Wandering the Old York Road

Wandering the Old York Road


The Old York Road

I found this quote in a report of the State Roads Commission under a heading in bold that read

The Rise of Baltimore:

     Baltimore developed an affinity with Southern Pennsylvania which had been settled by a sturdy German stock. The first roads of consequence were those planned to connect these sections. A direct wagon road from York to Baltimore was a natural and inevitable result of economics and geography. It was built by both communities in the early 1740's. It was an instant success and in a single month after its opening no less than sixty wagons loaded with flaxseed came to Baltimore from the back country. The farmers of York County found that they were only about 50 miles from the Patapsco port while they were some 90 miles from their Pennsylvania port of Philadelphia.

In exploring this old road, I discovered one of the tollhouses that still stand along what was a turnpike that had tollgates to insure users paid their fees. When the tollroad was built, the first tollhouse and tollgate were in Waverly. Along the road were stone mile markers. The Methodists of Waverly proudly noted that their building was erected in front of the two mile marker out of town. These is a mile marker today a few blocks above Northern Parkway in a little park. 

The Waverly tollhouse became a communications center and news got brought there to insure it was taken down town to be reported in the Baltimore Sun. Postal services began there, too; but eventually tollgates were removed and streetcar lines began to bring commuters back and forth on a line that ran from Towsontown down through the city and on to Catonsville and back.

Driving up to Pennsylvania to get a picture of what it might have been like when stage coaches and horse driven wagons brought produce and livestock from York to Belair Market, I was reminded of how Lizette Woodworth Reese described Waverly when it grew from the hamlet of Huntingdon into A Victorian Village along The York Road. Here’s how she painted Huff’s and Bateman’s general store owners:

     A short, squat, paunchy man was the proprietor of one of the stores in the village, a land, dark, black-haired man that of the other. One was German, the other of English extraction. These two gentlemen were masters of the entire situation. Town was too distant for casual errands; you bought from them or did without your pound of crackers or ounce of cinnamon or whatever small article was lacking to your kitchen shelves. Each shop was the stereotyped one of the suburban settlement.  Each held the same odors. All the spice and sugar, and meal, and vinegar and gin, and bundles of rope, and stack of brooms, and painted buckets, which had been handed over the counters, had made themselves into a smell which became a fixed atmosphere. Each shop had a bar, and in the first there an extension containing a back room, where a thirsty farmer might sit at a whitely scrubbed table, and drink a glass of frothing ale or beer. As to the proprietors themselves, their conduct was all that goes into the making of wise and successful shopkeeping. They were impeccably neutral. Confederate and Federal men, statesrighters and black Republicans might froth and rave about them, but these two were of that stripe of politics which belongs to each and all---the desire to make an honest living and keep away from disaster. Every rag of gossip in the county fluttered to their wide porches and fastened there for the especial gratification of the buyers and loungers. To hear that your neighbor was worse off than yourself was not an altogether unpleasant experience. Death was always interesting, and a guess at the dollars and acres left behind by the deceased a stimulating problem in arithmetic. A birth added to the bucolic population. A marriage brought out all the genealogical resources of the bystanders. Even the sermons preached on Sundays at Saint John's or the Huntingdon Baptist church provided critical meat for those who felt capable of masticating it. And always there were the crops and the weathers. And these two dispensers of groceries, bacon, small drygoods, and liquors, kept to their smooth and trusty neutrality, listened, nodded, lifted mobile eyebrows, said "tschuch" and "You don't tell me" at the proper intervals and at sterile moments contributed an atom to the revolving mass. There was scarcely a household in Waverly, no matter in what obscure and lonely lane, which did not gather to itself some morsel from those tables spread in the village. More than one husband, trudging home too late through the afternoon sunshine, to some mellowed house set in the maze of lilac or syringe bushes, made his peace with the waiting family by a scrap of gossip from the porch of one of the general shops.

     We children seldom saw the inside of these lively public places. Except for a rare errand connected with some small ware for the family---the original message almost swamped in the dozen solemn directions accompanying it---we were strangers both to their encompassing odors and the wordily knowingness, which appeared fixed in their atmosphere. The dull hours of the morning or afternoon seemed to be selected for these errands. Sometimes a pleasant affair of our own, such as the buying of a stick of striped candy, or or cornucopia of sweetened anise seeds, took us there.

Of course, during the Civil War the state, the city and the county were divided - family members often serving on both the north and the south - and miltary forces on both sides of the struggle came through the village.  

Riding around the country in Parkton, Sparks and Monkton it is easy to see what Waverly might have once looked like when it was full of estates, farms, orchards and summer homes.

On the other end of the road it is not possible to see Belair Market which was around Oldtown but entering Greenmount Cemetery one can picture green woods spread out above Baltimore Harbor all the way up into Pennsylvania. 

Walking through the 32nd Street Farmers Market on a Saturday morning an atmosphere of village life is weekly recreated. It is a village green or commons where townsfolk exchange greetings and and leisurely shop. Across 33rd Street the Waverly Branch of the Library has replaced the tollhouse as a communications center as has the Y at Stadium Place and down Greenmount Avenue on 32nd Street below Merryman Lane, Pete’s Grille is like a beehive of chatter and a community kitchen where it it often standing room only. When Waverly Crossroads Giant Foods opened, cafe space was set aside; but it never developed as a social meeting place like Eddie’s seems to do in Charles Village sometimes. Supermarket shoppers are usually just too intent on getting in, loading up a cart and getting out.

To experience the Old York Road, take a drive up to the Maryland Line, visit Greenmount Cemetery, walk through Waverly Village and read Lizette Woodworth Reese. And please enjoy these images accompanying this rambling from all along the Old York Road. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

mike mcquestion January 08, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Joe, Thanks for this invaluable historical work you're doing.
Tom Kiefaber January 08, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Re: The tollhouses, there is one which has been preserved and remains inhabited just above the Hunt Valley, directly accross York Road form the entrance to the Broadmeade retirement community that puts me back in the area each and every time I pass by. In my mind's eye I imagine what a formidable challenge the steep twisting road presented to the the travelers back in the day, and to the beasts of burden that provided the means of propulsion.
Richard Burnham January 08, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Joe, do you know if the current ownmer of the old town hall will be renovating the building. In it's current state, it appears that a plywood shed has been built on the front, which makes it an eye sore. Thanks: Richard Burnham
Joe Stewart January 09, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Thanks for the comments. The tollgate photo is near Broadmead. Old Waverly Town Hall building is owned by Domingo Kim who also owns Stadium Lounge. For information about his plans for the space, contact him: 410-710-1717 domingook@hotmail.com


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