Road Trip

Small-Town Charm in Resilient Mount Airy

Sunday, August 17, 2008

WHERE: Mount Airy, Md.

WHY: Knitting in a circle, breakfast with firefighters and sugar love.

HOW FAR: About two miles from start to finish, and about 60 miles from Washington.

Mount Airy, Md., is rising from the ashes yet again. The 114-year-old town has had its share of fires through the years, including those that nearly destroyed the town in 1903, 1914 and 1925. The most recent inferno occurred last year over Labor Day weekend, burning several historic buildings on Main Street and knocking out about a third of the downtown commercial district.

"It nearly decimated the town," says Dalia Schulman, past president of the Mount Airy Main Street Association.

Thanks to local fundraising efforts and speedy construction, the Carroll County town is on a rebuilding streak. The damaged shops, for example, were temporarily relocated but will move into their new homes by October. At the same time, au courant stores are popping up along Main Street, a nod in part to the growing number of high-end homes in the surrounding counties.

Neither the fire nor the trendy makeover has squelched the community's old-fashioned spirit. The volunteer firefighters continue to serve monthly breakfasts, the sweets shop still makes everyone feel like a kid again, and store owners treat visitors like family.

"It's a step back to a quieter time," Mayor Frank Johnson says. "At times, it's been compared to Mayberry."

-- Melanie D.G. Kaplan

© 2008 The Washington Post Company