This past weekend, my family and I spent some time at the annual German Festival, held this year at the Exhibition Hall located at Timonium State Fairgrounds. As I listened to the polka music and enjoyed the traditional German-style food and drinks, I was reminded of the important role that German immigrants have played in the history of our state and local community.
Much of my own family heritage can be traced to the northern part of Germany, not far from Berlin, the historic capital of Prussia. Starting around the middle of the 19th century, Germans began a mass migration to America.
The first major influx of German immigrants to Perry Hall arrived in the mid-1850s. In 1852, Harry Dorsey Gough Carroll (the grandson of Perry Hall's founder), sold just over 800 acres of his family's estate, known as Perry Hall. This land was in turn subdivided into many smaller farm plots, which were to be bought by the German-Americans who settled in our area.
Ultimately, the center of this community was near what is today the intersection of Belair and Chapel roads. Given the ethnic character of this new community, it should come as no surprise that it was given the name Germantown. To this day, if you happen to check your ADC map of Baltimore County, this moniker is still used to refer to that general area.
Looking at many of today's street names, you'll get a sense of the German heritage of early Perry Hall. Roads like Schroeder Avenue, Gerst Road, Kahlston Road and Klausmier Road bear the names of some of the German families who settled in the area. The Germans who moved to Perry Hall in the second half of the 19th century were industrious, hard-working people. They worked the land, with many becoming "truck farmers," who grew produce and trekked into Baltimore City to sell the fruits of their labor.
Over time, the German-Americans of Perry Hall branched out into a variety of other endeavors, with many becoming prominent citizens. Much of their heritage grew into community traditions.
Every year, on May 1, the old Perry Hall School would hold a large May Day celebration, not unlike those that were held in small villages across Germany. In addition, there were often annual harvest festivals, where locals would celebrate the end of what was hopefully a productive growing season.
Perry Hall has certainly benefited from the presence of a wide variety of citizens, representing a host of ethnic traditions. Still, it is important to look back and recognize the Germans who came to our community as the first major influx of immigrants to our area. Positively, their influence can still be felt today.