Middleburg strolls as the world gallops Village's glory days are long gone, but few mind the quiet

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Middleburg is a place people pass through on their way somewhere else.

Residents of the once-thriving Carroll County village say they don't mind being scenery along the well-worn path between Westminster and Frederick. But it seems a cruel twist of fate for the community that had long fancied itself the Carroll County seat.

Named for its location midway between those two cities, Middleburg today is handful of houses that blur into one mass of brick, stone and wood as travelers whiz past on Route 77.

According to records kept by the Historical Society of Carroll County, activity around Middleburg dates to 1734 when a man named John Diggs had 100 acres surveyed in his name.

Many settlers followed Mr. Diggs, not just to Middleburg, but across the land that would eventually be named in honor of Maryland statesman Charles Carroll.

It wasn't until after the War of 1812, however, that Middleburg put itself on the map.

In his "History of Western Maryland," the late John Thomas Scharf refers to a number of structures built for uses deemed necessary when the town became the county seat. These included a bank, courthouse and jail.

When Carroll County was finally chartered in 1837, residents wanted the county seat more centrally located and chose Westminster. Most of the Middleburg buildings soon became private residences -- some of which are still occupied.

Mallie Gillespie raised three sons and two daughters in the town's proposed courthouse.

A transplant from West Virginia, Mrs. Gillespie resided in communities in Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City before settling in Middleburg 21 years ago.

The town's convenient location and her friendly neighbors have made Middleburg home, she said.

All but one of the Gillespie children still live within a half-hour's drive of the community. Gary Gillespie, 21, said that, although most his peers have left Middleburg, when he moves out on his own he hopes to stay near the only home he has ever known.

A trained mason, Mr. Gillespie was joined by some friends on a recent Saturday afternoon as he set about replacing the mortar in the stone foundation of his family's home on Middleburg Road.

The scrape of trowels and the rock 'n' roll blaring from a nearby radio were muffled only by the rumble of a passing car.

Middleburg did not retreat easily into oblivion, however.

In 1852, the Maryland General Assembly created the Middleburg Election District, which still encompasses the town and the rural area that surrounds it.

As recently as last week's primary, voters cast ballots in the social hall of the Middleburg United Methodist Church and then joined their neighbors for the post-vote soup and sandwiches traditionally provided by the church women. Wayne Repp, 75, lives next to the church and has worshiped there his entire life. He and his wife, Betty, moved to their Victorian home in the heart of the community in 1946.

When Mr. Repp was a boy, Middleburg boasted two general stores, two carpenters, a paper-hanger, a broom maker and a painter.

"Mr. Plank" ran the butcher shop then and made "the best beef sausage you ever tasted," Mr. Repp recalled. Haircuts at one of a few local barbers cost 15 cents and, later, a quarter.

As a youngster, Mr. Repp and his fellow students walked to the nearby one-room schoolhouse. Peddlers were a common sight. "There were two out of Union Bridge who'd pick up your eggs and calves; one of 'em sold butter," Mr. Repp remembered.

When he was born, his maternal grandmother, Emma Lynn, was winding down her reign over the town's longtime hotel. The Lynn Hotel -- run by the Lynn family for generations -- was noteworthy enough to be included in the Scharf history.

In the Walden mansion

Today, Middleburg is known for overnight accommodations of another sort. Bowling Brook Country Inn is a bed and breakfast that has operated for nearly four years in the mansion once owned by the late Robert Wyndham Walden.

Mr. Walden, who was one of America's most respected 19th-century horsemen, is best known for training five successive Preakness winners on his famed indoor track from 1878 to 1882. Three of those horses went on to win the Belmont Stakes.

Mr. Walden's eighth-mile track -- one of the first of its kind -- was not the only innovation at Bowling Brook. The Thoroughbreds there were stabled in a round barn, which attracted attention for more than a century.

As its Virginia counterpart is to this day, Middleburg was horse country as recently as the late 1940s. The Repps can recall a time when they had jockeys for neighbors and weekends brought droves of visitors who came just to see the horses run at Bowling Brook.

But the rare, round barn carried ill luck.

It was struck by lightning in 1892 and burned to the ground. Almost 100 years later to the day, the rebuilt barn was destroyed by fire. In both cases, horses were killed. Current owner Mark Gross has not rebuilt the structure.

Safe place for a family

Dave and Ginna Welsh are raising their 3-year-old daughter, Sarah, at Bowling Brook.

Mrs. Welsh, 32, serves as innkeeper; her husband, 33, manages the restaurants at the Westminster Inn. That property is also owned by Mr. Gross. As parents, the Welshes said, they appreciate the security their country setting provides. The quiet that pervades Middleburg is also the main draw for their guests, most of whom come from Baltimore and Washington to get away from the hustle of their own lives.

Of course, Middleburg's location means that Mrs. Welsh can send guests to Westminster and Frederick for dinner and to the nearby Catoctin Mountains to unwind. On a clear night, town residents and guests can see all the way to the Ski Liberty resort in Fairfield, Pa.

The only drawback the Welshes see is a problem shared by the town's few younger families: There aren't very many children in Middleburg.

Debbie Griffiths said that when her son, Travis Crutchley, started school he was reprimanded for poking his classmates. The family didn't understand the 6-year-old's actions, but eventually figured out that Travis -- brought up in Middleburg -- was touching the other kids to prove to himself that they were real, Mrs. Griffiths laughed.

Travis, now 13, has never complained about not having enough playmates, she said. Mrs. Griffiths does not want to see Middleburg grow at an alarming rate. But as the town's population ages, it would be nice to see some younger families move in and become active in the church, she said.

Mr. Repp said he can remember his mother telling him about church meetings so crowded that members had to stand out on the steps.

That was back when Middleburg showed movies and had comedians entertain in the old town hall as a way to raise money to pay for the streetlights, he said.

Until a few years ago, Middleburg had its own post office. Before vTC that, there was a small general store.

Now that those establishments are gone, it's difficult to keep up with neighborhood news, residents said.

Memories of another time

Mr. Repp doesn't expect to see a time when town children will again go "Kris Kingling" -- an old-fashioned practice where children would disguise themselves and go caroling. Those they visited were expected to guess who the carolers were and offer them a treat, he said.

Like many other residents, the Repps don't plan to leave Middleburg.

"It's one of the few places that doesn't grow too fast around here," Mrs. Repp says. "That's why we like it."

MIDDLEBURG

Population: 1, 377 (Carroll County Department of Planning

estimate of election district population south of Taneytown to the Carroll-Frederick border)

Commuting time to Frederick: 30 minutes

Commuting time to Baltimore: 60 minutes Public Schools: Elmer Wolfe Elementary School Annex in New Windsor until the new Elmer Wolfe school is finished in Union Bridge, Northwest Middle, Francis Scott Key High

Nearest Mall: Cranberry Mall in Westminster

Points of interest: Bowling Brook Country Inn, formerly the estate of the late Robert Wyndham Walden -- noted American horse trainer), Middleburg United Methodist Church, Johnsville Road plank bridge

ZIP code: 21757

Average price of single-family home: $93,280* *Based on five sales from Jan. 1995 to Feb. 1996 through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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