Jennifer K. Cosham
Reisterstown Historic District
Reisterstown, Baltimore County
The physical development of Reisterstown has been inseparably identified with the roads. Two roads converge to form Main Street, one from the north (MD 30, leading from Hanover, PA, through Manchester and Hampstead), and the other from the northwest (MD 140, leading from Westminster), the southern terminus of which is Baltimore, the economic center of the region from the late 18th century to the present day. Reisterstown developed largely along the roads, principally south of the intersections, and it has never been a town of both length and breadth with a network of streets. The occupations of many inhabitants have been related to the road, and the town’s structures have been an integrated mixture of residential and commercial from the earliest times. The earliest structures, including several of log, date to the late 18th century, although the town was founded in 1758. Reisterstown has never had dwellings of mansion proportion, scale, or sophistication. Relative wealth and sophistication are indicated with a middle class by the use of all available materials: log, frame, stone, or brick. When in the earlier periods more expensive materials were used, such as brick, the principal façade was laid in Flemish bond. Interior detailing was good but typical. Close adherence to the various revivals of the 19th century is conspicuously absent in Reisterstown. Through the century the same basic traditional form was employed over and over, closely related to 18th century simplicity and related to its true period only in its smallest details and construction techniques. Only one structure, formerly a church, is clearly identified with the Greek Revival, the entire building in a temple form and with a portico. One house clearly is of the Gothic Revival. All Saints’ Church is an outstanding example of the Romanesque Revival, and several large houses are good examples of the Queen Anne style. In the early 20th century, with the coming of an electric streetcar line, a 20th century suburban importance joined the continuing 18th and 19th century commercial-residential importance, and several Colonial Revival and bungalow houses joined their older neighbors.
Reisterstown was founded in 1758 and initially flourished because of its unique geographical location--one day’s journey by horse-drawn vehicle from Baltimore City--a convenient stopping place for weary travelers from the outer reaches of Western Maryland or Pennsylvania. Soon it became a commercial center for the surrounding farmlands and mills. From Hanover and Frederick County, settlers, mostly of German origin, migrated down this road to the expanding Baltimore Town. John Reister, when he founded the town, envisioned a stopping place for these travelers which would accommodate all of their needs. Reisterstown soon began to meet these needs exceedingly well. The first known businesses catered to the traveler: taverns and inns, smithshops, saddleries, stables, waggoners. Many of the buildings which housed these various enterprises are still standing today. The town grew as traffic on the Great Road or Conewago Road increased. It was even considered in the 19th century as a site for the county seat. Many of the structures in town were used as both commercial and residential buildings, a use that in several cases continues today. Reisterstown is a town that has, in physical appearance and atmosphere, retained much of the quiet quaintness and stalwart dignity of a bygone era on its Main Street.