The hills and valleys around Frederick within interstate commuting distance from Washington are awash with new subdivisions. But atop Braddock Mountain off Alternate U.S. Route 40, there's still what appears to be a Victorian small town with a view.
"Braddock has a spirit that kind of grabs hold of us," said Mona Thiel, who with her husband, Douglas, in 2002 bought "my dream Victorian home" on Maryland Avenue in Braddock Heights. Old house photographs on her living room wall document that little has changed, on the surface.
In truth, Braddock Heights has undergone generations of change since it was founded at the turn of the 20th century by a utility company that built a Braddock-bound trolley line, and a summer resort and amusement park to boost ridership. The trolley had its last run in 1947 and the park closed in 1966. But the unincorporated Frederick County neighborhood still has its own community park, pool and bathhouse owned by the civic association, a volunteer fire company, Cub Scout pack, Boy Scout troop, and historical society. As a 1929 brochure boasted, Braddock Heights, at 1,200 feet above sea level, is a place "where the air is invigorating, the scenery unsurpassed and everything tends to make life healthy, helpful and delightful." There are Web sites devoted to the town's colorful past, and the essential architectural and scenic character of the town remains intact.
However, the last of the amusement park buildings, the dance hall and skating rink, burned in 1987 and 1998.
The old privately owned water company is no longer in business, though litigation from its condemnation a dozen years ago lingers, as do several old fire hydrants adorned with "Out of Service" signs. Instead, homeowners pay several thousand dollars each to hook up to the county-run system.
The Grove of Golden Stars, a 92-tree tribute to Frederick County residents who died in World War I, is down to one tree. Memories die harder, though. James Cassell, born in Braddock Heights 61 years ago and living there now in a 1907 house, has raised funds for a granite monument where the arbor used to be. Except for military service and brief residence in nearby Middletown, Cassell has never left. "I guess it's in my blood," he said. "I just like Braddock."
In recent years, the big "cottages" that began as summer retreats and then devolved into rental apartments have been converted into single-family homes.
And Braddock Heights now has its first teardown, a 561-square-foot house built in 1930 that is being replaced by a 4,000- square-foot-plus house with a three-state panorama.
As in so many other places, home prices have "gone through the roof," real estate agent and former resident Dale Austin said.
Austin was the beneficiary of such appreciation: He bought a Victorian on Maryland Avenue for $202,500 in March 1998 and sold it in February 2003 for $445,000. It sold again in mid-2004, for $600,000.
"Braddock Heights has sort of been found out, become chic and eclectic," Austin said. "It is very much a porch community. Everyone stops and talks to you. A 10-minute trip to the post office takes an hour; you run into many people to talk to."
About 400 families belong to the Braddock Heights Civic Association, membership in which is required to join the pool. Perhaps 350 of these are Braddock Heights households, said Jerry Donald, the association president.
Donald, 41, a social studies teacher at Middletown High, grew up in Braddock Heights and lives with his wife and three daughters in a house they built in 1994 on the western slope, next to his parents' home.
On a blustery fall afternoon, Jerry's wife Beverly played host to neighbors Deana Greenberg and Laura Westdorp and children for scrapbooking and gossip. Greenberg and Westdorp, who are both renovating old houses, are relative newcomers. Westdorp and her husband moved from Rockville, close to the Metro, for "a larger house and more land in a quieter place." But her husband still commutes to his job near Washington.
Thus has metropolitan spread reached Braddock Heights, with a lot more commuter traffic, both on Alternate 40, which leads to I-70, and along Maryland Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard, a cut-through to U.S. 340, which leads to Route 15 and the office parks of Loudoun and Fairfax counties. Electronic speed signs have been installed to alert motorists if they're going too fast.
Two stone pillars at the crest of the mountain west of Frederick mark the main entrance to the community. Facing Alternate 40 on opposite sides of Maryland Avenue, one says "Braddock," the other "Heights." The town is named for British Gen. Edward Braddock, who traveled through during the French and Indian War.
Brothers Bob and Bill McCutcheon live next to each other on Maryland Avenue in 1950s ramblers they built on the site of the 70-room Hotel Braddock, which burned in 1929. The hedges and some steps in Bob McCutcheon 's back yard are all that remain. The rear lawn also has a rusted boxing game shell and some metal poles from the amusement park.
Their grandfather started the family business, McCutcheon Apple Products, of Frederick, and bought a house here in 1908. Bob McCutcheon is 84 and his brother is 10 years his junior. As boys, both worked as pin boys in the bowling alley under the skating rink. "You'd make about 3 cents," Bob McCutcheon said. "Guys would roll pennies down the aisle."
Bill said he got a quarter once. "Inflation must've set in," Bob McCutcheon surmised.
For major shopping, residents drive to Frederick. Braddock's one store is Beachley's Variety Store, which opened in 1915 where the trolley ended. The building doubled as the post office until a new one replaced it in an adjoining commercial center, which also has a beauty shop and a computer firm. Postmaster Marcia Beachley, a distant relative of the store's former owner, said 385 mailboxes are rented.
Now solely a convenience store, Beachley's still looks much as it does in the old photographs. Its ways are old-fashioned too, said store clerk Susan Esquer, who has worked there for five years. "Like you can come in and put something on the tab," she said. "I couldn't believe people still lived like that. It's very charming."