Town with good heart still wants a bypass; Manchester's charm can get stalled in traffic


In an 1880 history book of Western Maryland, it was observed that Manchester possessed, "all the elements for enlightened existence in the country remote from the temptations and embarrassments of the city."

Today, people still move to this small town in northern Carroll County 30 miles from Baltimore in order to have a quiet country existence. But, instead of living in remote rural subdivisions, residents are closely connected to a place that retains a small-town flavor and friendliness.

Manchester's main street is Route 30, also known as the Hanover Pike. Both sides of the street are lined with late 19th-century houses sporting fancy shingled facades and metal roofs. The ornate porches that are found on many of the homes are only 10 feet from the street.

At the intersection of York and Main streets, the center of town, there is a handsome corner-turreted house directly across from the classical building of the Carroll County Bank and Trust Co.

However, the most imposing building in town belongs to the fire department with its three-story clock tower that reminds commuters traveling through Manchester that they're running late.

Although there are strip malls to the south of town, small businesses remain on Main Street.

John Paris, owner of an insurance office, feels that there's no disadvantage to being on Main Street. "My business has been in the top 9 percent in three states for the past couple years," Paris said, adding that most merchants support and know one another.

"You can find a variety of reasonably priced houses on a few acres," said Lisa Nightingale, an agent in the Hampstead office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. Those prices generally range from $100,000 for an existing home to $300,000 for a large, new custom-built home, she added.

Newcomers, once viewed with suspicion by longtime Manchester residents, are accepted as part of the community.

"Everybody's getting along nicely," said Chris D'Amario, Manchester's mayor since May. As director of the soccer program of the North Carroll Recreation Council, D'Amario sees old-timers show up at Saturday soccer games to watch and help out.

With many young families moving to Manchester, the elementary school has become a very important aspect of the town's life. According to Bob Mitchell, principal of Manchester Elementary, the school's success is due in large part to the parental and community support it receives. "We have hundreds of people actively involved; there's never a shortage of volunteers," Mitchell said.

Christmas Tree Park, a favorite recreation area for outings and family reunions, serves as Manchester's own public park. When the town purchased the land for the park, it planted Christmas trees as a means to pay for the land. The mature evergreens found today in the park are the last of the original Christmas trees.

While many have moved to Manchester to escape city life, many more have moved to Pennsylvania -- 10 miles to the north -- causing a mammoth traffic tie-up during rush hour. Commuters to Baltimore must use Route 30, an artery that leads to Interstate 795 that connects to the Baltimore Beltway.

"Traffic has hurt the quality of life," said D'Amario, "and, according to one study, 70 percent of the 18,000 vehicles per day comes from Pennsylvania." A 20-minute trip to Reisterstown can turn into a 90-minute ordeal, according to residents.

Originally, Manchester, like its neighbor to the south, Hampstead, was to have a bypass built to divert commuter traffic around the town, but Manchester's portion was dropped from the state's highway administration project list.

In 1991, it was placed back on the list but the Maryland Office of Planning found the project to be in conflict with the state's Smart Growth program, which limits new infrastructure such as highway building in rural areas and instead focuses on development in existing communities.

The Appeals Board of Public Works exempted the bypass from the Smart Growth plan, but Gov. Parris N. Glendening made it clear to the community that as long he was in office, there was little chance the road would be built. Instead, the State Highway Administration was ordered to devise alternatives to the bypass.

When those plans were presented to the community in June, the consensus was that it was a Band-Aid approach and a waste of money, according to D'Amario, who considers getting the bypass built one of his top priorities as mayor.

"They're planning to build a Wal-Mart a few miles to the south on Route 30, but they won't let us have a bypass," he complained.

Although Manchester was named after the English city in 1790 by Capt. Richard Richards, an Englishman living in Hampstead, the majority of the early settlers were German, mostly from Pennsylvania. Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church is a reminder of this heritage.

It was established 240 years ago to serve German-speaking Lutherans, according to its present day pastor, Matthew Schenning.

Manchester prospered. Then, in late June 1863, it happened to be in the paths of Union and Confederate soldiers en route to Gettysburg. Although there was a skirmish or two, the town was left unscathed. But 120 years later, Manchester was invaded again with the completion of I-795 in the 1980s. Even though more development and modern traffic headaches have resulted, the small town has persevered.

"It's still a great place to live and work," Paris said.


ZIP code: 21102

Commuting time to downton Baltimore: 60 minutes, Public schools: Manchester Elementary, North Carroll Middle School, North Carroll High

School Shopping: Festival Foods Shopping Center on Route 30, Cranberry Mall in Westminster

Homes on the market: 21

Average listing price: $146,480*

Average sales price: $144,442*

Average days on the market: 114*

Sales price as percentage of listing price: 98.6%*

*Based on 36 sales in the past 12 months as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

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