Historic village shaped by what didn't happen

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Don't look for Uniontown, Carroll County, in the annals of important historical places.

No president ever slept here, and it was never capital of the United States (not even for a day). In 1837, it lost its bid to be named county seat to Westminster, and the Western Maryland Railroad decided to bypass the village in 1862.

There's never been an important battle fought here (although Union soldiers did spend a night nearby on their way to Gettysburg in 1863).

No, important figures and historical events haven't earned Uniontown its reputation as "the gem of Carroll County," a phrase repeated often in promotional materials.

What makes this tiny village of 200 important to county residents is its status as a well-preserved rural village, with homes dating back to 1802, a one-room schoolhouse established in 1810 and even an old-fashioned general store, which still doubles as a post office.

"I really enjoy going to the general store every day to pick up the mail," says Georgia Groomes, who lives with her family on the fringe of the historic district. "It's a nice town. Even if you don't know everybody, you at least know their faces. I like the friendly atmosphere."

Residents say they love the village's quaint characteristics and diminutive size. With only 70 houses in the historic district, most residents know each other and participate in village events, such as the annual Christmas party and caroling, the summer picnic ** and biannual house tour.

David and Susan Petrie moved from Baltimore City to Uniontown three years ago in search of a little history and a quieter lifestyle.

Four years earlier, they had purchased a 1903 Victorian farmhouse in the city's Lauraville neighborhood, which they restored. But then they starting leaning toward 19th-century architecture and ended up in Uniontown.

"We decided we didn't really like the 100-year-old house. What we really wanted was a 200-year-old house," explains Mr. Petrie, an exercise physiologist at Union Memorial Hospital and amateur carpenter. Mrs. Petrie, a registered nurse and antiques dealer, commutes to work in Frederick.

They looked at houses in a half-dozen communities in Carroll County, where Mrs. Petrie grew up, and fell in love with their Federal-style house in Uniontown.

The original part of the house, a log cabin, was built in 1797, says Mr. Petrie, and additions were made in 1805 and 1930. The couple tore out the first floor to restore much of the house's original layout and are preparing to start on the second floor, he says.

Although the house has been more work than they bargained for and Mr. Petrie has tired of his hourlong commute to the city, the Petries have no intention of moving.

'I'm not moving'

"I'd change jobs to be closer to the house before I'd change houses to be closer to the job," Mr. Petrie says. "I'm going to be buried in my back yard. I'm not moving."

Uniontown, six miles west of Westminster, four miles north of New Windsor and four miles southeast of Taneytown, is an interesting mix of old and new.

Architecturally, it has far more old than new, with most homes built between 1802 and 1908. A few 1960s ranchers and two pTC 1980s Colonials also are located within the historic district.

With regard to its residents, however, there's more new than old, as the number of residents born and raised in Uniontown has dwindled over the years and the number of new families looking for old houses to restore has increased.

Caroline and Robert Devilbiss, siblings who run the general store, are among the shrinking number of native Uniontowners.

Caroline Devilbiss, 74, who lives in the house which includes the store, can be found ringing up a carton of milk, making sandwiches and handing out mail from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

"Every day but Sunday," she says cheerfully, when asked about her demanding hours. Mr. Devilbiss, 67, also works at the store every day, but leaves for a couple hours Monday through Friday to drive his school bus route.

The siblings are the third generation to run the store, which was started by their grandfather, Frank Eckard, and later run by their father, Thomas Devilbiss.

"I've lived here my whole life. Never thought about leaving," says Caroline Devilbiss, who adds that only about a half-dozen houses are still owned by natives.

Nick and Chris Vincent are among the newcomers.

They purchased their house eight years ago, and he now works as a blacksmith in a shop behind the house. He gave up his job and hourlong commute to C&P; Telephone in Baltimore six years ago. Mrs. Vincent works as a teacher in Westminster.

"I've always lived in old houses. And this is a really nice old house, built about 1810," says Mr. Vincent, explaining what attracted the couple. He freely admits the village isn't Colonial Williamsburg and never will be. "It's a nice, little town, just a little rural town," he says.

Historically, what didn't happen in Uniontown is probably as important as what did, according to Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll County historian who wrote a book about Uniontown's history.

As he explains, the decision to name Westminster the county seat and the railroad's subsequent decision to bypass the village helped preserve its historic nature. While many other Carroll County villages have grown substantially and developed areas of suburban sprawl, Uniontown has been spared such changes.

Large homes, mature trees

Today, its charm lies in the large Federal- and Victorian-style homes, the mature elm and maple trees that line the street and the small touches from a bygone era, such as the hitching posts that remain in front of many of the houses.

In 1971, the county recognized Uniontown as a historic district, which places restrictions on exterior changes to the houses. The village earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 for its examples of 19th-century architecture.

The village is really a half-mile stretch of Uniontown Road, surrounded by working farms. As residents sit on their porches or stroll to the general store, they can hear cows mooing in nearby fields.

Residents say the rural-zoned land surrounding Uniontown, much of it placed in an agricultural preservation program, will help save it for future generations.

The village was originally named "The Forks" because it was at a crossroads where the old "Buffalo Road" (which became Taneytown Road) met Hagerstown Turnpike (now Uniontown Road).

It was renamed Uniontown about 1813, when plans were under way to create Carroll County from parts of Frederick and Baltimore counties. Residents, who believed their village would be named the county seat, thought Uniontown was a more appropriate name because the new county was to be a "union" of two others.

Town's heyday

In its heyday, the town supported three general stores, three churches, a tannery, a blacksmith shop, a tavern, a hotel and two newspapers.

Today, the only business in town besides the Devilbiss' store is a branch of the Taneytown Bank & Trust Co. Residents travel to Westminster, Union Bridge, New Windsor or Taneytown to shop, go to the movies, dine out and for other services. And most commute to jobs in Westminster, Baltimore, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Washington and elsewhere.

The village had its own elementary school until 1993, when the county decided to close the old Uniontown Elementary and transfer its students to a more modern facility.

Parents mourned the loss, saying even though the school lacked modern amenities, its dedicated staff and nurturing environment more than made up for it.

But even in Uniontown, time marches on and some things need to change, residents say. But thankfully, they say, many others stay the same.

UNIONTOWN

Population: 210 (1990 census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 50 minutes

Commuting time to Washington: 90 minutes

Public schools: Runnymede Elementary, New Windsor Middle, Francis Scott Key High.

Shopping: Martins Food Market in the 140 Village Shopping Center; Super Fresh on Route 140; Giant Food in the Cranberry Square Shopping Center, Westminster; stores in nearby Westminster, Taneytown, Union Bridge and New Windsor.

Nearest mall: Cranberry Mall in Westminster, 7 miles east.

Points of interest: Historic homes, 1810 one-room schoolhouse and 1830 United Methodist Church in Uniontown; historic district in Westminster, six miles east; Western Maryland College in Westminster, founded in 1867; Railway Museum in restored Victorian train station in Union Bridge, about 4 miles southwest.

Zip code: 21157

Average price of single-family home*: $155,000 (4 sales)

Average price of homes sold through the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies multiple listing service over the past 2 years.

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