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In a Town Frozen in Time, Signs of a Thaw

Rural Rosemont Can't Avoid Change Beyond Its Borders

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page C04

Jacquelyn Ebersole, the burgess of Rosemont, holds court amid documents and cooking pans, refrigerator magnets and a hissing police scanner in her office, otherwise known as her kitchen.

Clair Ebersole, 74, whom she introduces as the First Man of Rosemont, watches television in the living room of their home in Frederick County. They married in 1996 after the deaths of Clair's wife, who had been on Jacquelyn's bowling team, and Jacquelyn's husband, who served with Clair in the local volunteer ambulance company.


Jacquelyn Ebersole, the burgess of Rosemont, shown at the local railroad museum, says change has given "vibrancy to the community."

"So, we live right here, just like I always did, which is very nice, isn't it?" Jacquelyn Ebersole said.

In Rosemont, population 315, thanks to a baby born in November, people like things the way they have always been.

Today, Rosemont, which incorporated in 1953, is one of the few towns in Maryland to insist that its mayor be addressed by the Colonial-era title of burgess, and one of the few to ban all businesses -- not a gas station, not a bait shop, not a farm stand excepted -- from its one square mile.

Of 110 Maryland municipalities with planning and zoning authority, "only a handful, mostly with populations of a hundred or less," ban commercial development, said Jim Peck, director of research for the Maryland Municipal League. Some, such as Barnesville in Montgomery County, are historic towns; others, such as 40-home Templeville on the Eastern Shore, are too tiny to support much business anyway.

But Rosemont feels the effect of change. Ten years ago, "this end of the county was a no-man's land," Ebersole said. But to the east, Mount Airy's population went up by 23 percent, from 2000 to 2003. Seven miles west, Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is debating "smart growth" plans for the Shenandoah Valley region. And next door, Brunswick has annexed two county farms to accommodate 1,400 new homes that could double its population over the next 15 years.

When that happens, said Ebersole, who supported Brunswick's growth plan, "we'll be just about surrounded."

Ebersole is a volunteer burgess. Her duties include meeting with her counterparts in the state, handling Rosemont's dealings with Frederick County, homeland security preparation and building and zoning questions. Zoning questions are simple, because the entire town is zoned for residential. Rosemont's tax rate is 4 cents per $100 of assessed value. The money goes for streetlights, 29 in all.

Back in 1953, Rosemont was a gaggle of old and new houses and farms when a representative of the Southern States Cooperative Mill dropped by the Bank of Brunswick to see about a loan for a parcel of land on Petersville Road.

Unbeknownst to the man from the mill, the banker, Emory Frye, lived a few doors away from the vacant land. As Jacquelyn Ebersole tells it, Frye gave a heads-up to his neighbor Mr. Schnauffer, a car dealer; Mr. Watson, the confectioner; Mr. Gross, the heating contractor; Mr. Ausherman, the postmaster; and J.G.F. Smith, the doctor. They met with Frederick lawyer James McSherry. To keep the mill out, McSherry drew up a charter for a new town with no commercial zoning.

If the mill had already bought the land, "they probably wouldn't have gotten away with it," Ebersole said. "But they hadn't bought it yet, so they had no standing in court."

The foggy day ruined her husband's hunting trip and her plans to bake a squirrel potpie, so Ebersole had time to give a tour. Wheeling from Petersville Road onto Chick Lane, she waved to a white-haired woman pushing a wheelbarrow through her field -- "What's she doing out there? She's 80 years old," Ebersole commented -- and pointed out a pile of soil behind a bulldozer. "Oh, he must have had a septic problem," she said.

Shortly after it was incorporated, Rosemont's population reached its peak of 330 residents. Then a slow decline began. By 1990, the population dipped to 280. Of Jacquelyn and Clair Ebersole's 10 children from their previous marriages, none lives in Rosemont.

Then change came calling. At Rosemont Drive and Petersville Road, Ebersole points out a stately Victorian, sold about 10 years ago to "a man who drives into Washington," she said. Gesturing to the home's new driveway, she said, "Look, like a landing pad at Dulles." At the end of Petersville Road is a new house with a workshop for its owner; across the street, a young family is at work on a renovation.

More often now, Rosemont's widows sell their homes to young families. "In the last year and a half, 18 houses sold," Ebersole said. "In the 20 years previous, I think we had two."

She is delighted by this. "It gives vibrancy to the community," she said. "We just had another new baby born here before Thanksgiving."

But Ebersole has noticed that the new residents feel the same way about housing as the old-timers felt about business. Two years ago, she backed Brunswick's plan to annex the two county farms -- acreage visible from her back window -- for new homes. A group of newer residents fought the plan and looked into ways to recall the burgess.

"They're here now, and they don't want anyone else here," she said. "It's very shortsighted."


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