If you appreciate the quiet charm of a bygone era and you need a day's escape from the pressures of the city, consider New Market, Maryland.
The sidewalks are red brick. The Federal and Victorian buildings are still there. The people are friendly. And the town has more antique shops per square inch than any other place in Maryland.
Near Frederick, just off I-270, New Market has nestled in lush, rolling countryside since 1973. This village is the perfect spot for a day trip or even a weekend sojourn.
Because of its convenient location between Baltimore and Frederick, New Market has always made its living from travelers. In former days it was a stop for Conestoga wagons on their way to the Ohio country and beyond. Now it caters to antique-hunters and history buffs. It's a fine example of a small town of the later Federal period, complete with a country inn.
The Strawberry inn, a converted Victorian home on Main Street, listed in Classic Inns of America , has four bedrooms available to overnight guests.
Owners Jane and Ed Rossig have decorated each room with antiques, many of them bought in local shops. Most rooms feature romatic brass and iron beds, ice ceram parlor tables and chairs, flowered wallpaper and pastel color schemes. All have private baths and air conditioning.
"When we first bought the inn four years ago", Jane Rossig says, "it was a mess. We've been working all the time to restore it. When we took the wallpaper off the hall, we even found the original stenciling underneath."
Visitors spending the night at the Strawberry Inn can look forward to breakfasting from a butler's tray left discreetly outside their bedroom door and loaded with strawberries, homemade muffins and a pot of fresh-brewed coffee. All rooms rent for $35 per night. Weekends at the Inn are booked several months in advance, but weekday reservations are easier to come by.
Although the Rossigs' guests are invited to play golf at the local country club, most of the people who stay at the Strawberry Inn plan to spend at least part of their time exploring the 46 antique shops in town. Many of the shops are open only on weekends, but on almost any afternoon during the week, enough shops are open to make a vist worthwhile.
Many of these stores specialize in unique collections. For example, Thomas' Antiques has one of the largest collections of American oak furniture on the East Coast. According to the store's owner, Tom Thomas, every piece has been hand-stripped, repaired if necessary, and covered with three coats of water and alcohol-resistant lacquer. Especially noteworthy is the collection of rolltop desks and old-fashioned file cabinets.
Thomas' also offers brass reproductions including soap dishes, towel racks, lamps, candle holders, ornate hooks and decorative bolts and locks.
Just up the street -- beyond where the sidewalks end -- is the Klackners', also specializing in period American furniture along with antique accessories. a
Next door, Charlie Stombaugh can usually be found caning chairs in his workshop. The shop, located in his back garden, sells not only chairs but also splinting and caning supplies for do-it yourselfers.
At the corner of Fourth Alley and Main, the Golden Fleece specializes in old-fashioned metal toys and newly crafted dollhouse minatures.It also offers a large collection of dolls and kits for making your own stuffed dolls.
In the back room is a rug-braiding workshop. The owner, Catharine Meadors, gives lessons and makes rugs to order. Rug-braiding wool and other supplies are also available in this store.
Nearby is the Old Silver Shop, which specializes in silver and Chinese porcelain. Unlike most shops in town, this one is open only on weekdays.
Then there is Comus antiques. It's easy to drive past, since it's set back from the road, but it's worth making a special effort to see. Located in a converted schoolhouse, it's full of fascinating items ranging from an antique doll house to tools and kitchen items, even including an ancient vacuum cleaner.
Bob Armstrong, one of the owners, likes to point out the old store fixtures and the mailbox wall from an antique post office that decorate Comus. Primitive tables are made to order from old barn boards at this store.
And, at the Victorian Manor at the corner of Main and Fifth Alley, you'll find 19th-century furniture, antique jewlery and oriental rugs. Peace and Plenty, across the street, features 18th- and early-19th century furniture.
But there's more to do in the New Market Area than just browse in the antique shops. On weekends, stop for a bite at the Village Tea Room, which offers homemade soups, sandwiches and desserts. Or, for a more substantial lunch or dinner, try Mealey's. It's decorated with exposed brick and natural wood rafters from which vacant wasps' nests, Mexican lanterns and baskets of dried flowers dangle.
Sandwiches (served with cold slaw on the side) start at $3.25. Hot lunches are $5.25 and up. The home cooking isn't fancy, but the ambiance blends in with the antique atmosphere of the town.
If you've brought the kids along and they want an ice cream, stop at Met's Country Store. Here you'll find more wasps' nests hanging from the ceiling, and more antiques -- along with narrow shelves of canned food and breakfast cereal behind the counter.
Or drive into Frederick, which boasts several good restaurants including Chez Maggie, the Red Horse and LaPaz (featuring Mexican food).
End your day with a visit to Berywint Plantations, western Maryland's oldest winery. It's open from 1 till dusk every day but Wednesday, and if you're into planning ahead, October 18 and 19 it'll be running its wine festival, with music, demonstrations and spiced apple wine. Meantime, there are tours ($1.60 admission for those 18 and over, free for those under 18) For details call 301/662-8687.
Or, just drive through the beautiful rolling countryside around New Market, enjoying the quiet beauty of the Maryland hills.