Written By Kimberly Liddick-Byrnes
New Market, Maryland, is a little gem tucked away in the green stretches of rural Frederick County. Just a 40-minute drive from Westminster, the town has been evolving for more than 250 years to: (1) meet the needs of the travelers who stop there and (2) sometimes just to stay on the map.
With a population that has hovered around 450 for much of its existence, New Market appeared on the map in 1793. It quickly became a sprawling town because of its location along a major east-west thoroughfare, the Baltimore-Frederick Roadway.
The roadway cut right through the center of town and flourished until the mid-1950s. In 1954, US Route 40 was built, diverting the traffic around New Market, and suddenly the town was no longer on a major travel route. But it was not ready to be just a footnote in the history books.
As a business, the antiques trade came to New Market in the 1930s, and eventually the town was able to call itself a mecca for antique lovers. By the 1970s and 80s, New Market’s more than 30 antique stores were not just selling yesterday’s junk. The shops often specialized in fine 18th and 19th century period pieces as well as jewelry, silver and brass, china, toys and other treasures.
Robert Esterly has been building furniture and selling antiques in New Market since the early 1970s. He said he remembers when New Market was a tourist destination for antique lovers. People would come on charter buses and spend the entire day shopping in the small town. In fact, for some time, New Market was known as the Antique Capital of Maryland.
But Esterly said that in the late 1980s and the 1990s, antique malls started to become popular. At the same time, many of the older antique shop owners in New Market were retiring or ready to get out of the business. So again, New Market became quiet. But the town was not ready to fade away.
Today, New Market is evolving again. The quaint little half-mile stretch of Main Street has always remained true to its history. From the brick, tree-lined sidewalks, to the street lamps and the barrel trash cans, the town has always maintained the historical flavor of its founding days. And that is exactly its beauty and attraction.
But do not be fooled by the size. There is much to see and do in downtown New Market. Here is a possible itinerary:
Friday, 5 p.m. Check into the Strawberry Inn
Jane Rossig has owned and run the Strawberry Inn since the mid-1970s. She feels that New Market is like a little secret.
“I believe New Market is the best restored town in the whole state of Maryland,” Rossig said. “I don’t know where else you can have all of this: preserved history, peace and quiet, specialty shops, fine dining, and safe streets to stroll in the evening.”
Dubbed “a tiny jewel in a Victorian setting” by The New York Times, the Strawberry Inn boasts four guest rooms each with its own bathroom. Rossig takes pride in the fact that she is old fashioned, explaining that she is not on the internet, doesn’t take credit cards and enjoys the personal interaction.
Friday, 7 p.m. Dinner at Mealey’s Restaurant
The original part of the building in which Mealey’s is located was constructed in 1793. It likely served first as a store and limited living quarters. Although it looks very different today, the original structure is intact. The colonial log building is now enclosed in the larger brick building.
For many years the building, then known as the Utz Hotel, offered travelers a place to sleep, rest their horses, and grab a bite to eat. In fact, sitting in what is now the main dining room, also known as the Pump Room, is an antique wooden water pump, used by travelers heading West.
Seated in a quaint, candlelit dining room, restaurantgoers will have a tough time deciding among the unique and varied choices on the menu. For starters there is a grilled brie and garlic crostini with bruschetta salad for $11.99 or a roasted beet salad for $4.99. Dinner entrees, heavy on seafood, include mustard and coriander crusted Alaskan sockeye salmon for $24.95 or porcini-crusted tenderloin steak for $21.95.
Friday, 8 p.m. Fresh air and a Stroll
New Market is attractive because of its history, shops and restaurants; but part of its beauty lies in its simplicity. When strolling down the street, next to the brick front homes that still wear their shutters, you can just envision the horse drawn carriages clopping down the street and women in hoop skirts and bonnets leading their children home after church. Lovely blooming flower boxes adorn some of the homes and a stroll down some of the alleyways will lead to beautiful yards overflowing with mature trees, flower beds, vegetable gardens and sitting areas; a quiet, peaceful place sure to draw the stress out of even the most overworked visitor.
Saturday, 10 a.m Shopping
After a delicious breakfast made to order by Innkeeper Jane Rossig (her specialty is eggs benedict) and eaten on a patio surrounded by grape vines, it is time to hit the shops on Main Street.
There are still at least 10 antique dealers on the half-mile stretch of Main Street, in addition to a host of other shops. The General Store, opened just three years ago by Kristen Travers, offers an eclectic mix of the old and new. In addition to country style home dcor, the shop offers natural hand made soaps and candles, specialty lotions, eco-friendly cleaning products and jars filled with candy.
The 1812 house, owned by David Price, offers furniture and porcelain as well as artwork from local artists and jewelry. Price, like many other business owners in New Market, uses the building as both a business and a residence.
Robert Esterly, owner of Robert Esterly Antiques, is known throughout the country for his cabinetmaking. In addition to winning a national woodworking award in 1985, Esterly was contracted to work on the collection of Dr. C. Ray Franklin in North Carolina (descendant of Benjamin Franklin), where he restored many impressive pieces including a Federal inlaid mahogany tambour writing desk and bookcase, which is illustrated in the book, “Highly Important American Furniture Collection of Dr. C. Ray Franklin” in 1984.
The Little Pottery Shop at 80 W. Main features the work of more than 50 local and nationally renowned potters. Hand-forged iron, candles, hand crafted jewelry and wildlife sculptures are also showcased.
There are 32 shops in this quaint little stretch of yesteryear, each worth a visit. Word has it that there may soon be a bookstore and a blacksmith added to the mix. In its quiet way, the town is evolving.
David Price grew up a mile and a half from New Market’s main street. He said he remembers riding his bike into town to get popsicles at the General Store.
“Now I’ve moved back to New Market to live and run a business.” he said. “I have two teenage daughters and a seven-year-old son. We walk down to the General Store to play checkers and the winner buys ice cream. It’s totally Mayberry stuff, but I love it.”
Price, like so many who live and work in New Market, is deeply invested in seeing the town flourish. Price said it was sad for a while because shops sat vacant. But the town changed its zoning several years ago, a move allow a wider ranging of businesses to come to New Market. The zoning shift allowed businesses to sell items including jewelry, art and food among other things.
Price is the president of the Downtown New Market Partnership, formed last year to promote the historical, cultural and economic future of the town. He said that community, including its residents, churches and business owners, are working together to make sure that New Market is a must-see destination for a long time.
“I would love to see New Market become a sort of mini-Williamsburg, where locals are dressed to period and visitors can really make an event out of coming here.” he said. “We have the history, it has been pristinely preserved, and the enthusiasm to make New Market even better is here.”
Although New Market is not yet a mini-Williamsburg, there are times throughout the year when the town celebrates its history and allows visitors to get a glimpse into the past.
According to General Store owner Kristen Travers, the town combines the Christmas holiday spirit with a celebration of history. New Market’s winter holiday takes place in the first weekend in December. Visitors will be delighted by the town Christmas tree standing in Messanelle Memorial Park in the middle of town, the strolling carolers, handmade refreshments available at different shops, extended shopping hours and homes and businesses exquisitely decorated in period style.
And in the spring, New Market also recognizes its history with New Market Days, a weekend-long festival that features business owners and residents dressed in historical costumes, a Civil War encampment, sword fighting lessons and working blacksmiths, among other things. The next New Market Days is scheduled for May of 2009.