Stone houses from the 1850s sit on lush, spacious lots next to “new” construction built in the 1950s. Neighbors wave to one another on the streets, stopping for conversation with familiar faces and strangers alike. Our tour guide – the village’s unofficial historian – makes his living as a wood-turner.
We have entered Baltimore’s most anachronistic neighborhood. Welcome to Dickeyville.
» Border streets: Purnell Drive, Gwynns Falls, Windsor Mill Rd., N. Forest Park Ave., Cottondale Lane, Pickwick Rd.
» Neighboring areas: Purnell, West Forest Park, Wakefield, Franklintown, Baltimore County
» More coverage: Dickeyville in the news
“We don’t hide in our homes,” said Mike Blair, who, in addition to wood turning, has served as the Dickeyville Community Association’s president, vice president and security coordinator.
“We’re out, active. And we also treat people with respect. When someone comes through and you don’t know them, you say, ‘Hello.’ If you say hello to someone and welcome them to the neighborhood, they’re going to be much more friendly to you and your property as well.”
Located in the far western edge of the city, bordering Woodlawn in the county, Dickeyville has always been something of a curiosity. In 1808, the village’s first paper mill began production. Six years later, a wool-producing mill launched its operation. A bustling community of commerce was born.
On our walk through the Dickeyville streets, Blair regales us with tales of the Wethereds and the Dickeys – families who presided over the village and mills at different times. There were prideful stories about Dickeyville residents fighting for the Union in the Civil War; uncomfortable memories of an anti-immigrant society in the neighborhood trying to keep the Irish out; light-hearted remembrances of a neighbor emptying his chamber pots in front of a local speakeasy to keep the drunkards at bay; and other assorted accounts that illustrate the national importance this area once had.
“In 1899, mill workers were given a 15-minute break, and Teddy Roosevelt came through the village to give a stump speech,” Blair said. “So it kind of shows you, you think this sleepy little town of Dickeyville, this funny little community, it was a very important commercial area at the time.”
Today there are 134 homes in Dickeyville, continuing a post-1930s upward trajectory that began after a fire ravaged much of the area two weeks after the neighborhood was sold to Title Holding Company at auction. A National Register Historic Preservation District, Dickeyville has been known to draw residents with an appreciation for the past.
Blair, a Baltimore County native, lived in Ocean City for 12 years and Salisbury for five before he was transferred by UPS (his then-employer) to Baltimore. He and his wife knew from the beginning of their housing search that a modern home simply would not do.
“We chose this area because we were looking for an old house that had charm and a really good community,” Blair said. “We’re walking up the street and we see people go by, we know everyone. We all know each other, and we all look out for each other.”
All around Blair sees reminders of Dickeyville’s small-town charms: the annual Fourth of July party; high levels of participation in the community association and the neighborhood garden club; a group of dog-walkers that roam the streets; a group of bicyclists that ride the nearby Gwynns Falls Trail; gatherings at the Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church; guided historical tours through the area; theatrical performances by the Dickeyville Players. Factor in a low crime rate and reasonable home prices, and Dickeyville lives up to its idyllic reputation.
“We’re not without our issues,” Blair said. “We have the normal struggles of a village. … [But] I think the community aspect of it is the huge part that people just don’t know about. I see that as a big part of the allure.”
This is part of an ongoing series from The Baltimore Sun about the history, culture, and future of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Have a suggestion for what neighborhood to explore next? Let us know.