In Randallstown, just eight miles northwest of downtown, side streets meander like tributaries into the river that is Liberty Road, a busy commercial corridor covered with signs advertising anything from auto shops and drugstores to movie houses and food chains.
While commercial Randallstown offers plenty of shopping -- some might say too much shopping -- residential Randallstown is mostly single-family homes of one or two stories resting on neat lots interwoven among parks and schools.
James Nelson Jr., 20, came to Randallstown 3 1/2 years ago from the city's Cedonia neighborhood when his father, pastor of Greater Bethlehem Temple, moved to Randallstown along with his church.
Now a minister at the church, the younger Mr. Nelson lives in the 3700 block of Twin Lakes Court in Cedar Towers, a Randallstown high-rise. "It's much better than where we came from," he said. He said his home, near the Beltway, is accessible to the city and Randallstown's shopping areas.
In fact, Randallstown is attracting many middle-class blacks who want to move to the suburbs and escape the city.
The community was about 60 percent white and 35 percent black when the 1990 census was taken, but according to residents, the opposite is true now.
"This community is in a state of transition," says Clark Powell, principal of Randallstown High School, whose population reflects the community: about 65 percent black, 30 percent white, and 5 percent Asian and Hispanic.
He and other residents who work in Randallstown mentioned that whites, within the past few years, have moved to other parts of the county -- such as Owings Mills and Pikesville -- as more blacks make their way into Randallstown from Baltimore.
"I think it's a combination of things," says Thomasine Scott, branch manager of a Randallstown office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. "The area is changing. . . . Blacks are definitely moving into the Randallstown area."
She suspects that lower interest rates in the past few years have enabled blacks across Maryland to move from cities to suburbs, and her impression is that the "For Sale" signs that have been sprouting up recently are of whites moving out.
But another real estate agent disagrees. John McPhaul of Otis Warren & Co., a real estate firm in Randallstown, says people move away when they retire and seek smaller properties, when they have paid off their property and no longer have a tax shelter, or when they buy bigger properties in Carroll County.
Whatever the reason, passers-by can witness the shift: On a drive down Southhall Road in the two-block stretch between Marriottsville Road and Tiverton Road, six houses are for sale.
In the last two years, 575 houses were sold in Randallstown, according to Mr. McPhaul.
Another indicator is the relocation of several places of worship.
Colonial Baptist Church on the community's outskirts in Pikesville serves about 800 active members in the Randallstown area. It will move to Beth Israel Congregation's site in the 9400 block of Liberty Road in the heart of Randallstown by the end of next month.
The Rev. Russ Priddy Jr. says the church's expanding membership made the move necessary, and administrator Yvonne Mitchell says the church wants to continue serving its racially diverse congregation, which is 60 percent black. While the church attracts members from other areas, Mrs. Mitchell says many of its members are from Randallstown.
By September 1995, Beth Israel Congregation will reopen in what is now an Owings Mills corporate building to keep up with its moving congregation.
"The bulk of our membership has moved. We're simply following Beth Israel's members," says Senior Rabbi Richard Margolis. "There is a very real demand for a major congregation in that area."
In the meantime, Saturday services will be held in Owings Mills High School's auditorium, and the congregation's religious school will meet at Franklin Middle School. Administrative work will probably be conducted in offices that are already there, and daily services will be held in makeshift quarters in the new building, according to Rabbi Margolis.
Randallstown was founded in the 1700s by Thomas and Christopher Randall, brothers who emigrated from England. They purchased about 109 acres and opened a tavern serving merchants and farmers traveling Liberty Road. Some road names depict the community's history: Rolling Road was used by planters to roll tobacco barrels to market, and Old Court Road led to the courthouse and county seat, then located in Joppatowne.
By 1880, Randallstown had a population of 100, including two physicians, two blacksmiths, a tavern keeper and two storekeepers. Families moved to Randallstown as far back as the 1950s, turning farmland into the Beltway suburbs that exist today.
Though Randallstown is well established now, there is still growth. New homes are going up at Marriottsville and Liberty roads, and new townhouses are under construction at Winands and McDonogh roads.
Cherisse Lewis, a sophomore University of Maryland Baltimore County pre-med student, came here from Trinidad in 1993 on a vacation to visit friends of her parents.
"I sort of liked the area, and I decided to stay," she said. "It was more relaxed, and the environment was less crowded" than New York City, where she also visited. She takes buses from Randallstown to Catonsville for class.
Besides stores such as Luskin's, Kmart, Merchants Tire & Auto and Giant Food stores that occupy strip malls alongside discount stores, there is a discount movie theater and an array of ethnic and fast-food restaurants near social service centers.
For entertainment, residents often trek to Washington or Baltimore, but there's plenty to do close to home.
For cooking and home-health remedy enthusiasts, there is the Maryland Herb Farm, a 7-acre lot on Marcella Avenue that sells cilantro, sage, parsley, basil and rosemary for cooking, as well as feverfew, horehound, St. John's wort, echinacea and other herbs used for colds, laryngitis, burns, dry skin and headaches, according to Maren Maul, a nurse who runs the farm with her husband, John.
A few blocks from Liberty Road, the herb farm boasts a country-like setting and also sells free-range eggs, live rabbits, and organic vegetables. Because the farm can't be seen from the street, "people just call it the best-kept secret," Mrs. Maul says.
Randallstown High and other neighborhood schools are hubs for adult education classes and sports leagues. Participants play baseball and tennis in twilight leagues and take square dancing classes when the school day is through, says Randallstown High's Mr. Powell.
Another attraction is Fair Lanes Bowl in the Kings Point shopping center, in the 4100 block of Deer Park Road.
The only bowling alley in Randallstown, it is also the only one in Maryland with BowlerVision, a computerized machine that allows players to request a certain pin setup so they can practice the weak points of their game, said Ginny Smith, who keeps computerized records of league scores for the bowling alley. She also bowls in a doubles league called "Ginny's Big Bucks."
She said people come from as far as Pennsylvania and Washington to be part of the 40 different leagues at the 20-lane bowling alley that opened in 1989.
A 20-year resident of Randallstown, she said that the main safety concern she and other residents have is robbery. In general, though, Ms. Smith described Randallstown as a "nice, safe place to live."
Population: 26,277 (1990 Census)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes
Commuting time to Washington: 45 minutes
Public schools: Randallstown, Deer Park, Church Lane, Winand, Scotts Branch and Winfield elementary; Old Court and Deer Park middle; Randallstown High
Shopping: Strip malls along Liberty Road.
Nearest Mall: Owings Mills Mall, 3 miles north
Points of interest: Maryland Herb Farm; Fair Lanes Bowl, Liberty Cinemas (a four-screen theater that charges $1.50).
Parks: Hernwood Landfill (used by Wright Fliers, a radio-controlled airplane club); Carriage Hills Park (baseball and soccer fields, hardcourt surfaces, a tot-lot play area and a picnic area); Scotts Branch Stream Valley Park (a creek bed and wooded area for nature hiking); Rockdale Park (three-hole golf course and an 80-space community gardening plot); Hebbville Annex Park (3.5-acre neighborhood park with multipurpose sports court); Villa Nova Park (walking trail and wild flowers); Powder Mill Run (two tennis courts, two basketball courts, a tot-lot play area and parking lot).
Average price of a single-family home*: $120,115
ZIP codes: 21244 and 21133
* Average price for homes sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies' multiple listing service over the past year.