Shooting the breeze on doorstep of Pa.


Maryland Line, as close to Pennsylvania as you can get without being there, looks like one of those down-home unpretentious communities that city-folks love to compare to Andy Griffith's television town of Mayberry, N.C.

Residents gather at the Volunteer Fire Department in the center of the northern Baltimore County community -- about a 500-yard stretch of York Road -- to shoot the breeze, sponsor teen dances and have the biannual Turkey and Oyster Supper that serves up to 2,000 dinners to residents and passers-by.

Neighbors regularly stop at the Maryland Line Inn, a gray facade, single-story building with bright red shutters, a sharp constrast to all the other buildings in the town center. There you can get well-known pit-cooked beef at the Bar-Grill, purchase trinkets to take home, or even buy a case of beer on sale for $6.99.

The community has shrimp feasts and holds country and western dances at Yarmen Lake, which is actually a pond next to the Maryland Line Inn, says Dennis Leonard, who has been the postmaster for the past nine years.

This community begins just about where the main thoroughfare, York Road, thins to one lane from the south. Pass a few dirt road driveways and few small houses and you're at Glen Auto to the left -- a place where you can get both a tune-up and a submarine sandwich.

Continue up York Road, past an old cemetery, the Maryland Line Inn, a small post office and Spark's Bank. Then there is Thompson's Meat Market and the Maryland Line United Methodist Church -- probably the two most famous buildings in the town. Add in a few houses, some rentals, and that is pretty much the community.

"This is a nice community with good schools and a sense of safety," says the Rev. Norman J. Obenshain of the Maryland Line United Methodist Church.

Mr. Obenshain moved to Maryland Line 18 months ago, after being reassigned from St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Hagerstown. He said he knew that he would have to get used to a different style of life from the more urbanized Hagerstown.

Behind the church is a corn and soybean field, which used to be an airstrip. Mr. Obenshain says he frequently sees deer.

"Out here you can see the stars," he says.

Mr. Obenshain says the church has nearly 350 members, with about half the members from nearby York County, Pa., and the other half from Baltimore County.

"This is a quiet, very laid back type of town," says William W. Shipley, 47, who owns Thompson Meat Market in the town center.

But it all changes like clockwork two times each day.

Come morning and afternoon rush hours, the tranquil town transforms into a congested throughpoint for commuters making their way to Baltimore or York, Pa.

Many people who work in Baltimore moved to York County because of the "perception of lower taxes," Mr. Obenshain says.

Cars and trucks rumble on York Road, which narrows to a single lane coming south into Maryland Line, on their way to Exit 36 on Interstate 83.

"This is no Mayberry," says Bruce G. Guthrie, a resident for 10 years. "There is an awful lot of traffic going by. It is not quiet in the a.m. or the p.m. But it is a nice place to live."

Most residents here say they like where they live. They cite the history, the convenience to Interstate 83 and the feeling of remoteness.

"It's a place where locals like to hang out to talk and a place where you can get your hogs custom slaughtered for personal use," Mr. Shipley says.

It also is a place where growth is not always welcome. Residents fought plans to put a shopping center nearby. "When I came here, I was able to fit in and be accepted as the new kid on the block," says Mr. Shipley, who has owned the meat market for 10 years.

Walking around the town, which takes only a few minutes, residents look and nod at an unfamiliar face.

"It's not a place where everybody waves to each other," Mr. Guthrie says. "But it's not unfriendly either."

The town is filled mostly with retired people and farmers who live away from the town center; there are also small children playing in the open fields off York Road. There are antique shops and many old homes, some of which have been converted into apartments.

There also are some log cabins, local historian Shirley Clemens says. She and her husband, Clarence, have written a book outlining the history of north Baltimore County communities. "From Marble Hill To Maryland Line" was published in 1976 and has been updated since.

"Some of the houses are logged underneath their aluminum siding," Mrs. Clemens says. "We suspect that there are more." Maryland Line used to be a thriving town, she says. Some relics remain.

Some of the houses that sit along York Road were at first a sewing factory, she says. And between York Road and the Harrisburg Expressway to the east, a chimney from a long-gone cannery is still visible.

Maryland Line hasn't always gone by that name. Just look over the doorfront of the Maryland Line United Methodist Church. Written in the stained glass is the word "Newmarket" -- the town's name until the 1800s.

The post office forced the name change because, Mrs. Clemens says, there already were three Newmarkets. There was already one on the Eastern Shore, one in Frederick County and another in the southern part of the state.

What Maryland Line is probably best known for -- and most confused with -- is the Mason-Dixon Line, which separates Pennsylvania from Maryland as well as the North from the South.

Residents say that people think the town is just a map marker.

Ask anyone here and they will set you straight.


Population: 521 (Baltimore County Office of Planning)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 30 minutes

Commuting time to York, Pa.: 45 minutes

Public schools: Fifth District Elementary, Seventh District Elementary, Prettyboy Elementary, Hereford Middle School and Hereford High School.

Shopping: Market Square Shopping Center in Shrewsbury, Pa.; The Galleria in York, Pa.

Nearest mall: Hunt Valley Mall, 15 miles south

Points of interest: North Central Rail trail from New Freedom, Pa., to Hunt Valley

ZIP code: 21105

Average price of a single-family home: $102,800 (3 sales)

* Average price for homes sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies' multiple listing service over the past 12 months.

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