In the slice of North Laurel known as Whiskey Bottom, reminders of the freewheeling world of bootlegging and revenuers live on in street names — Moonshine Hollow, Sylvan Still Road, Bourbon Street. Or, after the potion has taken effect, you can come down on Mellow Court.
The southeastern Howard County community, where rolling fields once yielded harvests of butter beans and tobacco, is a grab bag of moderately priced single-family homes and townhouses.
In 1992, Linda Dwyre wanted to move from her apartment in South Laurel and find a house that was roughly halfway between her job at the Social Security Administration in Greenbelt and the Baltimore office of that same agency where her husband, Tom, works. They chose a four-bedroom model home in the Kingswood subdivision of Whiskey Bottom. The $192,000 property came with bay windows, a hot tub and, from the back yard, a serene, woodsy view of wetlands that remain undisturbed by development.
“She found the house and came back and told me,” Tom said. “I liked it. It is convenient for anywhere you want to go, Baltimore or Washington.”
“We would all get together and do things with our neighbors,” said Linda. “At Halloween and Christmas, everyone had dueling decorations.”
From spirits to ice cream: While the exact origin of the name Whiskey Bottom remains a blur, there is evidence that its roots are in the illegal activity associated with the spirit. A local historian, John Calder, offered one theory. Writing in a local weekly newspaper, Calder stated that the name focused on a commercial whiskey distillery that was set up in the 1800s on Whiskey Bottom Road, where barrels of liquor were rolled to a nearby railroad station. Calder said the name brought to mind the illegal stills that did business along the bottomlands on the north shore of the Patuxent River.
Today, the community, five minutes north of Main Street, offers a diverse list of enterprises. They include Laurel Park Race Course; the Newseum Support Center, where most of the displays for the Newseum in downtown Washington are crafted; and a behemoth Nestle ice cream plant, one of the largest in the United States, churning out brands such as Edy’s and Haagen-Dazs.
Ghosts and the Redskins: Set back from Whiskey Bottom Road is a handsome blue Victorian farmhouse with a beauty parlor on the ground level. The owners, John and Linda Armstrong, claim the home is inhabited by a ghostly dark-haired woman in a white gown. The account even merited a chapter in the 1988 book “Ghosts and Haunted Houses of Maryland.”
In 1993, Whiskey Bottom Road came close to hosting Washington’s top-rated sports team, when Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke bought land on which to build a stadium. After months of emotional debate, a zoning examiner rejected the application on the grounds the property was too small to support such a massive project.
Living there: Whiskey Bottom is roughly bordered by Whiskey Bottom Road to the north, Washington Boulevard (Route 1) to the east, Baltimore Avenue to the south and Stephens Road to the west.
In the past 14 months, 136 homes sold in Whiskey Bottom, at prices ranging from $110,000 for a townhouse condo to $600,000 for a four-bedroom, 31 / 2-bathroom Colonial, said Boyd McGinn, an agent with Re/Max in Columbia. Of those homes, 80 were detached single-family units, 51 were townhouses and the remaining five homes were one-to-four-floor garden condos. Twenty-five properties are currently listed for sale, and 37 others are under contract.
“Over the past 10 years, Whiskey Bottom has experienced extensive growth in both housing and neighborhood amenities,” McGinn said. “New exits from Route 216 have made entering and leaving the area more driver friendly than ever. This vibrant neighborhood is an ideal commute location and one of the favorites for homeowners commuting into D.C. or to Fort Meade.”
Chop suey and skateboarding: Shopping on foot in Whiskey Bottom is limited to a small strip center that includes an animal hospital and a Chinese restaurant. A supermarket, a fast-food spot and two gas stations are the only other retail outlets.
The North Laurel Community Center offers residents a tennis court, skateboard park, gymnasium and workout room. You can join a walking club or take classes in watercolor painting.
Schools: Laurel Woods and Forest Ridge elementary, Murray Hill Middle, and Reservoir and Atholton high.
Transit: Many commuters going to Washington and Baltimore ride the MARC train from Savage or Laurel or use Central Maryland Regional Transit, which offers connecting routes to Metrobus in Prince George’s County.
Crime: Howard County police report that in the two statistical reporting areas that encompass Whiskey Bottom there were no reported instances of violent crime and a total of 273 instances of robbery, breaking and entering, and motor vehicle theft in the past year.
Tony Glaros is a freelance writer.