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Scenery along Route 136 through rural northern Harford County has impressed visitors for centuries

While longtime residents of northern Harford County note development has increased there in recent years, much of the land along Route 136 remains agricultural.

Second of two parts

Rose Fiore, co-owner of Fiore Winery and Distillery, stands on a rear deck overlooking rows of grape vines marching down a gentle slope at the rear of the Pylesville property.

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The property, off the scenic Route 136 and surrounded by farms, forms a bowl shape as the slopes go down from the highway and back up toward neighboring farms.

That bowl effect allows for lower temperatures and breezes on an otherwise hot summer day.

"We truly have been blessed with a unique little location," Fiore, 72, said.

Fiore and her husband, Mike, moved to Pylesville from Baltimore in 1975. Their lot off of Route 136 was part of the Archer family farm at the time, but the owners had subdivided part of the land for residential lots.

The Fiores raised their two sons, Eric and Anthony, as well as livestock there. Anthony, the younger child, died in 1981, Rose Fiore said. She and her husband planted four acres of grapes because "we were looking for something to keep us busy" after Anthony's death.

They opened Fiore Winery in 1986 and expanded into distilling brandy in 2005. The business is still a family-run enterprise, with Eric Fiore and his son, Anthony, heavily involved.

The Fiores might be in a rural location, but their winery and distillery gets about 10,000 visitors a year. It has become a destination for weddings and conferences, Rose Fiore said.

The location along Route 136, Harford County's longest state-maintained highway and a major north-south artery, is a great help, according to Fiore.

"We may seem like we're in the middle of nowhere, but when you think about it, we are in the middle of everywhere," she said. "All the roads end up here."

Other state highways that connect with Interstate 95 and pass through greater Bel Air, such as Route 24 and Route 543, connect with Route 136 on the north end of the county. The 30-mile Route 136 also stretches down to Abingdon.

"It's a destination for people," Fiore said. "When they come to wineries, they know they're coming to the country."

'Struck with the view'

While longtime residents of northern Harford County note residential development has increased there in recent years, much of the land along Route 136 remains agricultural.

Motorists can still experience the same striking views that captivated a French military officer moving through the area more than 230 years ago during the Revolutionary War.

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(Bryna Zumer, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Capt. Angus Greme, who was under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette, was entranced by the view of the rolling hills and woods north of Deer Creek that he and his fellow soldiers maneuvered through.

He was so impressed by the view that he and a fellow officer, Col. Jean Joseph de Gimat, returned to present-day Street after the war ended in 1783 and purchased 800 acres west of the now-historic Priest Neale's Mass House, according to the 1999 edition of the book "Maryland: A New Guide to the Old Line State."

Priest Neale's Mass House is in the 2600 block of Cool Spring Road today, slightly west of Route 136.

Much of the highway has been designated as a Maryland Scenic Byway.

When a visitor stops at the historical marker bearing Greme's name at the intersection of Route 136 and Trappe Road, it is clear why, as the marker states, Greme was "so struck with the view from here," as one can see hills dotted with houses and farms.

The marker is adjacent to the grounds of the former Trappe Church, which was established in 1760 and is called Trappe Baptist Church, and a small graveyard. Greme, who died in 1800, is buried there, and a tombstone bears his name.

Greme's comrade, de Gimat, died during fighting as France tried to put down a slave rebellion in its colony in Haiti, but Greme remained in Harford County to be a farmer and raise his family, according to the Maryland book.

Check out the scenery

When looking north or south from Trappe Baptist Church along Route 136, there are certainly more houses than when Greme passed through the area during the Revolution, but there is no shortage of scenic views.

Those views can be found all along the 21-mile northern stretch of Route 136 between the intersection with Harmony Church Road in Street and the intersection with Route 23 in Norrisville.

Cross the bridge over Deer Creek, just north of Aberdeen Proving Ground's Churchville Test Area, keep heading north and the subdivisions eventually give way to individual houses and farms.

When traveling that way last month, the rolling hills were sprouting acres of corn, the stalks accented by light-colored tassels.

Commercial development can be found at major intersections on Route 136, such as at Route 1, where the Priestford Road section becomes Whiteford Road. The Harford Tire auto shop, a Royal Farms store and Wawa convenience store dot the corners of the intersection.

Travelers heading north can see the Dublin Market on the left side and a snowball stand on the right at the intersection with Route 440. The Clark Sales and Service Inc. hardware store is slightly north of the intersection.

Keep heading north, and the sprawling campus of the Reformation Bible Church, and its ministry, Harford Christian School, are on the left.

The area north of Darlington and Dublin is a mix of farms and residential development – homes are under construction on land north of the intersection with Deep Run Road and Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church in Whiteford.

Bright yellow Garceau Realty signs, advertising "prime lots," have been planted in the field along the highway.

The intersection with Route 165 in Whiteford proper is the largest commercial district along the route. Landmarks include the Whiteford branch of the Harford County Public Library, The Mill of Whiteford, a High's convenience store and gas station, the Penn-Mar Plaza shopping center, with the popular Buon Gusto Pizzeria and Grill, and the Whiteford Pharmacy, a local institution founded in 1962.

The pharmacy is at Route 136 and Old Pylesville Road.

'A major road'

"It's a major road," Frank Mackowiak, the pharmacist in charge, said of the advantage of being along Route 136. "We're right at a fairly busy intersection."

Mackowiak, a Jarrettsville resident, has worked at Whiteford Pharmacy for 15 years.

"There's been a lot more development in the area, even in the 15 years," he said of growth along Route 136. "It's definitely gotten a lot busier, traffic-wise."

Several pharmacy employees and customers, who have lived in northern Harford County for decades, said communities along Route 136 have experienced significant growth in the past 30 to 40 years, including when the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station opened before that in Delta, Pa., just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in the late 1960s.

The York Energy Center natural gas-fired power plant in Delta began in 2011, and a second gas-fired plant is being built nearby.

Whiteford farmer Morgan Rickey, who was waiting to pick up his medication, noted that when he moved to the area in 1971 heavy traffic flowed south on Route 136 as area residents commuted to jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

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Today, with many jobs available north of the Mason-Dixon Line, "there's as much traffic going up the road as there is going down the road in the morning," Rickey said.

Rickey, 76, and his family moved to Whiteford from the Aberdeen area 45 years ago. He said Route 136 was a "small road" at the time.

"But now it's a much better road, a bigger road," he said.

Rickey noted commercial development has increased over the years around Whiteford, with more grocery stores and retail shops.

Ashley Nelson, 22, of Pylesville, said the area has changed even in her lifetime. Nelson, a cashier at Whiteford Pharmacy, grew up near Saubel's Markets at the intersection of Route 136 and Route 624 in Whiteford.

Route 136 takes a sharp turn to the west after downtown Whiteford. The final section of the highway is mostly farms between Whiteford and Norrisville, broken up by the occasional home or business such as Fiore Winery and Distillery or Saubel's Market until it reaches its terminus at Route 23 near Norrisville Elementary School.

"I remember when Saubel's used to be Graceton's [Market], and it used to be this little store on the side of the road," Nelson said.

Saubel's Markets was founded in Stewartstown, Pa., in 1926. The company opened a second store in Shrewsbury, Pa., in 1966 and acquired Graceton Markets' Stewartstown and Whiteford stores in 2001, according to the Saubel's website.

The existing 20,000-square-foot store in Whiteford was replaced in 2009 with a new, 43,500-square-foot store. The full-service grocery store stands out like a beacon among the farms along that stretch of the highway.

Nelson noted Graceton was the only place to shop in the area when she was growing up. Saubel's is popular with local residents, but they have additional options, such as a Klein's ShopRite off Dooley Road in Cardiff.

"It's a lot more [commercialized], but it's still the country, which I love," Nelson said.

Still rural after so many years

Nelson's co-worker, Mary Lou Taylor, 55, grew up in Whiteford. Taylor agreed the area has developed considerably since her childhood.

"Before, you always had to go to Bel Air [to shop]," Taylor recalled. "I do all my Christmas shopping here in town now."

She said it was "a big thing" when a traffic signal was installed at Route 136 and Route 165 about 10 years ago.

Taylor remembers Whiteford Pharmacy's former lunch counter, with its sandwiches and fountain sodas. She said her mother would sit her at the lunch counter while she got her prescriptions.

She also remembers a Whiteford town center that was much more industrial than its present-day commercial incarnation.

Taylor said the site of today's Penn-Mar Plaza was occupied by facilities for de-shelling and de-vining peas. The Southern States farming supply company was behind what Taylor and her friends called the "pea vines" facility.

The former Ma & Pa Railroad also had a stop in downtown Whiteford, near the agricultural businesses. Processed crops were trucked across Route 136 to the former Whiteford Packing Co. facility.

"When I was growing up, that employed a lot of the youngsters," Taylor said of Whiteford Packing. "It employed me for a few years."

Taylor noted the community has grown, but it still retains much of its rural character.

"There's a lot more farmers than business suits," she said

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