Historic homes and safety attract families But the trade-off is long commutes


Ken and Cindy Holmes fled Rockville in 1993 in search of a safer place to bring up their three children. They found it in Union Bridge, in a century-old house with a leaky roof and damaged ceilings, but with character in its big bay windows.

David and Toni Eder left Baltimore in 1988 to follow their dream of living in a small town. They had never heard of Union Bridge, but a relative who lives in New Windsor steered them to the town. They found a 109-year-old house that needed the restoration skills they had learned helping friends who bought and restored houses in Fells Point.

It seems the houses that earned Union Bridge a listing in the National Register of Historic Places are attracting more and more urbanites. The trade-off for Ken Holmes and David Eder and others is longer commutes.

According to the 1990 census, 35,458 Carroll residents work outside the county, more than half in Baltimore or Baltimore County. The mean travel time one-way for all workers was 29.8 minutes, 7 1/2 longer than the national average.

But county transportation planner Janet E. Gregor says informal surveys at park-and-ride lots show a shift from the 1990 picture. "In seven years, the composition of the people in Carroll County has changed. The areas they work in have changed," Gregor said.

The next census, Gregor predicts, will show an increased number of commuters to Gaithersburg, Rockville and the Interstate 270 corridor.

The Holmes and Eder families bear out Gregor's observation. Ken Holmes, who delivers mail from the Aspen Hill post office branch on Connecticut Avenue, leaves his house before 6 a.m. for the 50-minute drive to work.

David Eder, a graphic arts salesman, has a one-hour commute to his company's office in Rockville.

People who are drawn to old houses have to see potential, Toni Eder said. When her family went to look at the house on South Main Street, it had been vacant for a year. It was dirty, the roof leaked, the chimney bricks needed replacement and the house lacked gutters and downspouts.

"You have to look past all that," Toni Eder said. "I think that's part of old house people. You have to look at what it could be."

The couple bought the house and spent a month cleaning and repairing insect damage before moving in with son Kevin, now 9.

They found plasterers, refinished floors and peeled off layers of wallpaper, revealing faint writing on bedroom walls, "Plastered by " But the names are too faded to read.

Toni Eder became a stay-at-home mother when her daughter, Amanda, now 6, was born. She took a job as a school bus driver last year, but in the interim she had learned to quilt at the local Brethren Church, tried her hand at stenciling in the bedrooms and spent hours in the library researching late 19th-century paints, wallpaper and flooring.

She also researched the history of the house and learned that it hadn't played a role in any significant events. "But that's all right. We'll make our own history," she said.

Cindy Holmes grew up in Kensington without worry of crime. But by the time she and her husband were raising children in Rockville, fear had intruded.

"Everyone around us was getting [houses] broken into, and our dog had chased people out of the yard twice," Cindy Holmes said. "We didn't want our kids to go to school in an environment where we didn't feel safe."

In the first block of South Main Street, Ken and Cindy Holmes found a house built between 1872 and 1876. It had bay windows, including a two-story bay in front. But it needed a new roof, new ceilings and replacement flooring in the kitchen and the two bathrooms.

"We just loved the house," Cindy Holmes said. "It had so much character. We weren't afraid of a fixer-upper."

Cindy's father, Elmer Wachob, is a master carpenter who helped with the restoration. Without his expertise, Ken Holmes said, the couple wouldn't have bought the house.

Cindy Holmes couldn't figure out what the original colors of the walls might have been under the wallpaper that had aged to gray, so she chose Old South colors. She jokes that she and her husband have an agreement; he commutes, she paints.

The children, Ashley, 8, and Brook, 7, go to Elmer Wolfe Elementary School, which 4-year-old Taylor will also attend. Their mother works as a part-time secretary at the Brethren Church and is active in the Union Bridge Heritage Committee.

The family spends every spare minute working on the house, and has had one vacation in three years.

Ken Holmes says he doesn't mind the daily commute. "It doesn't bother me at all, because it's worth it," he said.

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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