Nearly 125 years ago, a few isolated homes and a handful of shops made up Fallston, a hamlet in southwestern Harford County.
The old Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad, known affectionately as the "Ma & Pa," snaked through Fallston as it connected Baltimore to York, Pa. Fallston's proximity to Little Gunpowder Falls and Winters Run added to the town's allure, according to its land use plan.
Residents say Fallston hasn't shed its small-town feel, and location still is a top draw. Situated near the U.S. 1 corridor, Fallston is 40 minutes from Baltimore by way of nearby Interstate 95. Philadelphia is an hour and a half away.
"The commute is easy whether they are going to Baltimore or Philadelphia," said Sue Hemmerly, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Timonium. "I've seen a lot of husband-and-wife partners that one may work in Philadelphia or Delaware and the other may work in Baltimore. It seems to be a good middle point for that."
Some residents believe Fallston maintains its place on the fringe of commercialization.
Linda Blackiston, a Fallston resident for 19 years, said she has watched buildings replace farmland, but she still feels secluded from the growth that's overtaken her area and the rest of Harford County.
A mother of two, Blackiston said she chose her home because of its property size and the safe, quiet neighborhood.
"Our development has been very stable," Blackiston said. "People seem to come and stay for a pretty long period of time."
The recent trend in the Fallston area is smaller lots and bigger homes, said Patricia Cucchiella of Home Realty in Fallston.
Cucchiella said typical Fallston homes connect to septic tanks and wells, limiting the number of homes that can be built on a particular lot.
At Fallston Crossing, a newer development located off Harford Road on portions of the former Fallston General Hospital site, the single-family homes hook up to public utilities.
The homes are priced in the high $300,000s.
"The houses are a lot of square footage to give them growing space," Cucchiella said. "It's a perfect situation for young professionals that don't want to be married to a yard."
But the area has made room for much larger homes as well.
The large lots at Willow Vale Farms are part of its appeal, said project manager Greg West. Toll Brothers Inc. built the homes on two to five acres of land. West said these single-family homes, located off Route 152, cost more than $600,000.
Tom Daniele, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, said he has seen Fallston homes grow in price and numbers since he started selling Maryland houses nearly 20 years ago.
The median value of an owner-occupied Fallston home rose from $159,800 in 1990 to $206,700 in 2000, according to Census numbers.
The average selling price of a Fallston home bought last year was $337,879, according to statistics recorded by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., a Rockville-based listing service that tracks sales.
"It's been a great market the past couple years," Cucchiella said.
From 1990 to 2000, Fallston's population increased 47 percent to 8,427, Census data show. The number of housing units jumped 58 percent to 2,893 during the same period.
Daniele credits the housing boom to Fallston's low crime rate and sought-after schools.
But these schools face crowding as the county's escalating growth forces spillover into Fallston from Bel Air and Joppa schools, said Veronica "Roni" Chenowith, a Harford County councilwoman who represents the Fallston area.
When Chenowith moved to Fallston more than 30 years ago, there was no Fallston Middle School. Her son attended school in neighboring Bel Air. There was more farmland then, and the Fallston Recreation Complex on Fallston Road wasn't nearly as large as it is today.
Chenowith, whose property is adjacent to Gunpowder State Park, said she enjoys Fallston's wildlife and tranquillity. And while some real estate agents say Fallston residents tend to leave once their children are raised, Chenowith plans to retire here.
"It's a wonderful mix of folks of all ages," Chenowith said. "And thank heavens there are major farms and agricultural preservations in Fallston to maintain that rural character that most of us love."
ZIP code: 21047
Average commute time to downtown Baltimore: 40 minutes
Public schools: Fallston High, Fallston Middle, Youth's Benefit Elementary
Shopping: Crossroads Station Shopping Center, Fallston Mall
Homes on the market: 43
Average list price: $344,548 *
Average sales price: $337,879 *
Average days on the market: 72 *
Sales price as a percentage of listing: 98.06% *
* Based on 111 sales during the past 12 months as recorded by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.