Written By Carol Cahall

At the heady altitude of about 830 feet, Mount Airy is the highest point between Baltimore and Braddock Heights. A brisk, steady wind is not uncommon. Local folks often comment, “they don’t call this Mount Airy for nothing!” More precisely, the derivation of the town’s name may have a lot to do with fresh air.

The B&O Railroad was instrumental in the establishment and development of the town, and the Mount Airy Historical Society attributes the inspiration for its name to a railroad worker’s remark that the location had a quality of “airishness.”

Furthermore, at the end of the 19th century, the purity of the local atmosphere led the Grace Church Dispensary of Baltimore to establish a sanitarium for sick and indigent city children in Mount Airy. The B&O carried them out of the urban setting to the healthier environment of “mount airy.”

In any event, from Civil War and railroad history to galleries and boutiques, as well as for some of the best dining in Carroll County, Mount Airy is well worth a visit. Whether you have an hour, a day or a weekend, there is plenty to explore and something for everyone in the family.

Situated in the southwestern corner of Carroll County, the town is near Westminster (Route 27) and Frederick (I-70). Baltimore and Washington are less than an hour away by car. Just south of Mount Airy, the four counties of Frederick, Montgomery, Howard and Carroll, converge at Parrs Spring, where the Patapsco River originates.

If you drive to Mount Airy on I-70, you can catch glimpses of the old National Pike, known to a younger generation as Route 40. Many historians consider it the most famous road in American history. After the country achieved its independence, it was clear that the lack of good roads was a problem. Planning for the National Pike started during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency in 1806. The signs on I-70 say “Historic Mount Airy,” and they aren’t kidding.

Historical Sites
You can find several interesting sites right on Main Street. Good signage off of Route 27 will take you right into the old downtown. Like many towns in the U.S., Mount Airy’s growth and development were directly linked to the development of the railroads. Take a look at the Mount Airy train depot. The original portion of the building was erected in 1875, and the waiting room, which is currently occupied by a pharmacy, was built in 1882. The train station is the second oldest on the original Baltimore & Ohio Railway.

If you stand with the train station at your back and look across Main Street, slightly to the right you can see The First National Bank of Mount Airy. The original building, built in 1905, burned down twice – once in 1914 and again in 1915. The present day structure was built to provide fire protection from inside and out, but is currently empty. Local developers plan to incorporate the building into a shopping and office center.

A short walk to the south, on the corner of Main and Park, is Mount Airy’s own Flat Iron Building built in 1903. The shape of the building, that of an old- fashioned clothes iron, was a common style for buildings located on pie-shaped lots. It is the home of the Mount Airy Museum which, unfortunately, is currently closed for renovations.

If you enjoy walking, you can continue on for another half mile, up the hill to Pine Grove Chapel. Civil War enthusiasts will find it interesting that, during the Civil War, troops from Company K of the 14th New Jersey Regiment were sent to Mount Airy to guard the railroad. Soldiers used the church as sleeping quarters. Originally built in 1846, the church was renovated and reopened in 1867. Its basement was used as a private school. The floor and pulpit are original to the building, and the benches–later used by Union soldiers to sleep on–are the ones first installed in the old church.

Another interesting site, especially if you’re a B&O Railroad buff, is Mount Airy’s Twin Arch bridge, completed in 1901. Located on Twin Arch Road, off of Route 27, the masonry span was built to correct the difference in elevation between the railroad, turnpike and adjacent stream. The surviving one lane bridge is actually east of the original, which was torn down during a major reconstruction of the old B&O Main Line in 1901.

Shopping and Eating

The specialty shops on Main Street always deserve a look. You can find everything from skateboards, collectibles, antiques and handmade items to balloons and gifts. A block off Main, at the intersection of Center and Cross Streets, is the Shops of Yesteryear antique mall, a must-see for anyone with an interest in antiques and unique collectibles. The Olde Town Restaurant on Main Street is a good place to enjoy a home cooked meal and a break while touring the town. Buffalo Wings and Beer, at the south end of downtown, is a good place to “wet your whistle” and play some pool.

Twin Arch Shopping Center, on the corner of Route 27 and Twin Arch Road, is the home of various shops, including the newly opened TJ Maxx and Homegoods store as well as the Olive Leaf Restaurant. Mount Airy Shopping Center off of Route 27 offers more shops and restaurants, including New York J&P Pizza and Memories Charcoal House, both of which have outside dining.

Of course, there are a variety of fast food places (easily seen from Route 27) to choose from, many of which offer indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids. If you are interested in fine dining, there’s always the Brick Ridge Restaurant just north of Mount Airy on Route 27 (reservations are usually required). Panne Vino, tucked away in a small shopping plaza behind the McDonalds and visible from Main Street just off of Route 27, serves unique Italian food.

Something New
Although history is more than enough of a draw for Mount Airy, it is also a growing and evolving community. From the TJ Maxx and Homegoods (previously mentioned) to the When Pigs Fly gallery in downtown, Mount Airy offers an eclectic and fascinating diversity of shops. Immediately upon entering downtown you will notice that two historic buildings are being renovated. They will be occupied in the fall by Metro-Retro and a greatly expanded Inspiration Point, both specializing in unique homegoods and furniture. If you are looking for a pick me up, The Vintage Coffee Shop is opening in downtown. A new yarn and knitting store is expected to open next to the train station in the near future.

Especially for the Kids
Mount Airy’s Watkins Park is a unique destination for families with children. From picnic areas, complete with outdoor grills, to an outstanding skateboard park, there is something for everyone. Watkins Park also sports soccer and baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts, traditional playgrounds, and a walking trail. The skateboard park, operated by the town, requires paid admission ($5) and is supervised whenever it is open. Proper safety gear is required.

If Watkins Park doesn’t have what the kids are looking for, turn east on Center Street off Main in downtown. Continue past the Shops of Yesteryear and you will come to the Mount Airy Bowling Lanes, where you can try your hand at duckpin bowling. In addition to welcoming walk-in customers, the bowling alley caters to children’s birthday parties.