Walking through the village of Monkton on a sunny, hot Sunday is like strolling down the boardwalk at a seacoast resort. People, all ages, all sizes, decked out in all manner of summer attire, many with toddlers and babies in tow, are everywhere.
Bikers, walkers, joggers and runners, slurping snowballs or sipping fruit juices, mill about. Tubing enthusiasts, water travelers who float down the nearby Gunpowder River in large, black inner tubes, squeak through the crowd in water-logged tennis shoes. The atmosphere is country fair, minus the balloons.
The cause of all the excitement is the Northern Central Railroad Trail. Managed by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, the railroad bed turned hiking-biking trail meanders 19.7 miles through some of the prettiest property in northern Baltimore County to the Maryland line, and now, thanks to efforts in the York area, beyond to New Freedom, Pa.
Located about halfway between St. James' Church to the east and York Road to the west, the village of Monkton was a sleepy little burg when the trail opened in 1984 and expanded in 1989. It had long passed its late-19th-century prime as a railroad town and commercial center for surrounding farmland, much of it known as My Lady's Manor.
But with the old Monkton Station housing rangers' offices and public restrooms, the village, located seven miles from the start of the trail in Ashland, became a major stopping point on the trek north or south.
"In the last five years, we have seen interest in the trail grow 100 percent each year," says Bill Schmalzer, station attendant. "On a sunny day in the summer, we have clocked as many as 1,100 people an hour hiking or biking through Monkton."
Enduring local opposition in the planning stages, the Rail Trail has been accepted, if not quite embraced, by the residents here.
"The trail is fabulous as a resource," says Gloria Cameron, owner of a horse farm and president of the Monkton Preservation Association, "But it has been somewhat of a mixed blessing because of the traffic through the village. On busy days, it is scary."
Happily for the residents, weekdays are far less-crowded than weekends and activity in the winter is sporadic and, at times, nonexistent. Once you drive beyond the village of Monkton, you see little impact wrought by the trail. The land is open and rolling, with a few discreet subdivisions or single-family homes tucked into property that is mostly farmland and estates.
Beside the bike trail, the village of Monkton, a historic district, consists of about 30 houses, some dating to the 1800s. Founded in the 18th century, the town has only a few remaining buildings that can be traced to the beginning.
"Of course, we might find 18th-century log walls if we ripped apart some of the houses," says Ruth Mascari, chairman of the Baltimore County Landmark Preservation Committee and a Monkton resident for 20 years -- not a long time by local standards, she says, considering some families have links to the Manor that go back for a century or maybe even two.
Monkton Hotel, Hall
The most eye-catching building in the village is the brick, three-story Monkton Hotel, vintage 1853, which was bought 18 years ago by ex-Roland Park residents Jean and David Fulton. After renovating extensively, they moved into half of the hotel and rented the rest. Mrs. Fulton, an artist, opened Juxtapose, an art studio and gallery in what was the attached Monkton post office, now moved to Hereford.
Hotel tenants include a real estate company, several writers, and a country store where visitors can buy health food, drinks and snowballs. The Hike and Bike Shop, which sells bikes and bike supplies, has space next to the store as well as in the basement, where owner Jim White, a Monkton resident, has 62 bikes, 100 tubes and a few canoes to lease.
Across the street is a brick building called Monkton Hall, whose beginnings go back to the mid-19th century.
"It never was a town hall in the strict sense of the word because Monkton was not a town with town meetings and such," says Mrs. Mascari says. Once a center for dances and band concerts, it now serves as home to Charlotte's Web, an interior design firm.
Several residences, some dating to the 19th century, are nearby. Just up the hill is the Monkton United Methodist Church, which has served Monkton since 1870, and the Isaiah Baptist Church.
Roughly spread out east to the Jarrettsville Pike and into Harford County, north to Blue Mount Road and Troyer Road, west to York Road, and south slightly from Manor Road, Monkton, the postal zone, has about 4,600 people, according to the 1990 census.
Many own homes and property on the Manor, 10,000 acres given by Charles Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore, to his wife Margaret Charleston in 1713. In 1731, My Lady's Manor, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was sold to Thomas Brerewood by his daughter-in-law Charlotte Calvert Brerewood, granddaughter of Charles Calvert. Originally named Charlotte Town, the area was called Monckton Mills, in honor of British Col. Robert Monckton, by the 1770s.
Some people move to the area because they want to buy into the horse country scene -- a rural landscape dotted with handsome old houses and yellow barns, where a glimpse of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt, mounted riders in pink and black jackets galloping across the rural landscape, is routine. But others settle in the Monkton area because they enjoy the rural, open land and the country lifestyle.
The influx of people into this picturesque area began in earnest in the 1970s, as farmland was sold to developers and subdivisions of new homes went up on property once reserved LTC for horses and hounds. Until then, Monkton had hummed along quietly, relatively isolated, its properties and traditions fairly intact, although the village had passed an era when Interstate 83 was completed in the late 1950s and the train stopped running shortly after.
Today, Monkton is still attracting newcomers who are willing to pay $250,000 to $400,000 for a house. It is often a two-story
Colonial or traditional rancher that probably has a minimum of 3,000 square feet and sits on two to five acres. Land, itself, is expensive.
"You can't buy a decent lot for under $100,000," says real estate agent Kathy Hanna, who specializes with partner Julie Maddix in the Monkton area as agents for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc..
Over the past year, prices have ranged from $135,000 to over a million, with costs lower in the small Harford County end of Monkton. Properties with extensive land or some historical connection are expensive and hard to find. Occasionally someone like TV sports personality Jim McKay nabs one.
While longtime residents have a mix of social and economic backgrounds, from farmers to blue-blooded captains of Baltimore's business and banking communities, newcomers are definitely "professional and upper tier," Ms. Maddix says. "And, funny thing," adds Ms. Hanna, "once they buy in Monkton, they don't want to let anyone else in."
Rapid growth concern
Unmonitored growth is on everyone's mind. The Manor Area Association and the Monkton Preservation Association are guard dogs, protecting the open land and providing information to residents on the Agricultural Land Preservation Act and different conservation trusts.
A current controversy is the advisability of "clustering" -- which requires houses on 30 percent of the land and leaving the rest as open space. Under this legislation, homes can be "clustered" on acre lots rather than spread out on lots of two to five acres.
"Everyone agrees with the concept of clustering, but we want to make sure that the environmental impact has been carefully studied," says Mrs. Cameron, whose organization is involved in a legal battle with the Gaylord Brooks Investment Co. Inc. over a proposed cluster community called Magers Landing, located near the village of Monkton. The case is now in circuit court on an appeal by the preservation group.
Tom More, who grew up in Monkton and is vice president of Gaylord Brooks Investment, says his company was expecting some opposition to the proposed development because it would be the first one in Baltimore County to use cluster housing, but not the intense campaign launched by local community groups.
Concern is evident.
"We are getting squeezed in every direction," says Nancy Patterson Young, treasurer of the Manor Area Association, who mentions the condominium development of Loveton on York Road in Sparks.
Mrs. Young, a lifelong resident of the Manor whose family roots go back for four generations, says her group works very hard to keep public sewerage and water -- the utilities that allowed multifamily housing in Loveton -- out of Monkton.
The trick, Mrs. Cameron says, is to balance growth witresponsibility for protecting the environment. "Monkton is very special as a resource and it is worrisome to think that it might somehow be lost," she says.
Population: 4,615 (1990 Census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes
Commuting time to Washington: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Public schools: Baltimore County: Sparks Elementary, Jacksonville Elementary, Hereford middle, Hereford High; Harford County: Youth Benefit Elementary, Fallston Middle, Fallston High
Shopping: Graul's on Mount Carmel Road, Hunt Valley Giant, Safeway in Jacksonville, Hereford Plaza
Nearest mall: Hunt Valley Mall, 5 miles southwest
Points of interest: Ladew Gardens, North Central Railroad Trail, St. James' Church, Manor Tavern, Gunpowder State Park, Elkridge Harford Hunt
p Code: 21111
Average price of single-family home*: $328,929 (37 sales)
* Average price for houses sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service in over the past 12 months