Baltimore gets a rough wrap from time to time, but has its gems if a person knows where to look. The history is rich, the culture runs deep, and the people are what color it. No town paints a better light than one nestled away off of Forest Park Ave near Frederick, with all of the charm and hospitality of a small New England town. Dickeyville Maryland is one gem that deserves to have a light shined on its character.
A Historic Preservation District located inside the western edge of the city limits, Dickeyville is easy to miss. Every house in town, just like every face in their doorways, has their own rich history. The owners know the details on every square inch of their homes, and every bud of gossip from their neighbors.
Steve Davitt, a resident of Dickeyville for the past eight years, says the reason people choose this town over others is because of “The history of your homes,” and with the town being built on the bones of its 19th century predecessor, history is not hard to come by in a town like Dickeyville.
To preserve its historical appearance the town has architecture guidelines to ensure the historical nature of the buildings stays in tact. “You can paint your homes, but only white,” says Davitt, “Any shade of white.”
But according to several Dickeyville residents, if you really want the history of the town, and have a recorder and a good chunk of time, Feather Davis is the woman to talk to. They aren’t lying, with a room filled with documents and poster-boards covered with images on Dickeyville’s past; she’s in charge of connecting the dots.
Davis holds all the town archives and helped write the information on the Dickeyville website, all of which is supposedly not accurate, just “A myth agreed upon,” says resident Phoebe Kogler-Hayes, “But it’s not necessarily agreed upon, Feather has the archives to prove it.”
It’s a town that knows its neighbors, as everyone in town seemed to know the name of every person and dog that passed them on the sidewalks.
“Everyone with a dog knows everyone,” said Davitt, “I think it’s half out of nosiness.”
For many, Dickeyville’s history and overall comfort attracted them immediately. Three residents said that they didn’t intentionally look for homes in the area, but somehow it’s where they ended up; either by someone’s recommendation or a complete accident. Something about the town draws people in.
“It was a total accident,” Kogler-Hayes said, “I drove by it on the way to work and was curious, it was this little enclave; I had to explore it.”
“The minute we drove in I thought, OK, this is home,” said another resident, Barbara Powell, who has been living in Dickeyville for 15 years with her husband Michael.
Originally from a New England town, Powell said Dickeyville reminded her of home. With her beautiful, and admittedly “Really unusual house,” standing behind her, she seemed as much a part of the history of her home as any of the other Dickeyville residents. And with a town as welcoming and committed to tradition, it’s hard not to become a part of it yourself.
The Bones of the City
The history of Dickeyville meanders through the pages of countless library’s archives often requiring more time and resources to navigate than are available to those interested in figuring it out.
“Just trying to figure out who lived here was difficult,” said Feather Davis, Dickeyville resident whom has been working on unraveling the towns’ history for more than 10 years.
“I haven’t gotten to the point I would have liked,” she says, sitting in a room lined with binders and boxes filled with historical Dickeyville documents.
The towns beginnings came from the Levering’s Paper Mill as early as 1808, but Dickeyvilles’ history really began in 1830 with the Wethered brothers: Charles, Samuel and John. The brothers were textile manufactures who developed a woolen factory from the Franklin Paper Mill off of the Gwynns Falls; why Dickeyville was previously known as Wetheredsville. The name Dickey didn’t come about the Ashland Manufacturing Company bought the town developed from the prosperous years of the mills from the Wethered’s for a mere $72,000. The Dickey’s then took over and although they never owned the town, had purchased several shares in the town.
With the help of a fellow Dickeyville resident: William Schultheis, as well as John McGrain Jr. from the Baltimore Planning Department, Davis began to separate myth from reality.
McGrain came into the picture because of his extensive research on all Maryland Mills, including those in Dickeyville; with a published book and extensive experience he was the man to call for help, “And even he got some of the information wrong!” said Davis, “But God, I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
Between old censuses, tax assessments, state records, letters, water marks, maps, etc. Davis, Schultheis, and McGrain all contributed to the stockpile of information now sitting in Davis’ house.
“My body decided to self-destruct far earlier than intended,” said Davis regarding why she began her involvement with the towns archives. She and Schultheis were invited, along with three others who never followed through, to head up a committee dedicated to researching the town.
“Bill would go though very meticulously,” says Davis about Schultheis strict research methods, “it was very rigid.”
Unfortunately since the passing of Schultheis a few years ago, Davis hasn’t gotten as far as intended with her research. What has made her work more challenging is the amount of incorrect information being reprinted about town facts.
“People think their houses are older than they are and more historic than they are because their realtor told them so,” said Davis, so when she corrects them she, in her own words, “gets to be the witch.”
Despite some of the thankless work involved in her never-ending search for one cohesive history of Dickeyville, Davis remains positive, “I’ve met some pretty interesting people along the way,” she laughs.
Never deterred by the maze of information that would seem hopeless and overwhelming to many others Davis assures that “The stuff is out there, but you have to get clues as to where in the heck they might be.”
One Home’s Past
The houses of Dickeyville are maintained meticulously by the community in order to preserve the overall appearance of a historical town. Many of the homes were once chapel’s, auditoriums, bars and even jail houses.
The Ashland Chapel has a story dating back to the very beginning of the town. Built by the Quakers in 1849, the house that Ken Mayers now lives in was once a chapel, a school house, a library, a meeting place, the list could go on. Today it stands in the center of town surrounded by a garden that is as thought out as the house it protects.
Upon walking up to Mayers’ home, the first piece passed is a church steeple that was at one point where most steeples sit, on top of Mayers home, its bell silenced. But the sign: Ashland Chapel still swings along side it.
The interior had been redesigned and remodeled long before Mayers found the place, it did, however, need a good amount of work when he moved in.
“I saw the house and was attracted to it. I wanted to bring it back to its full potential,” said Mayers, “and I think we have.”
“It was the house,” Mayers said, that drew him to Dickeyville.
The structure of the house has 36inch thick stone walls, creating deep inset doors and windows; original stonework, the back patio has southern wood columns from the period. Even the nails in the house were specially crafted in Scotland to have square heads.
“It’s interesting the detail that goes into restoring a place,” said Mayers.
Mayers has brought his own history into the house as well, extensive china, crystal and ivory collections throughout the home would put most to shame. All the furniture brought in has been thoughtfully considered so that the pieces are as cohesive to the time period as the structure of the house.
Upon walking onto the second story with impressive 22-foot-high ceilings, it wouldn’t be misplaced to see a butler dressed in period clothes waiting to hand you a telegram. The pieces collected through Mayers travels as well as through family air looms are extensive and add the detail of a true period home.
Like many homes in Dickeyville, the Ashland Chapel has been maintained and improved upon with a meticulous labor of love on the behalf of its occupants.
“Each one has its own character and everybody is proud of what they do, they’re a lot of work,” said Mayers, “But it’s a wonderful village.”
A Home and a Safe-Haven
Dickeyville is a “Fluid” town, says 24-year resident Liz, “I’ve lived places where it’s just a neighborhood and you go home, lock your door and that’s it. That’s not Dickeyville.”
Dickeyville is home to people in all walks of life and every different profession, “It’s not an old-folks home,” says Liz.
“Came across it by sheer accident,” says Bowen, and after talking to a realtor about the house, its location and most importantly, the community, “This is it,” said Bowen.
Tragically, Jimmy Bowen “Went to Heaven,” at 6a.m on a Thursday morning in February. “He went so suddenly,” said Bowen, “went to work on Tuesday and went to Heaven on Thursday.”
When a mysterious neck pain took Jimmy from work that Tuesday morning, he left for the doctors where blood tests confirmed he had leukemia. That Thursday it took his life.
“I went right from my parents to Jimmy,” said Bowen. Immediately after graduating college she moved in with her husband, “Well I never did a thing, never paid a bill. Never did a thing at all.”
After his passing, Bowen was left alone in the house with her dog, Westly, “We never had any four legged children,” said Bowen as she pointed to Westly and whispered, “Just this two legged one.”
At first a friend of theirs would commute from Towson to give Bowen a hand, but he couldn’t always be available. So the town offered their help: they developed a “Man of the month,” system for Bowen. If Bowen needed help with anything around the house, she has a list of every month and next to each, a man’s name and number; all Dickeyville locals, “Now how great is that,” said Bowen.
That year the town playwright wrote and performed a song in Jimmy’s honor at the 4th of July talent show.
“It’s like anything else in life: only going to be as good as what you bring to it,” said Liz, neighbor and friend to Bowen, “Everybody knows everybody, it’s like a small town. Not everybody’s into it.”