Building boom fails to spoil rural charm

John Cairnes' family has lived in Jarrettsville for eight generations. From his office, he can see the cornfield that marks one boundary of his farm, a 290-acre spread that has been in the family since 1769.

"I hope we never have to develop it," he said. "I hope my kids can have it."


Mr. Cairnes, 44, has watched landowners sell their properties to developers over the years, especially during the 1980s when hundreds of new homes were built and the population, now about 2,150, grew by about one-third.

"When you grow up in a rural community, you hate to see that," said Mr. Cairnes, who is divorced and has two grown children. "When I was a kid there was very little between here and Bel Air. It was just this little rural farming community."


Mr. Cairnes and others here say Jarrettsville -- despite all its recent growth -- has retained much of its rural charm. Yes, residents now lock their doors at night, and traffic, particularly along Baldwin Mill Road, has grown worse. But many say they wouldn't live anywhere else.

"We've never once talked about moving," said Polly Winskowski, who, with her husband, Marvel, has lived in Jarrettsville since 1955.

"The community is still small enough, and you still know your neighbors," she said, noting the small-town feel of the shops, like Bircham's Market on Jarrettsville Road, an old-fashioned store with narrow aisles, no scanners at the cash register and a sacker who carries groceries for customers.

And despite the growth, Jarrettsville Road leading to Bel Air remains a narrow, two-lane road dotted with well-kept homes, many of which are historic. Housing developments are few; most homes here were custom built.

Jarrettsville experienced something of a housing boom in the 1970s and again in the mid-1980s. But Mr. Cairnes, owner of ERA John Cairnes Realty, said there has been virtually no new development in the past three years because of the recession.

Jarrettsville is well north of municipal sewer and water systems; all homes here rely on wells and septic tanks or cesspools. Because of this, county regulations prohibit townhouses and condos in Jarrettsville, and a 1977 zoning change requires lots of at least 2 acres.

The residents who have come in recent years, Mr. Cairnes said, are typically move-up buyers looking for homes with between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet. Median income was $56,985 in 1990, according to the Census Bureau.

"These are mostly professional and management people and owners of businesses," he said. "Jarrettsville is a bedroom community, supplying part of the work force for Baltimore County and Baltimore City."


Many people use Jarrettsville Pike, known as Route 146, as a route to Towson, Mr. Cairnes said. A few miles to the east is Route 24, the main thoroughfare to Bel Air and southern Harford County, where several large companies are located, such as Mercedes-Benz of North America, the Clorox Co. and Frito-Lay Inc. Aberdeen Proving Ground on the eastern edge of Harford also draws workers from Jarrettsville.

"We work with a lot of investors," who buy farms for their portfolios, Mr. Cairnes said. A few "gentlemen farmers" have also settled here, attracted by the room and serenity of rural Jarrettsville -- plus the nearby polo fields.

Some newcomers have also been attracted by the Maryland Polo Club Fields, just southwest of town in Monkton, Mr. Cairnes said. The club is open to the public and holds matches on Sundays.

Most homes in town have three or four bedrooms and were built before 1979. The building boom of the 1980s brought about 155 new homes -- about one-fourth of the total today.

The new homes, usually about 2,300 square feet, are Colonial and Victorian with brick fronts and vinyl siding built throughout the rolling landscape where residents grow apples and pumpkins and raise bees for honey.

They contrast with the one- and two-story brick homes that were the style of the 1960s and '70s, and old farmhouses that are nearly a century old.


Most of the businesses in Jarrettsville are service-related, located "downtown" near the intersection of Jarrettsville and Baldwin Mill roads.

There are a few banks, a car dealership, a furniture store, family restaurants and carryouts, a pharmacy, a small grocery and convenience stores. The Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Department occupies one corner of the intersection. A new shopping center, complete with a well-lighted, well-stocked food market, opened earlier this year along Jarrettsville Road, just east of the intersection. The closest supermarket is about 6 miles away.

Mr. Cairnes said he prefers to drive to Towson for shopping and to Baltimore for entertainment. Most folks, he said, don't want theaters and restaurants nearby, and are willing to drive a little farther for them to keep Jarrettsville undisturbed.

"The quality of life is still good here," Mrs. Winskowski said.

Barbara Smith, a seven-year Jarrettsville resident, moved from Baltimore and could think of little that she doesn't like about the ,, town. The only negative? "My husband, David, has to drive the 95 [Interstate 95] every day," she said.

Her neighbor, Janet Endres, has lived in Jarrettsville since 1987.


"I'm from East Baltimore, and I wouldn't go back for anything," said Ms. Endres. "I wouldn't live anywhere else, even though I have to travel 26 miles to Havre de Grace where I work."

Her only complaint: "The roads are not the greatest. . . . I don't like so much the progress that they are doing along [Routes] 23 and 24 with all those townhouses."

A developer recently began building a large group of townhouses in Forest Hill, south of Jarrettsville. "There's too much development that's occurring. In this town, the roads can't handle that," Ms. Endres said.

But she said Jarrettsville still reminds her of the Baltimore of decades ago.

"It's like the way it used to be in the city," she said. "We can walk anywhere, Bircham's is just around the corner. We have the countryside with the conveniences, too, out here with the cows. The only thing we don't have is the marble stoops."



* Commuting time to Baltimore: 45 minutes

* Commuting time to Washington: 1 hour, 20 minutes

* Public schools: Jarrettsville Elementary School. Older children attend North Harford Middle School and North Harford High School in Pylesville, about 15 miles away.

* Shopping: The new Manorwood Center on Jarrettsville Road offers a food market; other food markets and convenience stores are concentrated at the intersection of Baldwin Mill and Jarrettsville roads. Supermarkets are in Jacksonville, about 12 miles west, or in Forest Hill, 6 miles east.

* Nearest mall: Harford Mall in Bel Air, about 10 miles southeast.

* Points of interest: Rocks State Park, wooded and rocky and full of Indian lore, a few miles to the east; Ladew Topiary Gardens, west of the town on Jarrettsville Pike.


* Average price for single-family home: $182,000.

* ZIP code: 21084