Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Delightful Dickeyville

Most Baltimoreans have heard of Dickeyville as "somewhere west of the city." When you look at photos of the Victorian architecture, traditional old church, and white picket fences, it's easy to believe this historic neighborhood sits out in the country somewhere.

The surprise is that Dickeyville is tucked into Baltimore City itself, snuggled up against the Gwynns Falls that meanders down to the Patapsco, the Inner Harbor, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. Several mill towns grew up around Baltimore in the 18th century drawing mill workers and managers. Along the Gwynns Falls there were grist mills, paper mills, and woolen mills that provided cloth for both North and South during the Civil War. Towns grew up around the mills with stone houses, churches, schools, and shops.

Through its history, the town took its name from leading citizens and businesses – first Franklinville for the Franklin Paper Mill, then Wetheredsville for the three brothers who expanded the town and converted the paper mill to woolen cloth. The they were enterprising, the war years of the mid-1800's destroyed their business, and Wethereds eventually sold 300 acres, three mills, and many of the houses to William Dickey in 1871.

For several decades the town prospered and grew with new homes for workers, a church, and general store. But by the early 20th century the textile business had changed and work became scarce. The mills closed and Dickeyville declined into a shanty town with a seedy reputation.

Finally, in 1934, Dickeyville's fortunes changed when much of the village was sold to a development company that began a restoration project. In one of Baltimore's first community preservation projects, old buildings were preserved as much as possible, and new homes had to blend in with the old. Many of the early field stone buildings were preserved, such as the three-story buildings of "stone row" as well as a church and schoolhouse.

The vision of those developers led to the preservation of the town that is now a model historic village of homes and public buildings. In 1968 Dickeyville was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and it is a source of pride to its residents who maintain the town with care. People who live here treasure the park-like setting near the Gwynns Falls that creates an old village feel for Dickeyville that is unlike any other neighborhood in Baltimore City.

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