- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. It's a little puzzling how this supposedly sleepy town of 53,000 keeps generating so many big-city headlines:
A heated battle over a marker in a public park inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Political flaps over a politician whose name was listed in a madam's "black book" and a police chief who was accused of spying on the local NAACP. Speculation about a one-time Fort Detrick scientist under FBI scrutiny in the anthrax attacks.
But then, that's Frederick one contrast after another.
It is a place where Civil War-era hospitals coexist near barbershops built in the 1950s. Where family-run pharmacies face trendy vintage-clothing boutiques. And where patrons can sample nouvelle cuisine or order their usual at the neighborhood diner.
Frederick, founded 257 years ago, is a crossroads of the nation's past home to Francis Scott Key, it's not far from Antietam, Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry. It is a place of self-described traditional values dotted with information technology, banking and biomedical industries.
Most of all, it is a Western Maryland city that has grown exponentially yet maintained a disarming, down-home feel.
Some first-time visitors might be forgiven if the theme from "The Andy Griffith Show" echoes in their minds. But don't tell that to folks in Frederick.
"The comparison with Mayberry is insulting," says Alderman Donna Ramsburg, 41, a Democrat in her second term. "Mayberry is a one-horse town. We are metropolitan despite our size. We have the arts, baseball and more than one police officer. We are not Hickville."
Talk to residents about their town and they will complain about "good-ole-boy" politics; about water problems; about traffic and crime and drugs; about "the newcomers."
Talk a little longer, and a fierce pride reveals itself in a longing for the new as well as the nostalgic, in the friendliness of neighbors, in the majesty of the city's graceful structures, in what residents call the new openness of political debate and in the surge of urban renewal.
"There is a kindness here, at the heart of this place," says Dale Dowling, a scholar of historic preservation who lives in Frederick. "There is a willingness to help, even if we may not always agree."

A place in the news
Seems like a wealth of stories recently, too.
The FBI twice searched the Frederick apartment of a former researcher and biochemist at Fort Detrick as part of its investigation into last year's deadly anthrax mailings.
Authorities say Steven J. Hatfill, whose apartment is off Seventh Street, had access to anthrax spores and commissioned a 1999 study depicting a hypothetical anthrax attack by mail. (Mr. Hatfill, who has not been charged or named a suspect, was scheduled to make his first public statements today.)
The concrete slab etched with the Ten Commandments sparked a debate about public-sponsored religion. Some elected officials in Frederick said the city should remove the tablet, despite much public outcry.
This month, the city's five aldermen voted unanimously to rededicate the park as a historic cemetery to allow the Ten Commandments to remain. Government-sponsored cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery include religious displays, but the American Civil Liberties Union warns that rededicating the park in Frederick is not adequate separation of church and state.
The city's former police chief, Ray Raffensberger, was demoted after ordering surveillance of the home of Charlene Edmonds, president of the NAACP's Frederick County chapter. She claimed a privacy violation, prompting an investigation and the chief's two-week suspension. He announced his retirement last summer.
A salacious soap opera known as the "madam's black-book scandal" consumed Frederick for months.
Folks speculated that the names of local elected officials were among those in confessed madam Angelika Potter's "black book," a computerized list of her clients. Some residents suspected a cover-up by city leaders. When portions of the list were made public, there was Alderman Blaine Young's name. The Democrat decided not to seek re-election last November.

A welcome change
Bring up politics these days and many residents say they are grateful that voters cleaned house and shunned the "old" ways of doing business.
Voters elected Democrat Jennifer Dougherty as mayor in November, and many praise her for a take-action approach. When a nightclub bothered nearby residents, Mrs. Dougherty went out and checked it herself.
"In the past, the 'ole-boy' stuff prevented anything from getting done," Mrs. Dowling says. "Before, we had a culture where the mayor and the police force nodded but never did anything about it. This mayor played Monopoly with the neighbors so she could observe what was happening."
Mrs. Dougherty, a 15-year resident who owns a pub, says that being awakened at 2 a.m. is a "real downer."
"For 10 years, the neighbors complained," she says. "And for 10 years, the government ignored them."
Voters also elected two new aldermen, a Republican and a Democrat, giving the Democrats a 3-2 edge.
Some politicians say the change at city hall is refreshing.
"The old mayor was part of the good-ole-boy network with a 'we know what is best for you' attitude," Mrs. Ramsburg says.
James S. Grimes, a Republican who served two terms as mayor, had plenty of public-relations problems. The NAACP's Mrs. Edmonds was upset when he didn't fire the police chief for keeping tabs on her.
And Mr. Grimes' handling of the black-book scandal prompted lawsuits and accusations of cover-up. When he ordered the list returned to Miss Potter, two media organizations prevented from examining it sued for contempt.
Mrs. Dougherty's victory over Mr. Grimes at the polls didn't guarantee a less acrimonious political climate. Some of her own supporters now accuse her of "backroom deals." Former opponents applaud her aggressiveness, progressiveness and willingness to bring change. Many residents still say she won less on popularity or platform and more on the former mayor's lack thereof.
After he lost, Mr. Grimes likened the local newspaper's coverage of his administration to the September 11 attacks. "I absolutely feel that the same thing that happened at the World Trade Center has hit me," he said. "I was terrorized by the Frederick News-Post."

Past and future meet
Decades ago, the trip to Frederick from Washington, D.C., took a traveler north on Maryland Route 355, traversing cornfields and tobacco farms and winding through forests until reaching the town and its backdrop of gently rolling mountains.
Most now zip up Interstate 270 from the Beltway, passing town houses, technology firms and shopping malls; after Gaithersburg, the speed limit jumps to 65 mph for the last 18 miles to Frederick.
Many of the farms that were a gateway to the town center have given way to strip malls and fast-food restaurants. But eventually the road narrows, brick sidewalks line aging but graceful town houses and storefronts, and one sees a town suspended in time.
A stroll down main street or in this case, Market Street is a look at the contrasting colors of Frederick's character. Century-old stone buildings host decades-old family businesses, such as jewelers, barber shops and restaurants, flanked by more chic and urban boutiques and bistros offering trendy cuisine.
The visitor can choose among duck mousse pate, Thai curries, Spanish tapas and in the Tasting Room imported caviar with vodka.
Frederick has plenty for the simpler tastes, too. Women gather in vinyl booths for an afternoon sandwich and gossip at the Village Restaurant and Soda Fountain. Regulars for lunch and dinner pack the half-century-old Snow White Grill with its old sign advertising 5-cent hamburgers.
And then there is Dennis "Tiny" Crumb waiter, cook, busboy and host extraordinaire. His minuscule corner diner, Tiny's Tiny Restaurant, could be the setting for a small-town sitcom. The regulars murmur excitedly over home fries slathered with gravy while sitting beneath a Rockwellesque mural depiciting "Tiny's Day Off" an afternoon spent on a pond fishing.

Getting 'hipper'
Malls that sprung up outside the city drew staple business away from downtown and signaled the advent of more shops catering to tourists.
And that means that "when you need a pair of shoes to wear to church Sunday, you won't find them downtown," Mrs. Dowling says. "Those kinds of stores are gone."
Women's stores such as Alicia-L left years ago for the malls. Now they are returning, joining more recent start-ups by young entrepreneurs such as Venus on the Half Shell.
Frederick native Jennifer Stillrich opened the vintage clothing store in 1996.
"I swore I would get out of town and really do something," she laughs. "But the rent was cheap, the location was in between big cities and there was a good tourist market."
Her store is dusky pink and has been that way since a business owner known only as Connie ran it as a lady's fashion store for 70 years. Ms. Stillrich interrupted the color with a bright swatch of raspberry and faux leopard wrapped around the sales counter amid '80s alternative music.
"I didn't want musty," says Ms. Stillrich, 35. "I wanted style."
Inside, fur-lined jackets mingle with ivory-silk evening gowns. Hawaiian men's shirts line an entire rack. Every item has a personalized note on it, which she says lures some customers in.
"Frederick is getting more hip than it used to be," Ms. Stillrich says. "This city isn't just down-home diners anymore. There is a good art community here with people who have shown in New York City, Los Angeles and the District. It is more cosmopolitan than people give us credit for."
But she admits that most customers are still out-of-towners.
"A lot of people were weirded-out when I first opened," she says. "But I like being here. This town has this whole friendly thing going. It's nice."
Nearby, other shops such as the Velvet Lounge and Pit Crew abound. The newest belongs to Kai Bates of Noise Ordinance, who began selling underground alternative music in May and who says business was good enough to shock his accountant.
"I noticed there was no record store but other younger businesses and an alternative subculture," says Mr. Bates, 31. "I have seen the area grow and change, and it seemed like the perfect place. The word is getting around."
Frederick is one of the few places an independent business owner can survive, he says, because the downtown still lacks large chain stores.
Even so, longtime residents mourn defunct staples such as Woolworth's and McCrory's. The family names engraved high above storefronts are like tombstones, commemorating departed businesses and the families who owned them.
Vestiges of the past also live on in stores such as the shoe-repair shop that advertises "riding gear repaired," Colonial Jewelers and a barbershop called Wastlers.
Wastlers is filled most times of the day: seniors in the morning, children in the afternoon, men in the evening women generally are not welcome.
"It's grown a lot," says Frank Wastler, 25, who for five years has helped run the business his grandfather and father built. "It's a fairly simple business. I'm glad of the growing number of people coming into the city."
Wastlers has remained the same as it has for 40 years, a sea of continuity with one exception: a sign on the window that reads "See us at Frederick.com."

Old-timers, newcomers
Five years ago, searching for a place to move from Maryland's Eastern Shore, Mrs. Dowling's only requirement was that she wanted to live two blocks from a sign that read "cappuccino."
She says she was drawn to Frederick because of its architecture and history. She is a newcomer in Frederick terms, one of the transplants who have pushed the population up by 31 percent in the past decade. As such, the welcome was sometimes lukewarm.
"People emphatically don't want newcomers," Mrs. Dowling says. "This is a community primarily rural that is difficult for a newcomer to get in. The structures to accommodate them are not in place."
Frederick is a club town. It seems everyone belongs to a book club, a garden club activities that newcomers have a hard time getting into, she says.
"Club life here is very important," she says. "It gives a sense of identity, community. This community is ahead in retaining its sense of self. The churches are very active here."
Parts of Frederick are filling up with newcomers who are separate from this sense of community, who lack the sense of place that comes with having the same neighbors one's entire life.
Many folks moved to Frederick because housing was less expensive than in neighboring Montgomery County to the south. Some wanted to get away from congestion, others sought a less-intense life in "the country."
Tensions arise from changing demographics. In the past 10 years, apartments have been reconverted into single-family houses amid a corresponding re-emergence of a middle class downtown. But as the revitalized downtown area attracts tourists as well as residents, people used to quiet are troubled by all the activity.
The suburbanites who sought refuge in Frederick are less tolerant and less sensitive to their responsibility to keep the peace, some longtime residents say. They indignantly complain about neighbors mowing lawns during Sunday church services.
But Frederick is still special, different from other historic areas and not so sanitized, Mrs. Dowling says. The trick is moving forward while preserving the past.
"Here, the roots of trees lift up bricks of the sidewalk and undulate," she says. "These things show the changes to the city over time and give a feeling of authenticity. It draws people to the small towns of everyone's childhood, whether you lived in one or saw it on TV."
Sarah Finefrock, a bartender at Griffins, came to Frederick four months ago to visit a close friend who had moved here.
"All I hear about is how much it has changed," says Miss Finefrock, 25, who originally is from Hawaii. "But I fell in love with Frederick. It is good to be recognized and greeted when you walk down the street."
William Lee, 74, has lived in Frederick all of his life. He remembers when the farming community had 15,000 people who all "knew each other" and "knew their place." But he says he welcomes the growth, particularly the economic development.
"It is the place to be," Mr. Lee says. "When I was 20 or 30 years old, I would never have thought Frederick would ascend to the heights we have."

At home here
Jack Foflygen, an artist who moved here five years ago, is among residents who believe Frederick "has lost some of its country atmosphere" in just the past few years.
"It is becoming a bedroom community," he says, heading into the Snow White Grill to eat and chat. "But I am still impressed with the way people care about their town."
Some do worry about how this place can continue to balance its charms and its growth. Politicians say they're concerned about how roads, schools and other "infrastructure" will accommodate a population surge.
"We want to make sure we allow people to [move] here without making it tough for those already here," Mrs. Ramsburg says. "We have problems: overcrowding in the schools, traffic backed up half a mile."
Still, she laments the movement to shut the gates, saying "the NIMBY attitude exists, and it's very sad."
Mrs. Dougherty says she used to always be asked where she was from even after living in the town for years.
"Now the questions aren't asked anymore," the mayor says. "More than half of us are not from here."
Many "newcomers" say those who have lived in the town for generations never will see them as belonging. But that doesn't deter them from adopting the city as their own.
"When my husband died seven years ago, people asked me if I was going home," says Mrs. Ramsburg, who moved to Frederick from Pennsylvania 15 years ago.
To which she answers: "I am home."


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