December 11, 2010

Where We Live : Old Catonsville Lovably Eccentric

Where We Live
Old Catonsville: Lovably eccentric
By Laura Barnhardt Cech
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, December 10, 2010; 9:26 AM

If you live in Catonsville, you plunk your lawn chair on the main street to reserve your spot for the Fourth of July parade - weeks ahead of the big day. You are loyal to a snowball stand. And, residents say, you try never to leave.

Where We Live: Old Catonsville: Lovably eccentric
A closer look at the community

The quirks of this Baltimore County college town, including a profusion of music stores, endear it to its residents. And its location close to the Penn Line of the MARC train and Interstate 95, makes it convenient for both D.C. and Baltimore commuters.
For that reason, the community draws many couples who commute in opposite directions.
"A lot of people split the difference and end up here," said Marybeth Graf-Brohawn, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Catonsville and a longtime resident.
"It's thought of as this little place, but it has so much," Graf-Brohawn said. Within its borders, it has the flagship campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where a technology incubator continues to expand. It is also home to the 110-acre retirement community of Charlestown.
There are more than a dozen neighborhoods, including Old Catonsville, an enclave with about 350 houses in the center of the unincorporated town.
In Old Catonsville, and Catonsville in general, the real estate market hasn't been as been beaten up as it has in other communities. "We dropped less and we dropped later," said Meg Christian, Graf-Brohawn's real estate partner.
There weren't as many wild escalations at the height of the market, and there aren't as many foreclosures now.
"It's fairly common for people to move street to street," Christian says. "People don't want to leave."
Dorothy Noble and her husband are among them.
The proximity to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, Baltimore and the District was ideal for her husband, Dan, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But it also was an easy commute for Noble, an account manager for AEG Environmental in Westminster, Md.
The couple, with three sons, liked the area so much that when they outgrew their first house in Catonsville, they bought an 1890s farmhouse in Old Catonsville.
"We love it here - the quaint 1950s feel of the town," said Noble, who is president of the Old Catonsville Neighborhood Association, which covers all but a few streets in the neighborhood and oversees events including caroling and cleanup days.
Like a lot of Catonsville's neighborhoods, Old Catonsville has a mix of Victorians (several of which have been converted into apartments), Colonials, American foursquares and ranchers).
"There's an incredible range of prices and ages of houses," said Christian, a longtime resident of the area.
In Old Catonsville, for example, four homes listed for sale, ranging from a $120,000 three-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch-style home advertised as a "fixer-upper" to a $327,900 four-bedroom, 31/2-bathroom updated Colonial.
A $489,500 five-bedroom, 21/2-bathroom American foursquare was recently under contract.
The neighborhood is also home to Catonsville's two longtime snowball stands, which are separated by a 7-Eleven and an Italian deli. (You may recognize the icy treat by its other name, snow cone.) Locals are often fiercely partisan about the stands and almost always exclusively patronize one or the other.
"You can go to the ice cream shop on Frederick Road without feeling like you're betraying anyone because they have hand-dipped ice cream," rather than the soft-serve variety served up at the snowball stands, said resident Kayleen Reese, laughing.
A year ago, Reese, a teacher who lives in Catonsville's Summit Park neighborhood, and her husband, Mike,moved four blocks. The family who they bought from moved five blocks away.
The Reeses and their three children enjoy the proximity to Washington and Baltimore and being able to walk to church, school, the library, the post office, restaurants and Patapsco State Park, which is known for its trails and mountain-biking terrain.
"We have the convenience of a city but not that scale," Reese said.
Several new restaurants and coffee shops have opened in the past several years along the main street through town, Frederick Road, which also has so many music stores that Catonsville calls itself "Music City, Maryland."
On Friday nights during the summer, free concerts are held on Frederick Road. On Sundays, musicians perform at an outdoor theater on the grounds of the recently renovated high school.
Performances and fireworks are also staged at Catonsville High School on the Fourth of July. But the big draw is the town's parade.
Weeks before the holiday, residents start putting out their lawn chairs to reserve spots on Frederick Road to watch the parade of marching bands, floats, cars and local celebrities. (Every year, at least one joker puts out a lawn chair on New Year's Day.)
"Some families have been sitting in the same spot every year for decades," said Graf-Brohawn, who along with Christian places thousands of small American flags in yards around town.
"In Catonsville, the Fourth of July is a high holiday," Christian said.
Noble and her husband were initially aghast at the chairs lining Frederick Road when they first moved to Catonsville. "You think, 'Oh, that's tacky.' But after being here, you love the tradition. Now my husband is one of the first ones out there with the chairs."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it just keeps getting better and better.... with new businesses opening up,like six mile coffee and lucky 3 barber shop just to name a few, our community is really taking off!
with one of the best state parks in the country close by, not to mention one of the best, ok, THE BEST 4th of july celebration in the nation!
you just gotta love it!!!

On the Lighter Side!