James T. Wollon, Jr.
Western Run/Belfast Road Historic District
Sparks/Cockeysville, Baltimore County
Located just east of Worthington Valley Historic District, this largely agricultural area was first settled in the 18th century. While most structures erected at that time tended to be rather small and crude, the surviving structures of this period tend to be larger homes. All building materials were represented in the 1798 Federal Direct Tax records: log, stone, frame, and brick. Brick dwellings were the rarest and it may be assumed that this manmade material was more expensive and possibly of a less desirable sophistication than was desired by the earliest builders. Surviving late 18th and early 19th century homes tend to be traditional in style, but the later examples incorporate timely technological advances in their use of the machine-cut nail. Some of the very early 19th century houses have side halls, probably recognized as a way to commence a house with a convenient way to double its size in the future. Most of these, indeed, have later additions beside the side hall. Several very small houses, some even built of logs, survive from this period; small survivors are especially rare when they have not been enlarged. Some remain only as kitchen wings to later houses. That a center hall containing an important staircase was a degree of sophistication is indicated by their increasing prevalence as the region prospered towards the mid 19th century. Several mid-19th century houses have a tripartite motif in their central bay, with an entrance with sidelights in the first story, a wide window flanked by narrower ones in upper stories. This is almost the sole exterior decorative element related to current style, as most houses remained traditional and simple in form and style, and most were still constructed of stone. Four early one-room schoolhouses remain from this period dating from the establishment of public education; three of these are of stone and one of brick. As the century progressed, fewer important houses were built, indicating the early prosperity of the region and the later satisfaction with those earlier, traditional houses, a feeling still prevalent. Late 19th century construction in the district tended to be of frame, with or without a central gable. The few early 20th century dwellings continue the late 19th century tradition of simplicity, with modest Colonial Revival influences.
The Western Run-Belfast Road Historic District is a natural extension of the Worthington Valley District. Its western boundary follows the center of Falls Road, abutting the eastern boundary of Worthington Valley. This is a rural district, devoted entirely to agricultural and residential use, with only the village of Butler forming a small commercial crossroads with its general store, post office, and firehouse. For as long as this area has been settled it has been known for its rich mineral resources, in particular its deep vein of iron ore and abundant supply of limestone. In the early 19th century the Oregon Company was formed to mine iron ore, and by 1877 the Ashland Iron Works, which had taken over Oregon, was capable of producing 600 tons of manufactured iron a week. Marble was found on the Western Run near Tanyard Road, but the major quarries which are still worked are located north of Butler on the Falls Road. The limestone produced there has been used both for fertilizer and as a building material. There were numerous saw and grist mills within the district, and several small villages which were formerly industrial complexes. Despite this evidence of industry, the district has historically been an agricultural area. From the earliest times it was recognized for the large and prosperous farms which produced crops of corn and grass, cattle, and sheep. Most of the homes in the district are owned by families with the wherewithal to preserve their properties, and efforts to develop the area have met with resistance thus far.