Not too many area residents know that one of Baltimore's great catastrophes took place in the Baltimore County neighborhood of Ruxton.
Although not a disaster on a par, say, with the one Mrs. O'Leary's cow created in Chicago, the July 4, 1854, train wreck was decidedly horrific.
According to railroad historian and Towson resident Herb Harwood, extra trains -- the area had a Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad line as early as 1831 -- had been brought in to accommodate picnickers taking a holiday excursion.
But, somehow, two of the trains collided head-on.
The result was that about 35 people died and more than 100 were injured.
Things are considerably more placid in the neighborhood, though it still has an intriguing history.
Amateur historian Joseph Coale's "The Middling Planters of Ruxton: 1694-1850" (Maryland Historical Society, 1997) notes, "Ruxton's history, in many ways, represents a microcosm of our country's transformation from wilderness to settlement, from agricultural to industrial, and from rural to urban. Both the causes and effects of these dynamic 17th- and 18th-century evolutions, that affected the entire colony, and indeed America, can be seen in this area's history."
Residents of Ruxton generally agree that its southern border is Bellona Avenue and Lake Roland, the eastern border is Charles Street, the western border is Falls Road and the border to the north is Joppa Road. The area was originally owned by middle-class landowners, such as the Bowen and Rider families, Harwood said.
"The Bowens had a house on the Greater Baltimore Medical Center Hill, and the Rider family also had a farmhouse in Ruxton," he adds. "The Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad came through the area on the way to Timonium and eventually to York."
Selling of farms
Yet, by the late 1880s, the farm properties were sold for suburban development -- largely summer homes for the wealthy -- and it was those 19th-century developers who contributed names such as Ruxton and Ruxton Heights.
"The presence of the railroad for the first time enabled the more well-to-do to move out into the country," said Harwood, "and many established summer homes in the Ruxton-Riderwood area."
A railroad station was built in the neighborhood about 1891, making it possible for residents to commute via rail to their jobs in downtown Baltimore. Commuter trains continued operating until 1959, when they were dropped by the Pennsylvania Rail Road.
"Ruxton just developed into a nice, quiet, relatively well-to-do suburban neighborhood," Harwood said. "It purposely led a very unexciting life."
To a large degree, that description fits the neighborhood still.
"Aesthetically, Ruxton's rural in nature. It's just pretty, rolling country," said Barry Truax, president of the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association. "It's a maze of dead-end streets, which makes the place safe, dogs and kids can really run free, and you never have to look over your shoulder.
"And it's location is just pure convenience."
A short drive away
Indeed, Ruxton is close to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, five minutes from downtown Towson, and minutes from the Beltway and the Jones Falls Expressway.
It takes Truax 12 minutes to reach his office at the World Trade Center downtown.
Ruxton is also near Lutherville's Green Spring Station and the Johns Hopkins physicians there.
While many of the neighborhood's children attend private schools, many attend public schools, Truax said. The schools for the neighborhood are Riderwood Elementary, Dumbarton Middle and Towson High.
"Here you're close to the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, as well as the other churches on Charles Street," Truax said. "Nothing takes any extraordinary effort to reach."
The neighborhood also has its own shopping area, with a Graul's market, a bank, a gas station, a florist, a drugstore and other specialty shops. A post office is in Riderwood, as well as an animal hospital.
Given Ruxton's pedigree, it's not surprising that homes in the neighborhood have been known to sell for more than $1 million.
According to the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, 43 homes in the area sold at an average price of $447,889 in 1997. The least expensive sold for $160,000, while another went for $1.49 million.
"Ruxton's location and charm -- largely because of the different assortment of housing -- has always been a real magnet for people coming here from out of town," Truax said.
Bill Love, a Realtor at O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA's Padonia Road office, has lived in the neighborhood for more than three decades. "Ruxton's rather unique in that it is secluded because it's in a valley," he said. "It's convenient to Johns Hopkins via Charles Street and eight minutes away from the county seat in Towson.
"Consequently, small homes can sell for $200,000, while larger ones can run to $2 million. One five-bedroom stone house, which was priced at $675,000, sold within three to four days."
A recent example of one of Love's home sales was an older, three-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bathroom house.
"It was built around the 1912 to 1915 era and probably was one of the original summer homes, since it was situated within walking distance of the railroad tracks," Love said.
The house, which sold for $249,500 -- despite needing some work -- had an 18-foot-by-15-foot living room with a small enclosed sun porch, a 13-foot-by-11-foot dining room and a kitchen that measured 16 feet by 13 feet.
"Another really nice house that was on the market just sold for $1.1 million," Love said. "It was probably only about three years old and had 5,000 square feet of space. The brick center-hall Colonial also had five bedrooms, three full baths and two powder rooms."
The tradition and history of Ruxton notwithstanding, Truax maintained, "Everyone's attitude is very open and friendly. Some of the Orioles live there because it's comfortable, and they are out of the limelight."
Ruxton residents are determined to maintain the neighborhood and its traditional and rural feel.
"It's an old neighborhood, and the newest section is probably 25 years old," said Truax. "The neighborhood association is planning on buying up the remaining undeveloped land in order to preserve it.
"We really want to maintain the character of the neighborhood and preserve the open spaces."
Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes
Public schools: Riderwood Elementary, Dumbarton Middle, Towson High
Shopping: Green Spring Station, Graul's Market
Average price of a single-family house: $447,889*
* Based on 43 sales in 1997 by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.
Pub Date: 6/14/98