Friday, April 21, 2023

F ³: The Village of Not So Far Away


Wednesday I got out of The Bubble. I had plans that involved a stop in Dickeyville and a visit to Village of Cross Keys. Neither are all that far from Columbia/HoCo, yet they feel like worlds away.

Dickeyville is an old mill town located on the Gwynns Falls river. The houses, as they say on the village website, have historic charm. Right now it’s the gardens taking center stage

I know there are plenty of fine gardeners (and gardens) in Howard County but there’s something about Dickeyville…rather like Lake Woebegon, “a place that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.” If you spend most of your time in Columbia, Maryland and you find yourself plopped down in Dickeyville, your brain definitely registers the difference. 

And yet…there are similarities.

They have architectural guidelines (shades of Columbia) plus the complications of the care and upkeep of historic properties. (Can you imagine the day that Columbia homes are defended as historic properties?) They have their own garden club and activity committee and official celebrations. They are an actual village, although purely residential, other than one church and a community hall. No businesses or schools.

They are an island of history rather near the edge of Baltimore City. Every time I go there I think about our kind of village compared to theirs. Both exist today because of real estate developers. The old and the new.

When our business was accomplished in Cross Keys, lunch followed at a relatively new restaurant called Easy Like Sunday Morning. They opened in March, and we were lucky enough to come along in April on one of the most beautiful Spring days of the year. We ate outside in the Cross Keys Courtyard. Judging from the number of people who joined us, the new restaurant is fast becoming the place to be.

Alas, I took no photos, because doing so would have involved compromising the privacy of folks around us.

Cross Keys is also a village, a Rousian village, at that.

Images from Village of Cross Keys Facebook page

As we enjoyed our lunch I felt that strong Rouse presence. We could have been in the courtyard at Kings Contrivance. Created in 1965 by Jim Rouse, Cross Keys is now under the ownership of Caves Valley Partners. Intended to have everything you’d need (except schools and churches) Cross Keys has had its ups and downs over the years, struggling for a while under out-of-town management. 

(Columbia’s Villages have struggled over the years as well, especially its aging village centers. Many of them have also languished under absentee landlords.)

Cross Keys has always seemed like a carefully curated, gated community for the well-to-do, in my opinion. It’s not all that far from Roland Park but its condos appeal to those who don’t want to bother with those big old houses. When I lived in Baltimore it always seemed rather precious to me, although they did have a cute little grocery store that made decent deli sandwiches. It’s long gone, alas.

It has never been my kind of place. But knowing that it was Rouse’s first mixed-use project - - predating Columbia - - does add to its interest. A place where you can live, work, and play - - if you can afford it. 

What is it about villages? Dickeyville, Cross Keys, and Columbia were all created and marketed under the banner of village life. Truly authentic village life died out in America quite a while ago. What is it about that concept that’s so appealing to people who have never experienced it? 

How odd it was to sit in a courtyard in Baltimore, eating lunch, and feel vaguely at home in a space that reminded me of Hickory Ridge or Kings Contrivance. Sometimes when you intend to get out of town you don’t really get out of The Bubble.

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