glory Days Grill across the street. And no mention of Marley Station would be complete without Ann's Dari Creme, a popular hot dog and ice cream stand that has been serving customers for 50 years.

Other offerings

Adventure seekers can visit Glen Burnie's award-winning Dragon Moon Tattoo Studio, which attracts customers from as far away as Japan and Switzerland. Body and facial piercings are also available.

While you recover, play a few games under the fluorescent lights at Bowl America. Or, show off your new body art during Friday night open mike session at Carol's Western Wear where country music is warbled by Hank Williams-wannabes. If your aspirations lean more toward Sam Malone from "Cheers," the Maryland Bartending Academy will train you during a two-week course. The school offers the first class free with no obligations so you can see if the fast-paced world of cocktail shaking is truly for you.

Patrons of Bowl America know bowling is a fun way to get some exercise and beat the winter blues. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)

Outdoors enthusiasts can visit the Town Center, a block-sized area within walking distance of Ritchie Highway that is reminiscent of White Marsh's The Avenue, and, in the winter months, enjoy the old-fashioned ice-skating rink. When the temperatures warm up, take your 10-speed out to the Baltimore-Annapolis Bike Trail, a portion of which cuts through Glen Burnie, leading past Harundale Plaza and Marley Station.

A place to call home

Glen Burnie features a mix of single-family homes, apartment complexes and retirement communities often located alongside bountiful retail offerings. It's not unusual to drive down Crain Highway and see a store next to a house next to a strip mall across the street from a small apartment complex.

Cluttered, yes, but clutter can be a blessing when you only have to cross the street to go to the supermarket or walk 30 yards to get to a Target, especially if you don't have a car and must rely on public transportation.

And recent college graduates just starting out on their own may find the rent alluring, especially when they stack their budgets up to neighboring areas like Annapolis and consider Glen Burnie's proximity to the city and beltway (an exit to 695 branches off from Ritchie Highway). It's not the most cosmopolitan place to live, but this curious little town makes up for it in character.