Granite fights image as county's 'junkyard' The history of Granite is littered with battles over landfills and development


The downtown and the night life of Granite are gone.

Residents are more likely to run into each other in church, or in courtrooms where they are testifying against the dumping places that have been established.

The present stir over the Patapsco Valley Farm tree stump dump, which caught fire Feb. 2 and may burn for months, is just the latest in a heritage of dumps that have roused the people of Granite, a village of farmhouses and new ranch houses.

The stream valleys and granite-studded forest hills of the village in southwestern Baltimore County have worked both for and against the wishes of residents who want suburbanization to pass them by.

The hills have all but ruled out the laying of public sewer and water lines and helped slow the pace of residential development.

"You have to tear down mountains to build houses. It's the only thing that's kept it the way it is," said Beverly Griffith, 51, a Granite school bus driver who is organizing a local historical society.

But the saw-tooth terrain also has a liability.

"This topography makes great hiding places. Great for dumps," Griffith said. "Great for getting rid of anything you don't want anybody to know you're getting rid of."

Before the stump dump, residents fought a demolition contractor who was convicted in zoning court in 1988 for dumping building debris and equipment on his land. Granite people have also objected to the county's Hernwood landfill, which closed gradually in the 1980s, and a car junkyard.

When strange trucks full of debris rumble along the narrow lanes sprouting off Old Court Road, Granite people call the government.

Some, such as Tom Blunt, 66, have been calling for 40 years. He lost an early fight to the federal government, which took 28 acres of his land for a Nike missile site in the 1950s. The place is now a Maryland Police and Corrections Training Center.

"It was a nice neighborhood," Blunt said. "But we happen to be the junkyard of Baltimore County."

Long before entrepreneurs saw an opportunity for putting things into the ground of Granite, quarriers, beginning in the 1830s, saw their chance for taking crystalline rock out. By the 1870s, the village that was once called Waltersville became known as Granite in recognition of its chief product.

Blunt's ancestors were the original owners of one of the main quarries, the Waltersville.

As asphalt and concrete replaced granite in street paving and curbing, and limestone from Indiana could be quarried cheaper, the two main quarry businesses phased out in the 1930s, but not before suppling the granite for the walls of the Library of Congress, the Fidelity Trust building in Baltimore and some village buildings, including Woodstock College, a Jesuit seminary that would move away in 1971.

Many of the original settling families have stayed on their land, in stone houses dating to the early 19th century and in classic American four-square farmhouses and Country Victorians.

Anyone else is a newcomer.

Kathleen Skullney, a newcomer who has been at the forefront of the stump dump fight, found her 120-year-old mansard-roofed house in Granite eight years ago after she and her husband got lost while on their way to look at houses around Liberty Road.

She remembers neighbors eyeing them as she and her husband explored the village before buying the house. "Once we got here, though, the neighbors came to the door with goodies to welcome us," Skullney said. "We've just felt at home ever since."

Granite sits only 14 miles west of Baltimore, snug between the densely developed commercial corridors of Liberty Road and U.S. 40.

"We're surrounded by urbanism, but we're an oasis here in the middle of it," said Griffith, the historian, explaining why many who grew up in Granite never moved away.

Outsiders, too, have been struck by such lushness so close to the city. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who designed Baltimore's parks plan, said in a letter in 1910 that the valley gorge around Granite offered "the best examples of native forest to be found near Baltimore or any large city this side of the Pacific Slope."

That explains, in part, why Griffith says Granite people fight to preserve the area's character and why "we see each other in court more than anywhere else."

Residents fighting the stump dump have had no direct conflict with Homer Weidemeyer's licensed private landfill for dirt and stones, just east of what Granite people think of as their eastern boundary with Hebbville. But Weidemeyer, 74, who used to deliver lumber from his family lumber business to the quarries, senses a certain scrutiny.

There was a time when folks helped each other out, he said, but didn't pry into how neighbors worked their land. Newcomers have changed that attitude, he said.

"You don't own anything anymore," he said. "You only lease it because somebody has always got their nose in it."

Whatever the scrutinizers may discover these days, Granite has no stores or post office where they can spread the news. The conversion of Granite from quarry town to rural sprawl conceals its past.

The stores are houses now. The proprietress of Gertie's Grocery, the last store to close in 1972, lives there still.

Ground water now sloshes high up the angular, chipped walls of the quarries. Martin Marietta Corp., the defense contractor, has leased the Waltersville quarry to test sonar equipment.

Quarry workers who died before churches started cemeteries lie in graves hidden in the woods. The tombstone lettering, some 150 years old, is still clear and crisp, etched by quarry artisans for men who left little New Hampshire towns to work in Granite, only to die in their 30s.

A house at a quarry's edge bears no trace of its former life as a swim club. Only residents of Griffith's vintage will remember the 1950s heyday of a dance hall there, with a jukebox and snack bar on the dance deck out back.

But for the smell of smoke, even the stump dump would not be evident from the main entrance on Dogwood Road. But around back, by the spruce-lined stream running parallel to Wrights Mill Road, the face of the dump looms above the tree tops.

To uncover much of Granite's concealed past, Griffith has dredged her own memory and those of others -- many of them now dead. She has collected old photographs and checked land records.

But the recorded history of Granite is scant. Griffith is thinking of writing one for a book. That would break local tradition, tradition-minded as she is.

As a recent report by the county Landmarks Preservation Commission explained: "The region lacks a general history because its basic farm folk knew who they were and had no need to write about it."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad