Outlet mall crops up on family's farm

March 16, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Barkdoll FarmOutlet mall crops up on family's farm

Charles Barkdoll's red brick house is boxed in by Interstate 70 on one side, the increasingly busy Sharpsburg Pike in front and the soon-to-be-built Prime Retail shopping center to the rear.

It is a far cry from the way it was seven decades ago when his family moved to the property from Chewsville.

Back then, there was no shopping center. There was no interstate highway. Sharpsburg Pike was a quiet little road with one lane in each direction.


Barkdoll, 80, contemplated the changes over the weekend as he walked about the Prime Retail construction site on land that used to be his family farm.

Barkdoll said that a few years ago he saw a study that indicated 25,000 cars whiz by his home each day.

And in 1929?

"About six cars a day. That's about all you'd see," Barkdoll said.

Traffic is certain to increase. The Baltimore-based Prime Retail plans to open the first phase of a 100-store complex in mid-summer.

Behind the steady stream of development that has transformed the face of Washington County over the last 30 years are people like Barkdoll, a retired farmer and railroad worker who moved into the Sharpsburg Pike house with his wife Hazel 31 years ago.

Before that, he lived on the 59-acre farm with his father and two brothers, back when the area just south of Hagerstown was dotted with family farms.

Barkdoll said he went to work for the Western Maryland Railroad in Hagerstown in 1938 because the farm was too small for him, his father and his two brothers.

Disgusted with new agricultural regulations, Barkdoll's father quit farming in 1962, Barkdoll said. His brothers, who had moved on to farms of their own, returned regularly for the next four years to maintain the family farm, but ultimately gave it up.

"It was too much traveling up and down the road," he said.

For the next 27 years, the Barkdolls rented the farmhouse to a man and the land to a farmer.

When his mother died in 1991, Barkdoll decided to sell the land. The first buyer, who closed the deal two years later, planned a housing development.

Eventually, the land was sold to Prime Retail, which is building an outlet shopping center.

The couple said construction continues until 3 a.m. some mornings. But Barkdoll said he and his wife are not bothered, and can hear nothing beyond the occasional blast.

"Our biggest problem is going to be traffic. It is right now. It's going to be worse." Hazel Barkdoll said. "We've got a (travel) trailer here. We don't know how we're going to get in and out."

Barkdoll said he and Hazel were married in 1939. He met her when a farm hand invited him down to his house to meet his sister.

Hazel Barkdoll, 78, lived on College Road at the time.

The couple raised two boys and two girls in their home.

Hazel Barkdoll said she is not sure if she would want to raise children in the current environment. She said the traffic would make it dangerous, although mainly she worries about the cultural and societal changes.

"It was much nicer then than it is today," she said.

Charles Barkdoll said development and traffic congestion are a fact of the times. Hazel Barkdoll expressed excitement at the prospect of a new restaurant to check out when the shopping area is completed.

The couple said they are not sure what they will do. Charles Barkdoll said he has spoken with Prime Retail officials about the possibility of selling their home to the developer.

"I've been here so long, I don't want to leave. But I guess if someone gives me enough money, I'll leave," he said.

Walking across the construction zone, Barkdoll can point to spots where elements of the farm used to be - a hog pen, chicken houses. The silo was knocked down on Saturday.

Barkdoll said his father, who died in the early 1970s, probably would be shocked at the changes. He said he, too, sometimes cannot get over the way the area has changed.

"If someone would have told me about this a long time ago, I would never have believed them," he said. "I never thought something like this would happen."

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