North of Fourth
Growing Uptown Boasts an Evolving Look, Feel and Sense of Community
Kat and Lenne Stolberg walk home after lunch along Fourth Street when they pause to talk about their neighborhood. Kat bought her home 15 years ago. “I went to Hood College and spent my 20s and early 30s traveling, and I decided what better place to settle and look for a job than Frederick?”
The D.C. native loved Frederick’s Historic District and Downtown atmosphere, with its small city feel. An opportunity came up to move to Carroll County, but the couple decided to stay put. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Kat says. The couple briefly considered moving to a larger house before their son, now 7, started school, but they like the idea that he will grow up walking around Frederick.
Sure, there have been some challenges. Historic District rules meant storm windows would be prohibitively expensive; the couple solved that by installing windows on the inside. Then there is the house two doors up that was neglected for years and often home to squatters. It’s finally being fixed up.
“It’s quiet,” Kat says. “You’d be surprised how quiet it is.” Behind the couple’s house is a delightful backyard, easily accessible from the street by a narrow walk they call a breezeway. There’s a raised vegetable garden, a grapevine-covered pergola and toys, neatly arranged, for their son and dog. “This is our oasis, in the middle of the city.”
Downtown Frederick’s northern border does extend beyond the corner of Third and Market. That’s what the Stolbergs and other residents and businesses say about the area between Fourth and Seventh streets, stretching east-to-west from East to Bentz streets.
North of Fourth and Uptown are two of the popular names for this quirky area. The brick and clapboard townhouses and detached houses are similar to those in the rest of Frederick’s Historic District, but sometimes with a little less spit and polish.
These houses have the same coal chute doors, brick planters and iron grates seen on the row houses in the rest of Downtown. Now, they’re often accompanied by the sounds of renovation all over the place. Freshly painted woodwork, cheery dried herb wreaths and manicured gardens that look ready for spring are dressing up these streets. Vacant lots have been converted into housing and gardens and secluded backyards stretch behind homes old and new.
A NEW VIBE
Ernest Bryant has lived on East Fifth Street for over four years. He’s walking his three dogs on his lunch break when he stops to chat about his neighborhood. “I love it,” he says. Near his house, across from the Redmen club, a handful of homes are being renovated.
He moved to Frederick 14 years ago from Germantown, and bought his house because he wanted to live Downtown. “The great thing about these properties is the backyards,” he says. “You might not get the square footage in your house, but the benefit is the backyards.” His backyard has room for his three dogs to run and his two-car garage, and is the site of his frequent barbecues.
Bryant knows most of his neighbors, including one who has lived there 40 years. He met that neighbor while helping the man lift his mother off the floor after she had fallen. It’s that neighbors-helping-neighbors spirit that lives on in the area, Bryant says.
On the opposite side of Market Street, between Fifth and Seventh, was once a cluster of housing projects named after Roger Brooke Taney and John Hanson. “That was the old model of public housing,” says Kevin Lollar, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Frederick. “The neighborhood was tough, full of challenges.”
In 2004, the city decided to raze the project housing, and erect housing units more in keeping with the Federal-style townhouses in the rest of Downtown. Residents relocated to new housing, and starting in 2010, North Pointe was built. The 2008 housing crash slowed progress, but most of the 70 homes have been built. Homes with brightly colored siding are sprinkled among brick dwellings. Balconies look inviting and most have garages. Fifteen affordable housing units are mixed in with market-rate homes, Lollar says. The original builder, Nexus, had planned homes considered “net zero” in their energy usage. Nexus built 21 homes before going bankrupt, and Lancaster Builders is finishing the remaining homes. Although not net zero, the homes are still highly efficient, Lollar says.
“It’s been wonderful to watch the neighborhood change,” he says. “The fear associated with that end of town has diminished. We’ve tried to create a better way of helping folks with low income.”
The Bernard W. Brown Community Center opened in 2007, a place where people can take yoga and learn gardening skills. In 2014, the Prosperity Center opened at the location, which now also houses United Way of Frederick County, the Housing Authority and the Frederick Coalition for Financial Success.
Two murals, created by Anthony Owens and Jack Pabis, depict the hope of the neighborhood. One, called North of Fourth, shows the sun and moon, while the other honors Frederick icon Lord Nickens.
Kesra Hoffman and Karin Birch are the coordinators of NOMA Gallery, a cooperative art gallery. NOMA is short for North of Market, and they love the vibe of the neighborhood. “We’re in our third year at NOMA, and we are seeing more and more people walk the streets,” Hoffman says. First Saturday pedestrians would often stop at Third Street, but more and more are making their way Uptown.
“The feeling of community is really good,” she says. The presence of the Blue Elephant, Griffin Art Gallery and 505 North Gallery & Studio adds to the gallery-walk experience. Fire in Ice, the First Saturday theme in February, brought 275 visitors to NOMA.
“It’s a group dynamic,” she says.
Kelly Phebus established 505 North five years ago. “Things were a lot different then,” she says. But it quickly improved, as more art galleries moved in. People asked her why she would locate there. “This end of town is where the edgy, avant garde have gathered,” she says.
“Now, there’s an art gallery on every block,” she adds. “It’s part of the arts culture journey of our town. It’s fuller.”
QUALITY OF LIFE
Tina Seymour moved into her two-story house on East Fifth Street two years ago. It looks like other houses on the street, with one important difference. “This is a new house,” she says. Seymour, who is semi-retired, was attracted to the area’s history and the idea of living Downtown.
The house she and her husband bought is one of three new houses built over a lot that stood vacant since the 1960s. They were living near Spring Ridge and spent two years looking at houses Downtown. “We love it,” she says. “We can walk to dinner, we can walk to the park,” she says. “A lot of people warned me about it being noisy, but it’s very quiet, especially at night.”
She works in a home office overlooking the street, and says even daytime noise is minimal. There is one thing she’d change, however. “I wish there were more kids around,” she says.
Although her house is new, she has the same narrow path from the street to her backyard typical of the historical houses. The backyard looks out toward Fourth Street onto a large swath of green space, and a couple of alleys crisscross the area. “This was gasoline alley,” she says. At one time, gas stations, then called filling stations, were common in the neighborhood. They served not only local drivers, but motorists headed north on Md. 355 in an era that pre-dated U.S. 15.
Seymour’s yard extends beyond the alley behind the house. There is a two-car garage and her vegetable gardens, which are on raised beds because soil tests showed the ground has an abnormally high level of metals. The house itself has three large bedrooms, a full basement and a balcony off the master bedroom. “We were going to downsize, but we really didn’t,” she says.
Directly opposite Seymour’s house on East Fifth Street is the Laboring Sons Memorial Grounds. Chapel Alley forms the large park’s eastern boundary. The Beneficial Society of Laboring Sons began in 1837 to provide burial for free African-Americans, many of whom were tanners, carpenters, brick makers and blacksmiths. The cemetery was established in 1851.
This little gem of public green space, an acre in size, is an oasis of calm just steps from Market Street. A plaque on a granite wall lists the names of those buried in the cemetery. The cemetery remained open until 1949, and about 1,500 people were buried there. According to a story by public radio station WYPR, in 1949 the city pulled up the gravestones and covered the area with blacktop to make a whites-only playground. By the 1990s, the park became decrepit.
Several members of the African-American community began working on restoring the park, and it was rededicated in 2003.
HOME AND BUSINESS
Commercial and industrial buildings pop up throughout the neighborhood. Along East Street, between Fourth and Fifth, is a massive brick building that was once a glass factory. Now restored, The Glass Factory is an office building for a number of businesses. Nearby is Great Stuff by Paul, a popular antiques business where you can find large architectural pieces or small decorative items. There’s Reliable Car Care, one of a number of car repair shops North of Fourth. Dairy Maid Dairy, on East Seventh, is in the old Frederick Iron and Steel factory.
In between these buildings, wood is being painted, gutters are being repaired, roofs are being replaced. Front yards are a little wider in the houses on Seventh Street. Row houses give way to single-family houses. Driveways replace tiny alley parking places.
But the sense of community is the same. A bowl of water is out for dogs to drink from. The sound of hammers being used and ladders being moved illustrates the renovations happening.
Then there’s Maxwell Square, 49 new townhouses built along Maxwell Alley between Fourth and Fifth streets, just behind Market Street. These 2,600-square-foot Federal-style houses have two-car garages, balconies and four levels, and are priced from the upper $300,000s. Shrubbery hides air conditioners on the outside. Some are brick, some are siding, some have bay windows, all features that help them fit in to the surrounding neighborhood.
Bisecting the neighborhood is Market Street. On a warm day, Kristen Berndt walks out of her rented house with her dog, Opie. She loves living on Market Street. Being North of Fourth gives her the feeling of being away from the Downtown bars, yet close to enough to walk to parks, art galleries and shopping.
“It’s perfect,” she says. “It’s such a city feeling, without being too city.”
Opie ducks his head into the doorway of Bravura Arts & Framing, at 428 N. Market, where he gets a treat. Owner Mardelle Poffenberger opened the shop in November 2013. “I started the Uptown Coalition,” she says, the name she has dubbed the neighborhood. “I had a newsletter for a while.” She got busy with other things, but plans to revive it.
“This area seems to have become an artists’ enclave,” she says. The 300 block of North Market is still home to many transient businesses, but she’s hoping the cluster of flourishing art galleries and other businesses along the 400 block and north will help uplift the 300 block. Olde Mother Brewing, a local microbrewery, is moving to 526 N. Market. Other businesses include Gene’s Lock Service, Guido’s, Cafe 611, Studio She and JKW Beauty.
It’s also home to the office of Darius Mark, State Farm Insurance Agent. He moved in to his 500 N. Market St. office in January 2008. “It wasn’t awful when I moved here, but people thought it was,” he says. “I drove around here, and there were strip malls all over, but I wanted to be in the Historic District,” he says. “State Farm’s motto is ‘Like a good neighbor,’ and I wanted to be in a neighborhood.”
At the time, he lived on Fifth Street; now, he and his wife and four children live on nearby Elm Street. He wanted his kids to grow up in an area where they could walk everywhere. He wanted his business to be accessible to the neighborhood. Most of his business is by phone, but many locals call him because they see his office.
A Washington TV station once portrayed the neighborhood as seedy, even using a camera shot of the legs of his employees walking in front of his office in a segment on prostitution, but he’s watched the vacant buildings nearby slowly fill. “It was my personal decision to have a storefront, and this corner has worked out great.”