Manicured village frets over Light Rail


Riderwood, the placid little village eight miles north of Baltimore, has not been so shaken by an event since Lt. Col. Harry Gilmor and his Confederate raiders galloped through in 1864, in hot pursuit of Union cavalry.

The arrival of the MTA's Glen Burnie-to-Hunt Valley Central Light Rail line in the early 1990s polarized the residents of both Riderwood and neighboring Ruxton as concerns about crime, impact on land values, a potential station site, noise and safety swept through the communities.

It was feared by many that light rail would change the rather semi-rural complexion of the area and at the same time would import crime, a fear recently addressed in a meeting earlier this summer involving Lutherville residents, Mass Transit Administration officials and Baltimore County Police after they blamed increased crime on light rail.

Many Riderwood residents have expressed similar sentiments. Many are delighted that a station was kept out of the community, but some complain that they have no access to light rail, the nearest stations being Lutherville or Falls Road.

The original plans for the Light Rail line included a Ruxton or Riderwood station, but angry residents lobbied hard enough to eliminate it. For the moment, the state has no plans or funding to construct one, and is concentrating on the long-planned construction of extensions to Hunt Valley, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Penn Station.

Patricia L. Zouck, recently elected president of the Ruxton Riderwood Lake Roland Improvement Association, says, "We have to be vigilant about what is going on and how we're going to be impacted by Light Rail."

What residents want to protect is the peaceful, almost genteel Riderwood of manicured lawns, rolling hills and eclectic housing -- ranging from stucco cottages to grand shuttered and shingled clapboard Victorian and Edwardian fantasies to the contemporary.

There are three main sections: Old Riderwood, with lots of at least an acre, many of them much larger; postwar construction, with lots of about a half-acre; and Village Green, with quarter-acre lots.

Riderwood, which blends into adjacent and affluent Ruxton, straddles the Light Rail line, is west of Towson and sandwiched between Falls Road and the Beltway yet within several miles of the commercial centers of Hunt Valley and Towson. It is an area of old trees, manicured gardens and wide sun-dappled lawns.

The only stores in the neighborhood are a convenience store and gasoline station on Joppa Road, and a small set of shops on Bellona Avenue, with a cleaners, dress shop, stationery store and post office.

In fact, Riderwood had been somewhat of a resort area. Scattered along the tracks of the Northern Central Railroad and later the mainline tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Baltimore-Harrisburg mainline in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Riderwood, Ruxton, Lutherville and other neighborhoods up the line to Monkton and Bentley Springs were popular destinations for Baltimoreans seeking to escape the summer heat.

Riderwood had summer housing, access to fresh milk and vegetables from neighboring farms, cool air and most of all, reliable railroad service for commuting fathers to downtown Baltimore.

Commuting by rail to Baltimore would later transform the sleepy town to a year-round bedroom community for the city. Today, its proximity to Hunt Valley and Towson and interstate highways make living there a combination of country with suburban convenience.

While postwar ranchers and split-levels define the mid-1950s housing boom, neo-Georgians, stockbroker Tudors and classic brick and stone houses are being built today.

"What makes the area so desirable and absolutely prime is that a buyer is 10 to 20 minutes away from downtown and close to neighboring shopping centers, hospitals, schools and clubs," says Bill Love, a real estate salesman for O'Conor Piper & Flynn who specializes in Ruxton and Riderwood properties.

"Location is really the name of the game here."

Cross-section of residents

While the area has long been perceived as a bastion of stockbrokers, bankers and physicians, Mr. Love stresses diversity.

"There is a cross-section of residents -- not everyone wears 1955-era Brooks Brothers suits, votes Republican or drives a German-made automobile. There is a lot of variety here in both people and what they do for a living," he says.

The Zoucks moved to a Brookside Lane home from a Rodgers Forge townhouse because they wanted more privacy. "Another draw was the proximity to downtown Baltimore and the convenience of being close at the same time to Towson," Mrs. Zouck says.

Brent Matthews, a salesman for Price Modern Inc., and his wife, Liza, a fund-raiser for United Way, moved to Rider Avenue two years ago.

"We had been looking for a home in Stoneleigh and Wiltondale [just south of Towson] and fell into this house after a bid fell through on another house," Mrs. Matthews says.

"We came over, took a look at the house and fell in love with it and the yard and little stream that winds through the property. Another thing that impressed us was that it was so quiet here," Mr. Matthews says.

"Another priority, was being near a good school and we had been told that Riderwood Elementary was an excellent school," Mrs. Matthews says.

This year, the school was designated a Blue Ribbon School for its academic excellence by the U.S. Department of Education and was the first Baltimore County school to win the award since its inception in 1982.

Another resident, who left the neighborhood only to return, was Jacquie Burkhardt, who first arrived on Rider Avenue in 1983 with her two daughters after her divorce.

"I moved here because the neighbors were wonderful and it was safe. I liked the fact that people were friendly and concerned neighbors, that there was a real sense of community here."

After remarrying in 1986 and leaving Riderwood, she returned a year later with her husband, Rush, and settled on Dennis Avenue. "This area is a really well-kept secret. We really love it here because it's so close to everything -- downtown and Towson."

The banks of Roland Run

The first visitors who settled along the banks of Roland Run and the Jones Falls were the Susquehannock and Shawnee Indians, who hunted and fished in the area and traveled over what is now Joppa and Old Court roads.

Edward Rider 2nd settled there in 1821 after he purchased 1,000 acres from William A. Ridgely. In 1832, when the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad sought an easement across his property, accepted the easement in exchange for a spur to link his limekiln operation to the rail line.

First known as Rider's Switch, the name was later changed to Sherwood and, according to local rumor, eventually to Riderwood, when the Methodists at Hunt's Memorial United Methodist Church objected to the name of Sherwood because Sherwood Whiskey was the largest selling rye in Maryland.

The church, one of the first Methodist churches founded in the nation, dates to 1773 and is at the junction of Old Court and Joppa roads.

The little village was also home in the 1930s of the successful experiments in grape cultivation and winemaking by Philip Wagner, now 90, who retired as editor of The Sun in 1964. His efforts successfully led to the beginnings of Boordy Vineyards, which continues under the ownership of the DeFord family in Long Green Valley.

Riderwood was also once the home of Hollywood star Francis X. Bushman, who thrilled audiences in the 1926 silent screen classic "Ben Hur." Bushman, a Baltimore native, briefly lived in the old Rider home on Landrake Road.


Population: 5,070 (Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes.

Commuting time to Washington: 1 hour.

Public schools: Riderwood Elementary School, Dumbarton Middle School, Towson High School

Shopping: A few shops at the post office, plus a supermarket, liquor store and other small shops in Ruxton

Nearest mall: Towson Town Center, 2 miles east

Points of interest: Hunt's Church, at Old Court and Joppa roads; the Riderwood Station (1903), now a private residence that can be viewed from Joppa Road bridge and is attributed to the Philadelphia architect Frank Furness; The Ridge estate house, which was once the Abell family estate on Joppa Road and is now the Ridge School and Robert E. Lee Park.

ZIP code: 21204.

L Average price of a single-family home:* $233,500 (43 sales).

Average price for houses sold through the Central Maryland Multiple listing service over the past year.

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