First of two articles on the neighborhoods of the two candidates for governor of Maryland.
A green street sign at the intersection of Manor and Sweet Air roads points you to Sweet Air, a small rural community in Baldwin that is closely linked to the town of Jacksonville in east central Baltimore County.
Blink and you might just miss the community though -- an area known as much for its beautiful country roads and horse and dairy farms, as for the conservative yuppie couples who settle here to raise their children.
"Just drive with your eyes open and you'll miss it," says Tracey Hurline, 38, a Sweet Air dairy farmer. "Nobody could find it even if they were looking for it because there's really nothing out there to attract visitors. On the other hand, it's a really beautiful area with humongous trees, alfalfa fields and big ponds in people's backyards. It's a great place to raise children."
Just ask Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican candidate running for governor.
She and her husband, Wilmer J. E. Sauerbrey, have lived in a pre-Civil War farmhouse in the 4100 block of Sweet Air Road since 1971. Their home is across from the historical Georgian-style brick home of the Sweet Air estate built in 1750, originally named Quinn mansion.
According to a 1962 Sunday Sun Magazine article, the estate was part of a 1704 land grant of 5,000 acres to Charles Carroll, family patriarch in this country and kinsman to the third Lord Baltimore. The grant was divided into estates -- Ely O'Carroll, Litter Luna, Clynmalira and Sweet Air -- all named for the Carrolls' landholdings in their native Ireland.
"I grew up in the [country] around here," says Mr. Sauerbrey, 59, a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. "That's why I drug the city girl out into the wild parts of the world. Actually, we're still very close to civilization."
Which is one of the main points that attracted them to Sweet Air, Mrs. Sauerbrey said.
"We wanted more ground, this property was listed in the newspaper and we liked it so we bought it," says Mrs. Sauerbrey, 57, who met her husband at the age of 12 when he used to deliver papers to her Towson home. "This was considered way out in the country in those days.
"When we first moved here, we could literally live off the farm," says Mrs. Sauerbrey, whose busy campaign schedule prevents her from gardening these days.
"We have a really pretty path that leads to a wooded area and a pretty glen in the back. We can sit in our kitchen and see deer walking by our back porch while we're having breakfast.
"It's just beautiful around here."
Located on a sprawling 40 acres, the rustic 3-story farmhouse made of Georgia pine and clapboard was topped with cedar shingles in 1910 when previous owners were tired of painting the house white. The fifth owners of the farmhouse, the Sauerbreys said a barn that used to be in the back used to be the site of a commercial canning operation at the turn of the century.
"There's a lot of history in this part of Baltimore County," Mr. Sauerbrey says. "There weren't many acre-lot developments back then, but it's become more of a suburban community over the years."
Mrs. Sauerbrey agrees: "It used to take a little planning in terms of shopping back then. You didn't just run out to do just one thing. You would go to the grocery store, the cleaners and several other places that day. But even though there's been some development, it's still a quiet, beautiful country town. That's why people move here."
Large Colonial-style homes -- starting at about $250,000 -- that sit on one-acre lots are scattered throughout the area, breaking up lush green meadows, cultivated fields and big farms.
The community used to have two small general stores, a post office, a tavern and a carriage shop in the late 1800s. Residents now enjoy the easy comfort of shopping at Manor Shopping Center at the intersection of Sweet Air Road and Jarrettsville Pike.
People can get gas at the Jacksonville Chevron, buy a magazine at Encore Books, shop for groceries at Safeway Supermarkets and grab some lunch at the McDonald's all in one trip.
It has all the conveniences of a suburban community but is secluded enough that motorists passing through can quickly get lost on one of the town's many long, winding roads. Aside from the rush hour traffic that hits the area twice a day as people from Harford County and Southeast Baltimore County travel to and from their jobs in Hunt Valley and Cockeysville, residents say they remain relatively undisturbed.
The Jacksonville-Sweet Air area is less than half an hour from Towson but far enough out to keep city problems out of the community, many residents say.
With the area relatively crime-free, residents say their major concerns include speeding motorists who run into farm animals on the road and the overpopulation of deer that decimates trees and other vegetation. Limiting further development in the community, however, is probably their biggest concern.
"This was a farming community until within the past 30 years," says Thomas M. Albright, 37, who runs a popular produce stand at his father's house in the 3500 block of Sweet Air Road. "There's been a lot of development in the area which has given me a lot of business, but it's definitely hurt a lot of the farming businesses.
"We've accepted the people who have moved in, but they need to accept the community as it was," says Mr. Albright, of neighboring Monkton, who also farms portions of the Sauerbrey farm.
"They need to accept the smells, sounds and equipment that go along with farming. I just hope when my children grow up, they'll still see farming in this area."
His father, Milton C. Albright, was born and raised in Sweet Air.
"It is sad to see all the trees cut down to build a house," says Mr. Albright, 76. "I don't mind all the new people coming out, but everybody used to know everybody. It's not like that anymore.
"Don't get me wrong though," Mr. Albright says. "It's still a nice place to live."
And what about the name?
Sweet Air was coined in 1812 when the daughter of Henry Hill Carroll married her first cousin, according to a 1943 Maryland Historical Magazine article.
Few people know the town was actually named after an estate in Ireland, but locals like the elder Mr. Albright and Partee J. Boliek each like to believe they know from where the name originates.
"Oh, it's definitely from the sweet smell of the locust trees," Mr. Albright says.
Mr. Boliek, on the other hand, thinks molasses is the key to the answer.
"Some men were handling a barrel of molasses and the barrel fell down and broke," says Mr. Boliek, 67, a former pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church of Sweet Air, also on Sweet Air Road. "It gave the air a sweet smell and that's where the name came from. . . . It's a better story than just saying the name came from an estate in Ireland."
Population: 4,370, including much of Jacksonville, Sweet Air (Baltimore County Office of Planning)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes.
Commuting time to Washington: 80 minutes
Public schools: Jacksonville Elementary, Cockeysville Middle, Dulaney High
Shopping: Manor Shopping Center and Paper Mill Village, in Four Corners
Shopping Center -- Safeway, Encore Books, Dominos Pizza, McDonalds.
Nearest mall: Towson Town Center, about 7 miles southwest, Hunt Valley Mall, 6 miles west.
Points of interest: Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, Harford County; Loch Raven Reservoir; Gunpowder State Park; Boordy Vineyards (wine-tasting and festivals) located in Hydes; Albright Family Produce Stand on Sweet Air Road.
Zip code: 21013.
Average cost of single family home*: Baldwin: $227,085 (47 sales); Jacksonville: $312,037 (190 sales)
* Average price for houses sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Techologies' multiple listing service.