Manchester Day, an annual celebration in this Carroll County town, says as much about its way of life as anything else -- like Manchester, the fair is homespun, friendly and unpretentious.
Couples and mothers pushing babies in strollers browse through tag sale items and crafts set on folding tables and tailgates of station wagons, as children ride on brown and white ponies and the Carroll County Cloggers click and tap to country music on a rustic wooden stage.
Theron Geisler, who grew up in Manchester, says he's been coming to Manchester Day, held at the end of May, for as long as he can remember. The retired Black & Decker employee enjoys "looking for antiques and things" and taking in the country hospitality he's grown accustomed to in Manchester.
"It's quiet and peaceful here. There's not much crime," he says. "It's a nice place to live."
Residents like Manchester's small-town atmosphere and beautiful countryside, which lures back many natives who had tried living elsewhere. Frani Woodson, who grew up just outside town, moved to nearby Littlestown, Pa., but returned a few weeks ago because she missed her hometown.
"The rent's higher here, but I think it's worth it," says Ms. Woodson, who works for Carroll County Foods in New Windsor. "I wanted to be closer to my family and closer to work. And it's just nicer here. It's prettier and it's friendlier. To me, it's home."
The town of 3,000, which is two miles top to bottom and half that size at its widest point, is surrounded by tree-covered, rolling hills, fields of corn and soybeans, and old barns and farmhouses set far off the road.
Along several routes leading into town, however, new homes have sprung up. Their owners were attracted by large lots and breathtaking vistas from their front porches and decks. But these new homes, along with two subdivisions in town, have sparked Manchester's biggest controversy.
"People say, 'I came up here to get away from all that,' " says Mayor Elmer C. Lippy, referring to urban congestion and suburban sprawl. "The people who just came in really want to slam the door shut."
The "growth issue" is bigger than Manchester, of course. Across Carroll County, as well as other rural communities, the dilemma of how to accommodate growth without destroying the qualities that attracted people in the first place faces many a town council and mayor.
Mayor Lippy, a lifelong resident, says Manchester is "handling growth the best we can with the tools we have." Blocking growth outright is almost impossible, he says, since Carroll County's master plan calls for development near "population centers" to avoid sprawl across agricultural areas.
Within these parameters, however, the towns must use adequate facilities legislation more effectively, he says, to assure that developers are helping to pay for needed infrastructure, such as roads, schools and water and sewer.
In Manchester, the most attractive qualities to new buyers are the countryside, low crime rates and affordable single-family homes. Developments include modest to midsize homes, which young families can afford, real estate agents say.
"It's an affordable house in the country with the amenities of a city," says Bob Hodgkiss, a Long and Foster agent selling homes at the Blevins Claim subdivision. "The price of the home is dictated by lot cost and, fortunately, Manchester is still a good buy."
Blevins Claim will include 164 homes on quarter-acre lots when finished, selling for the low $120,000s to about $160,000. The developer opted for smaller lots to provide "clustered" open space within the community, Mr. Hodgkiss says.
People looking to move into the community are mostly Manchester residents, many of whom bought in the 1980s subdivision Whispering Valley, where houses resell for about $110,000 to $120,000.
Mr. Hodgkiss says people moving to Carroll County from Baltimore or other counties tend to want bigger lots, of an acre or more.
Subdivisions with smaller lots appeal mostly to people relocating within Manchester.
"This is a move-up community," he says of Blevins Claim. "People like the area and the schools and they want to stay here, but maybe want a little more space."
Manchester's other subdivision under construction is Manchester Farms, which will include 360 homes on third- and half-acre lots when completed. Sixty Cape Cods, ranchers and Colonials have already been built in the community and houses sell for about $120,000 to $160,000. And in Park Avenue Estates, where about 40 new units were built, houses sell for up to $180,000.
Crossroads of Indian trails
Founded in 1765 and incorporated in 1834, Manchester was at the crossroads of two Indian trails, one connecting Baltimore with Hanover, Pa., and the other connecting the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. The route to Hanover became the first public road in Carroll County and its importance as a main thoroughfare is why Manchester grew as a town.
Local historians say the original town was laid out on land granted to a Captain Richards, who named it after his hometown in England.
Early businesses included cigar manufacturing (at one time there were seven factories), coach making, a foundry and machine works, mining, canneries and sewing factories.
Del. Joseph M. Getty, R-5th, a Manchester resident and local historian, says houses in town date back to the late 1700s, but most have been remodeled and added to over the years with each generation. The town has many German characteristics, he says, similar to towns in southern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania line is less than five miles north of town.
Manchester held an important role during the Civil War, when Gen. John Sedgwick used the town as a base for the Union VI Army Corps on their way to Gettysburg.
Today, the town has a laid-back feel, with small, local businesses located along Main Street, including Miller & Son's Home Improvements, Whalen's Satellite Service, Manchester Auto Parts and Manchester Beauty Lounge. Churches, a cemetery and the town's tiny town hall are located off York Street, another main thoroughfare. There are two traffic lights in the town.
Modern-day traffic jams
But moving to Manchester doesn't mean leaving every urban and suburban aggravation behind. Residents say traveling Route which stretches from Reisterstown to Pennsylvania, is enough to let natives know the town has changed.
"You should see it on weekday mornings," says Ralph Dull, who grew up just outside town and has served in the Manchester Volunteer Fire Co. for 32 years. "It's backed up for miles."
Manchester and nearby Hampstead, 1.5 miles to the south, have had bypasses on the books for decades, residents say, but whether the roads are built remains to be seen.
"People are split," Mr. Dull says. "On one hand, the bypass might relieve the traffic. On the other, it might bring a whole lot more development if people don't have to sit in that traffic every day."
Population: 3,000 (City of Manchester)
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 50 minutes
Commuting time to Washington: 90 minutes
Public schools: Manchester Elementary School; North Carroll Middle School; North Carroll High School
Shopping: Miller's Food Market in town; Festival Foods, south on Route 30; Robert's Field with Weis Markets, Ace Hardware and other shops, south on Route 30; North Carroll Shopping Plaza, with Family Dollar, Revco, card store, florist, hair salon, diner, dry cleaners,
Nearest mall: Cranberry Mall in Westminster, seven miles southwest.
Points of interest: Downtown Manchester, with structures dating 1762; Christmas Tree Park, with picnic grounds, tot lots; the Manchester Fairground and Lions Park, with swimming pools and ball fields; historic district in Westminster, seven miles southwest; Western Maryland College in Westminster, founded in 1867; Charlotte's Quest for the Outside World, nature center for school children off York Street; Westside Memorial Park off Manchester Road
Zip code: 21102
Average price of a single-family home: $121,680 (62 sales)
* Average price of homes sold through the Mid-Atlantic nTC RealEstate Information Technologies multiple listing service over thepast 12 months.