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Vulnerable Carroll town survives despite floods; Detour, population 86, sits between creeks, near Monocacy River


DETOUR -- In this one-street town at the confluence of Big Pipe and Little Pipe creeks in western Carroll County, the passing of time can be seen in the old photographs of floods mounted on the walls at the Village Store.

One grainy black-and-white photograph shows the store's original incarnation as E. L. Warner's, with Emory Warner standing knee deep in an Aug. 24, 1933, flood. Some are older, dating to soon after the store opened at the turn of the last century.

"The snow is very little trouble, compared to the floods," said Roxanne Burrier, the store's current owner, pointing to one of the photographs.

Last month's snow and ice storms didn't faze the folks in this crossroads town. It's the rains they fear, lying as the town does between two creeks with the Monocacy River over the rise.

Approaching the town from the east, Route 77 -- its main street -- crosses Big Pipe Creek, then dips sharply from the railroad tracks down to the store and the small cluster of buildings on the bank of Double Pipe Creek, where Little Pipe and Big Pipe creeks merge.

Look a moment at the ice floes on the creek and you've already passed through Detour. A little farther on is the Monocacy River, where the ice reaches out from the banks toward the center, except in the ripples under the bridge.

"If we get any rain right now, it'll be like '96, when we had our last big flood," said John Smith, owner of Smitty's Garage. "If they'll get a big melt on, with all this ice they got now, it'll go right over the banks -- Little Pipe, Double Pipe and the Monocacy.

"Oh yeah, we get it. It was up in the alley here last time," he said, pointing to a nearby property.

The photographs at Burrier's store came from her cousin T. Michael Smith, who owned the store from 1973 to 1985 and gave her the enlarged framed photographs as a gift.

Smith, 50, lives outside town but is known as the unofficial mayor of Detour. He began acquiring old photographs and old properties, single-handedly saving the store, the bank and other buildings.

Floods of long ago

Donald A. Dayhoff, 71, who lives in what used to be the Detour Bank, helped Burrier identify the picture of the 1933 flood. He is the 5-year-old in the picture, and he remembers that storm well: He lived in a house above the town and got a spanking for wading in the floodwaters.

"I had a little red rubber pair of boots with a hole in them, and my mother told me to stay out of the muddy water, and I didn't listen too good," he said. "What hurt most was, she did it in front of all those people."

He agreed with both Smiths that a hard rain with frozen ground would cause a flood.

"The snow has no effect, unless it melts all of a sudden or if it rains," said Dayhoff.

"What floods Detour is the Monocacy, about a mile from Double Pipe downstream.

"As long as the snow melts gradually, it will have no effect," he said.

Keeping the store open

After the store was flooded during Hurricane Agnes in 1972, it was abandoned and nearly torn down, Michael Smith said.

"They had chopped holes in the floor to let the flood mud run," he said.

He renovated the building, then acquired the house next to it, which eventually led to his buying 10 buildings in town. Things were looking good until Hurricane Eloise hit.

"Neighbors came over and would say, 'Don't give up,' " he recalled. "Everyone in town helped me wash off the walls and clean everything up, and I was only closed two days. Two days."

During Eloise, "in the store the water would be up to your shoulders. Agnes in '72 would have been a foot over your head," he said.

The water has spared the store since then but flooded "the basement of the bank building in '96, when we had the ice flood," Smith recalled.

The Village Store is one of two businesses remaining in Detour. The other is Smitty's Garage. The town was quiet the other day, save for an occasional passer-through at the store.

"Everybody's gone to work," Burrier said.

Detour has a younger population than when Michael Smith came to town, and about 45 of its 86 residents are children, he said. Three homes sold recently, partly by word of mouth.

John Smith, 49, moved to town in 1979, and his garage sometimes serves as a gathering place for retired folks. He'll join them in a game of cards if he's not busy. Smitty's also does tractor and other farm-machinery repairs.

"The trouble is, when it snows, like with the wind blowing right now, it dries it out," Smith said. "But this here will melt in the ground, as long as we don't get a big gusher."

Recalling other floods, he said, "We'll be all right, as long as the Monocacy is all right. When the Monocacy gets full and can't take any more, that's when we get it. That's when it starts a-backin' up."

His buildings lie in the shadow of an abandoned feed mill, which closed before he moved to town, but Smith recalled a post office, furniture store, a second garage and a blacksmith shop in town not long ago.

The trains pass through two or three times a day but don't stop anymore unless the crews want something at the Village Store, he said.

Smith also used to rent a garage building at the bank of the creek, where the governor and other state officials recently visited to announce a $75,000 grant to buy and clean up a junkyard there.

Although John Smith is skeptical, Michael Smith is among those who thinks cleaning up the junkyard will stop the flooding.

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