Country living with amenities; Spacious Victorians, split levels, plus a great grade school


Some residents say Riderwood begins on the north side of Ruxton Road, while others say that it lies north of Joppa Road and extends to the Beltway, and anything north of that is Lutherville.

While Riderwood may not be as affluent as its neighbor to the south, the geographical particulars of the two communities that blend into one another do have many similarities and a somewhat comic side.

While the Ruxton name resonates with the buzz of old money, old Maryland families, Republican politics, private schools, tweeds, three-piece Brooks Brothers suits, German automobiles, Suburbans and Labrador retrievers that seem to be everywhere, Riderwood is a little less stuffy and a little more laid-back than its next-door cousin.

Bill Love, a real estate agent for O'Conor Piper & Flynn ERA and a Ruxton native who specializes in properties in the two communities, says with a laugh, "However, when you're selling a house, Ruxton extends all the way to the Pennsylvania line."

Lying west of Towson and extending all the way to Falls Road, Riderwood is bisected by the light-rail line and straddles Joppa Road and Bellona Avenue.

Spacious clapboard Victorian houses with broad porches on acre lots are indicative of the older section of the community near the railroad. In the postwar years, the community spread northward with the development of Village Green and "Leave It to Beaver"-era split-levels along Thornton Road.

Sue Walker, who has lived in a turn-of-the-century brick house on Rider Avenue since 1966, has spent all of her life in the community except the first four years of her marriage when she resided with her husband, Bob, in Anneslie.

"I liked the area and wanted to come back," she said from the dining room of her home. "It was quaint, quiet and there wasn't much traffic on Joppa Road in those days."

Growing up on Roldrew Avenue, in a family of 10, she recalled winters when neighborhood children went sledding down Jigger Hill to Swam- poodle, and of warm summer afternoons playing softball on what had once been Rider's Grove, now developed with homes.

Walker's father, Ed Kearns, an editor at the Catholic Review for 49 years, commuted to his Baltimore office aboard the Pennsylvania Rail Road's Parkton local, which halted at the Riderwood station, now a private residence.

"He used to walk to the station. In those days, Joppa Road wasn't like it is now and you could walk right down the middle of it without being afraid of being run over," she said.

According to Walker, the bucolic setting of the village was broken only by the sound of the steam whistles of the freight and passenger trains chugging in and out of Baltimore.

In those days, commercial activity was confined to the post office on Bellona Avenue and Harrington's Market. An uncle of Walker's owned Trapp's Riderwood Garage and Hardware store at Joppa and Thornton roads, where residents filled their tanks with Sinclair gasoline.

"The men would go to Gill's Garage on Joppa Road to warm up and catch up on the gossip, while the children went there for penny candy," Walker said.

"It really was a community of walkers. People walked everywhere and a walk to Falls Road, for instance, wasn't out of the question. We'd go over there to watch the horses in Brooklandville on the old Johnson estate or gather bittersweet and crow's feet at Christmastime," she said.

Rider settled area in 1821

The first settlers to call Riderwood home were the Susquehannock and Shawnee Indians who settled along the banks of the Roland Run and Jones Falls. Edward A. Rider II settled there in 1821 after purchasing 1,000 acres from William A. Ridgely.

"In those days, Joppa Road was the Beltway and Charles Street of its time," said Joseph M. Coale III, author of "The Middling [feed grain] Planters of Ruxton: 1694-1850."

In 1830, a dramatic change occurred in the community with the coming of the railroad. Irish immigrants dug the roadbed and laid the tracks of the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad that crossed Rider's property on an easement. A railroad spur into his limekiln operation later accounted for the community being named Rider's Switch.

Rider's Switch gave way to Sherwood, until, according to local lore, members of Hunt's United Methodist Church at Joppa and Old Court roads, one of the nation's oldest Methodist churches (dating to 1773), objected to the name of Sherwood.

At the time, Sherwood rye was one of the most popular whiskeys in Maryland. Church members were successful in having the village's name changed in 1913 to Riderwood.

"The coming of the railroad gave the area access to the city, with some commuter traffic beginning in the 1860s and 1870s. It changed the complexion of the area. With the growth of Baltimore's industrial society, the land became more suited for residences than farming," Coale said.

One of the community's early tragedies occurred July 4, 1854, when two excursion trains collided head-on north of the present Joppa Road bridge, killing 29 Independence Day revelers who had spent the holiday at Rider's Grove.

Confederate cavalry

Another community highlight was the arrival of Lt. Col. Harry Gilmor and his Confederate raiders, who galloped through the community in 1864, pursuing fleeing Union cavalry.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Riderwood developed into a summer resort much like Ruxton, Lutherville and Bentley Springs, all bound by the railroad, where affluent Baltimoreans came seeking cooler air and a respite from the sweltering city.

Commuting by rail later transformed Riderwood into a year-round bedroom community that serves not only Baltimore but Towson and Hunt Valley.

Louella Parsons legend

One of the landmark houses belonged to silent screen star Francis X. Bushman, who thrilled audiences in the 1926 classic "Ben Hur."

Bushman, a Baltimorean, lived in Thornton from 1916 to 1920, a white stucco mansion on Landrake Road that was built and occupied by the Riders for a century.

Neighborhood legend has it that Louella Parsons, then Bushman's secretary, toiled away in a tiny room off the main hall before becoming a celebrated Hollywood gossip columnist in the 1930s for the Hearst newspaper chain.

Citizens of Ruxton and Riderwood formed the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Improvement Association in the 1950s to divert the construction of Interstate 83 through the heart of both communities. In the early 1990s, they did battle to prevent a Riderwood stop for the light-rail system.

"Riderwood is less pretentious yet it has the Ruxton charm," said Tim Rogers, president and chief executive officer of the Hill & Co. real estate firm, who says house prices there average $250,000 to $300,000.

"Houses for sale there go fairly quickly. It's a demand area that offers convenience, good schools and housing value," he said.

For many potential buyers, Riderwood Elementary School is a draw. The school, the first in Baltimore County, was designated a "blue ribbon school" in 1994 for its academic excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.

Doug Simmons, a planning engineer with the State Highway Administration, his wife, Stephanie, a Beltsville interior designer, and their two preschool children moved last year into one of the community's more unusual homes, a 1920s prefabricated clapboard house that was ordered through a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog and was shipped by boxcar.

The former Roland Park couple were drawn to Riderwood because of the schools and the fact that it was an older neighborhood with interesting homes.

"It was a combination of the country yet it had the amenities of Roland Park," said Simmons, who grew up in the country in Harford County.

"I like the old trees, space, the chance to see some wildlife and the friendliness of the neighbors," he said.

Mimi Wood, a Riderwood resident and Realtor with O'Conor Piper & Flynn ERA who specializes in properties there, said, "Riderwood is for people who don't want to be way out in the country."

Both Simmons and Wood concurred and stressed the point that the light rail is a "non-issue" for potential buyers "as long as there isn't a stop."

What worries Michael A. Sicher, president of Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Improvement Association, are the issues of increased traffic, development and light-rail expansion which could bring about profound changes in the community.

"We have to be aware of in-filling development without regard for neighborhood compatibility, environmental issues or increased traffic. They have the potential of changing the flavor of the area," he said.


ZIP code: 221204

Population: 990

Commuting time to Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Riderwood Elementary School, Dumbarton Middle School, Towson High School.

Shopping: Graul's Market

Points of interest: Hunt's Church, at Old Court and Joppa roads; Riderwood Station (1903); The Ridge estate house (Ridege School); and Robert E. Lee Park.

Number of homes on the market: 1

Average listing price: $220,514*

Average sales price: $220,867*

Sales price as a percentage of listing price: 99%*

Average days on market: 57*

* based on 14 sales in the last 12 months as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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