The Little Town That Could: 9 1/2 Hours in Mount Airy

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The Mount Airy Rail Trail follows the route of an old B & O railroad line.

People are staying closer to home these days, but there’s still lots to do in the region. 9 ½ hours is a feature with suggestions for local day trips.

Drive west from Baltimore, and in about 30 miles you’ll hit Parr’s Ridge, a hump in the terrain that presented a challenge to railroad engineers in the 1830s. The ridge would become a train depot, and then the town of Mount Airy, a historic community that today boasts a small thriving downtown with a lot to see and do. Mount Airy embraces its past and is building a future based on small businesses and local sustainability.

We recommend throwing your bikes on the back of your car and heading out to where not one, not two, not three but FOUR counties come together. Mount Airy lies at the intersection of Howard, Carroll, Montgomery and Frederick counties, and the farms that surround it provide the grain, dairy, fruits and vegetables to supply its spirit makers, ice cream churners, eateries and other businesses. Exploring them all makes a great spot to spend 9 ½ hours.

Morning activity

The environs around Mount Airy provide some of the prettiest – and occasionally challenging – terrain for a road bike or mountain bike. Check out the route published by Carroll County Tourism, which maps out eleven miles around Mount Airy, giving cyclists access to valleys, ridges and farmland, as well as the B & O Railroad. (Look for the Mount Airy link).

If you end your ride at the 20-acre Watkins Park, 615 Center Street, you’ll be at the start of a short but scenic rail trail. The stretch is sometimes called the Old Main Line Trail, and runs for a half-mile along a crushed stone path through interesting rock formations and tree canopies. Local groups have plans to extend the length of the trail to four miles.

The trail ends in the train depot area of Mount Airy. Plan to lock your bikes and start exploring downtown. If you need to get your bike serviced or grab some accessories, stop in Patapsco Bicycles, 5 N. Main Street

Breakfast

It’s easy to eat healthy in Mount Airy thanks to Superfoods Café and Market. You’ll find raw, vegan and gluten-free choices here, yet there’s nothing somber or medicinal about the bright friendly little space.  Located at 106 S. Main Street, the café is a popular stop for the post-workout crowd, who slurp up smoothies in flavors like Berry Blast and Ultimate Health. Other choices include wraps, sweets, coffee, tea, and more.

The Sights

Mount Airy owes its existence to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad – it was a stop as the line headed out to Frederick, Cumberland and beyond – and the historic downtown has maintained the flavor of a 19th century village.

A rail caboose sits near the depot, and serves as a visitor center, although it’s now closed due to the novel coronavirus.

The Historical Society of Mount Airy has done an outstanding job curating and maintaining information about the many buildings that still date from the 19th and early 20th centuries in the historic downtown.

Each historic building in the downtown has a sign affixed to it that notes its original use, and then the subsequent uses through the years. For example, the Mount Airy Station, built in 1875, has been used as a pharmacy and medical offices in the years since. The commercial bank building was once the town’s library and before that the town hall.

Railroad history is everywhere in Mount Airy, even displayed on newer buildings.

Lunch and coffee stops

There are several casual and friendly restaurants along Main Street for a drink or a meal, such as Cryin’ Johnnies, 235 S. Main Street; CarterQue Barbeque and Grilling Co., 1310 S. Main Street; Laurienzo Brick Oven Café, 114 S. Main Street; and the Olde Town Restaurant and Bakery, 206 S. Main Street.

 

Spirits and Sweets

If you are downtown on a Saturday, stop by MISCellaneous Distillery, or, as the sign that beckons you says, Misc – an acronym for McNeill Independent Spirit Creative.

The business, at 114 S. Main Street, was built by the husband-and-wife team Dan McNeill, a former politico; and Meg Brill McNeill, who has a background in international development.

They use locally sourced grains to distill a variety of spirits on site, including rum, gin and vodka. The tasting room is open from 1 to 5 on Saturdays, and while reservations are recommended, walk-ins are also accepted for people who wish to order a cocktail, sample the spirits or take a tour.

If you need an ice cream fix (and of course you do), or want to pick or buy fresh fruits and vegetables, try the Rock Hill Orchard and Woodbourne Creamery, at 28600 Ridge Road. They boast the only “cow to cone” ice cream in the area. The peach ice cream, made with fruit grown on the property, tastes like a perfect summer day. Once you grab a cup from the contactless pickup, there are plenty of outdoor tables to enjoy the view. As the weather cools, check out the online schedule for apple-picking, corn mazes and other COVID-safe fall activities.

Happy Hour

For a more adult take on locally sourced deliciousness, try Black Ankle Vineyard, 14463 Black Ankle Road. The enormous patio overlooking the vineyards provides a delightful – and physically distanced — setting for sampling Black Ankle wines and noshing on olives and cheeses. It’s got covering to protect from a drizzle, and a terrific wait staff that will make you feel welcomed and relaxed.

Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron bought the land in the early 2000s, believing that the central Maryland Piedmont, sitting at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, has the right mix of rolling hills, rocky, low-fertility soils, regular breezes, sunshine and rain to be the home of some delicious wines.

If you don’t already have a favorite wine, the four-glass flights offer a nice way to find out which varieties you like best. Snacks are sold on-site, and visitors can also bring their own foods. Heck, you can even bring your dog if you want. We saw a bunch of super cute ones when we were there.

The author enjoys the closing hours of her time in Mount Airy, at the beautiful Black Ankle Winery and Vineyard

Getting there

It’s a pretty easy ride to get to Mount Airy. Get on I 70 and head west, until you get to the corners of the four counties.



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