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‘Small-town feel, but with big-city amenities’: Baltimore’s tiny Dickeyville is quaint and quiet

Editor’s note: The Dickeyville profile is one article in The Sun’s City of Neighborhoods series, spotlighting Baltimore communities. Other neighborhoods in the series: Upton, Mount Winans and Stonewood-Pentwood-Winston.

Hidden in a leafy corner of West Baltimore sits a neighborhood steeped in lore with the pedigree to prove it. In the Dickeyville Historic District, every weathered old building bears a tale from days past, when the community was a bustling 19th-century mill town and its residents, the muscle. Now those 137 restored homes, mostly of clapboard or stone, can bring $400,000 in a village seen as both quaint and quiet.

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“It has a small-town feel, but with big-city amenities,” says Chris Wharton, 37, who has lived in Dickeyville for eight years amid the picket fences, stone walls, lush gardens and cobbled sidewalks. “It’s almost like coming to another realm. It’s that charm that keeps folks here.”

Residents, many drawn by the nearby Gwynns Falls Trail and bucolic dam that once powered the textile, wool and paper mills, cherish the town with its retro appearance and familial appeal. Seven years ago, Sarah Long stumbled onto Dickeyville by accident and never left.

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“It’s magical; it makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time,” says Long, the Dickeyville Community Association president. “It’s very welcoming. When we were looking to buy our house, not once did someone not stop to ask, ‘Are you my new neighbor?’ "

That cordiality — even in a pandemic — is a given, residents say.

“The town embodies the old ideas of community and keeps them sacred — but it also isn’t stuck in those times,” says Wharton, an environmental scientist. “We’ve embraced change as well.”

History

The town was founded in 1772, but the first mill was built along the Gwynns Falls half a century before. The oldest homes date to 1790. Early owners of the village included the Wethereds, three Quaker brothers who dubbed it Wetheredville. Neutral during the Civil War, the family made cloth of both blue and gray until the Union Army found out and closed the mill.

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William Dickey, an Irish immigrant, bought the town in 1871 and gave it his name. Dickey opened a company store, banned alcohol consumption and, at one point, instituted a curfew at 9 p.m., at which time a bell chimed to clear the streets. Idiosyncrasies aside, Dickeyville gained credence when, in 1899, soon-to-be vice president Theodore Roosevelt visited to stump for William McKinley, his Republican running mate.

In 1909, the town changed hands again and began a downward spiral. During the Great Depression, gamblers and bootleggers ran the place until, in 1934, Dickeyville and its 81 buildings were sold at auction for $42,000. Developers overhauled the town in an effort to replicate “an old English village,” turning a warehouse, an old church and even a jail into homes. In 1972, Dickeyville made the list on the National Register of Historic Places.

Physical space

Generally, the village is bordered by Forest Park Ave. to the west and north, Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park to the east and Dickey Hill Road to the south.

Things to do

There are no playgrounds or schools, and business establishments are banned (the lone nonresidential building is the Dickeyville Memorial Presbyterian Church, founded in 1885). The 15-mile Gwynns Falls Trail beckons hikers and bikers; the garden club works to spiff up the landscape.

On the Fourth of July, the neighborhood closes one of its two main streets for a parade, auction, children’s games and a dinner/dance. Other annual events include an art show, a chili cook-off and a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the garden club. More recently, there have been overnight camp-outs near the dam, with families pitching tents and lighting bonfires.

Demographics

The community’s population was 156 in the 2010 Census, according to an analysis by Baltimore’s planning department. In 2018, Dickeyville’s median household income was listed as $39,426, though it’s actually several times that, says Wharton, former president of the DCA. And while 2018 city data lists the racial breakdown as 85% African-American, in truth the historic district is no more than 20% so, says Wharton, who is Black.

Transit and walkability

Dickeyville’s walkability score ranks 21 out of 100, according to Live Baltimore, as some of the narrow streets lack sidewalks. It is within walking distance of the Gwynns Falls Trail, Leakin Park and the Forest Park Golf Course. The MTA services both Forest Park Ave. and Dickey Hill Rd.

Issues

Construction and road work along Forest Park Avenue have diverted traffic through Dickeyville, raising residents’ ire. And the tight, serpentine roads are difficult for the city to clean.

“We have to fight to get street sweepers to come,” says Wharton. Those who live near the dam want better policing of that secluded area after dark to fend off late-night partying.

Leadership

Sarah Long, Dickeyville Community Association president; Kristerfer Burnett (D), Baltimore City Council, District 8.

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