Hamilton: 'Poor man's Roland Park' And it's just minutes from most everything

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For Turkey Joe Trabert and his wife, Sherry, moving to Hamilton from Fells Point, where they had rehabbed and lived in a Chester Street rowhouse, meant getting away from the prying eyes and questions of neighbors who were more interested in their business than in their own.

Besides, both are collectors and devoted gardeners, and what caught their eye immediately was Hamilton's eclectic mix of architecture, which ranges from rambling Victorians to 1920s-era stucco bungalows and large and comfortable clapboard and cedar-shaked homes.

He collects beer, Elvis, nautical and baseball memorabilia, opera recordings and movie books. She, a master gardener and gourmet cook, collects gardening and cook books and ceramic cheese shakers.

Mutually, they collect snow domes, those little gewgaws that when turned upside down snow on somebody or something inside the glass bubble. Several hundred fill shelves built in front of an eastern-facing window that catches the morning light and illuminates them.

They maintain an enormous vegetable garden, share and can the annual harvest, make pickles in the basement and like entertaining.

"When folks heard that we were looking to buy a house in Hamilton they thought we were strange," said Trabert, who owned Turkey Joe's, a popular Fells Point saloon, until he sold it in the early 1980s.

"Actually," he adds pointing to his wife, "She was the person who wanted to come here more than I did at first."

"I wanted a house with a driveway, a garage, a three-story house and a road that didn't have a line down the middle of it," she said with a laugh.

"I kind of think of it as a poor man's Roland Park," says Trabert, who first got to know the neighborhood he likes to describe as a "living Christmas garden" when he was the city's film commissioner from 1987 to 1990.

Minutes from their jobs

Trabert, who is the Maryland Department of Transportation recycling coordinator and works at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, likes the fact that he is 25 minutes from work.

His wife, a dispatcher for McAllister Marine Towing of Baltimore, says she can reach her Clinton Street office in about 15 minutes.

What the couple got in addition to convenience for $81,000 -- it took two years of concerted house hunting, weekend after weekend -- was a dark cedar shake Batavia Avenue beauty with a wide front porch that dates to the presidency of Warren G. Harding.

In addition to plenty of room for their various collections, they got original woodwork, doors, windows, plaster walls, parquet floors and a quarter-acre lot.

The Trabert home dates roughly to the transformation of Hamilton from a sleepy and dusty village to a bustling Baltimore bedroom community.

Before becoming part of the city in 1918, Hamilton -- which has the reputation of being a city within a city -- was known to Baltimoreans as an area of truck farms and vast estates that was "out the Harford Road," a descriptive phrase still uttered by old-timers.

At the turn of the century, Hamilton was nothing more than a general store, drugstore and a blacksmith shop at the intersection of Harford Road and Hamilton Avenue.

The village, which remained nameless until a post office was established in Frank Purdam's drugstore in 1900, took its name from Hamilton Caughey, a local farmer who owned Fair Oaks.

Streetcar brought change

However, it was the coming of the No. 19 streetcar line on Harford Road, named for Sir Henry Harford, the last proprietary governor of Maryland, that opened the area to development.

By 1915, one-third of the area was laid out in house and block lots and paid firemen supplemented the efforts of the old Alert Volunteer Fire Company.

Many of the streets that wind, dip and rise through Hamilton were named for early residents such as: Sefton, Carter, White, List, Hoffstetter, Rueckert, Christopher.

A flourishing commercial district still retains such longtime merchant fixtures as Laekin's Jewelers, Cooper's Camera Mart, the Arcade Pharmacy and the Leonard J. Ruck Funeral Home.

"If you're a real Hamiltonian you wanna go to Ruck's when you die," Turkey Joe said with a deep laugh.

Newer businesses and restaurants such as the popular Near East Bakery on Hamilton Avenue helped ease the loss of Hergenroeder's Bakery, whose fragrant breads and cakes once kept Hamilton in a permanent state of caloric overdose.

Angelina's and its famous crab cake has been a staple on the Harford Road dining scene for years, while the Puerta-Del-Sol, which opened about a decade ago, has become a lively addition to the neighborhood restaurant scene and is a popular gathering spot for Hamiltonians.

The Puerta-Del-Sol serves Spanish and South American dishes and offers live entertainment on weekends.

The Mastellone Deli and Wine Shop, on the Hamilton-Parkville border, has been offering Italian delicacies since 1954, while Mueller's Delicatessen in the same 7000 block of Harford Road can satisfy the deepest craving for German wursts or other specialties.

It's not only the proximity to schools, stores, churches, restaurants and other services that accounts for the area's appeal but also the affordability of housing, which certainly appeals to the first-time or young homebuyer as well as to the most entrenched longtime resident.

A Realtor with roots

Carolyn Weiss, a Realtor with ERA Eagle Realty in the 6500 block of Harford Road, not only sells and knows the Hamilton real estate market but is a lifelong resident of the community.

Her home, a 2 1/2 -story World War I-era frame house on Rueckert Avenue, near Garrett Heights Elementary School, where she lives with her husband and raised her family, occupies one of the highest elevations in the city -- about 335 feet above sea level, From her rear windows, she has a commanding and sweeping view of downtown Baltimore and the harbor.

"Almost any type of housing a buyer could possibly want is available in the Harford Road/Belair Road corridor," she said.

"A lot of folks come here to buy a starter home and wind up staying here forever because they fall in love with the area. With the average sale price in the mid- to upper $70s, a buyer is getting a quality home with quality construction. These houses were built to last."

Weiss, who owned her own real estate firm for 12 years, likes the ethnic mix, the family aspect of the community and the convenience.

"Despite the malls which have had an effect on shopping in Hamilton, everything is still within walking distance and you can find almost everything you need."

Her children, a son and daughter, also live in Hamilton.

Sharon Lukowski, her daughter, who lives on Batavia Avenue, and is married to a docking pilot, fondly remembers long-ago Saturday afternoons in the now-closed Arcade Theater on Harford Road, and streetcars swaying to and from Baltimore.

"I never considered moving anywhere else," says Lukowski, whose family includes two boys, ages 5 and 7.

"There are 35 children on the street and I've always liked that old-fashioned feeling that Hamilton gives me," she reports.

Ruth Gilka, 79, who fled across the boundary from Lauraville 60 years ago, has lived in the same Glenmore Avenue bungalow for 60 years.

There she collects and documents the area's history under the aegis of an organization that she loosely calls Hamilton Heritage -- "it's strictly informal, no formal meetings," she proudly says.

At the moment, she is busy gathering data on the local churches. "Hamilton is famous for its churches and has nearly everything except a synagogue," she says.

Gilka, who is retired from a downtown dressmaking firm, says that gathering the area's history, "keeps me going and young." She claims that people who live in Hamilton are by nature "witty."

"I like it here and I have lots of nice memories. Why move? Hamilton has everything I want."

Hamilton

Population: 43,678 (1990 Census)

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Garrett Heights Elementary, Woodholme Elementary, Hamilton Elementary and Hamilton Middle

Shopping: Parkville Shopping Center, Golden Ring Mall and Perring Parkway

Point of interest: Herring Run Park

Zip code: 21214

Average price of a single-family home: $75,000*

*Based on sales during the past 12 months through Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies' multiple listing service

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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