The Lost Town Under Liberty Lake
This article is the first of a three-part series on the Liberty Reservoir.
Just below the surface of the water at Liberty Lake is a mill town, complete with buildings and roads—or at least it seems so if you use your imagination and look closely enough.
When the water level is low, you can see the foundations of buildings in the long-forgotten town of Oakland Mills, appearing at various spots along Liberty Reservoir's 81 miles of shoreline. The roads on either side of the lake once joined up at Oakland Mills. Now these same roads have become trails that dead-end at the water.
Liberty Reservoir is now a vital source of drinking water for Baltimore City and its suburbs, including Eldersburg and Reisterstown. Local residents of all ages know Liberty Reservoir is also a great spot for hiking, biking, fishing and enjoying nature.
But older locals will also tell you what it once was —a town that disappeared when the reservoir was constructed in the early 1950s.
Liberty Reservoir and its watershed comprise approximately 3,100 acres and are the property of the City of Baltimore. Located on the southern end of the Baltimore County / Carroll County border, the Reservoir was created by damming the North Branch of the Patapsco River in 1954.
As a result of that action, water slowly engulfed the remains of the small town of Oakland Mills, including a large factory building whose foundation still stands today—Melville Woolen Mill.
The City of Baltimore bought the factory building for Melville Woolen Mill in 1951 for $1.5 million in preparation for the building of Liberty Dam.
The factory was leveled with dynamite, leaving only its foundation behind. By 1956, the lake had filled, overflowing the Liberty Dam for the first time, and finally burying Oakland Mills under millions of gallons of water.
All the farms, houses and the Melville Wool Mill were purchased by the City of Baltimore during the 1940s. By 1954, the homes and businesses had been evacuated and the town of Oakland Mills ceased to exist. Many of the former Oakland Mills townspeople settled in what is now called Shervettes Corner, just west of the Liberty Watershed on Liberty Road. Others scattered throughout the Eldersburg/Sykesville/Reisterstown area.
However, the memory of Oakland Mills still exists, at least in the minds of an aging few, and the physical evidence of Oakland Mills' former presence can still be found throughout the Liberty Watershed. Besides the occasional citing of building foundations when the water is low, you can also spot remnants of former roads coming from either shore. Many of these roads once connected Baltimore and Carroll Counties.
Oakland Road can be found on either the Baltimore County side of Liberty Lake, off of Deer Park Road, or on the Carroll County side, off of Liberty Road. Both roads dead-end on either shore of the lake.
However, these roads once connected the two counties, forming one Oakland Road. Bollinger Mill Road, a dead-end road off of Route 32 in Louisville, once intersected with Oakland Road.
The current version of Bollinger Mill Road provides a sought-after location for expensive homes just north of Eldersburg. The closed portion, the east end of Bollinger Mill Road, provides a popular biking and hiking trail. It turns sharply south just before the water, ending at the tip of a peninsula that juts out into Liberty Lake. Bollinger Mill still points in the direction of its former intersection with Oakland Road, towards the flooded former town of Oakland Mills.
If you kick aside top inch of dirt and stones along the closed portion of Bollinger Mill Road, you can still find patches of blacktop pavement in the middle of the forest. Hikers, bikers and fisherman are particularly fond of this stretch of trail that was once a road. The shoreline near Bollinger Mill Road has traditionally been a great spot for fishing, especially for crappie and white perch.
Off Bollinger Mill Road, heading south is a small private road called Mineral Hill Road. Today Mineral Hill Road on the north side of Liberty Reservoir is a glorified driveway for a few houses, which winds through a farm and into the woods, where it joins up with the loop of fire trails around Liberty Reservoir.
You can see what remains of the actual Mineral Hill from the Route 32 (Sykesville Road) bridge over Liberty Lake. Looking east from the bridge, you will spot a huge mound of gray rock sliding into the water. This rock pile is the bottom of Mineral Hill, and provides evidence of the copper mining that once took place at this site.
Mineral Hill Road also exists south of the Rt. 32 bridge, off Pine Knob Road. At one time, both ends of Mineral Hill Road were connected as a through street between Eldersburg and the village of Louisville.
Irving Ruby Road, near sections 2 and 3 of Strawbridge Estates in Eldersburg, used to be Sykesville Road, crossing parallel and west of the current bridge over Liberty Reservoir on Route 32. Irving Ruby deadends at the Watershed property now, but at one time it would go down hill, crossing a small stream, and going up hill again, joining the current Sykesville Road (Route 32) just south of Powder's Produce.
For years the ruin of the north side of the former small bridge was visible almost all the time, even when the water was high. That concrete peninsula finally crumbled into the water in 2004, nearly five decades after the road had been closed to traffic.
Today, Irving Ruby Road on the south side of the Route 32 bridge at Liberty and a ¼ mile stretch of straight, paved road on the north side of the bridge are all that remains of the former, pre-lake Sykesville Road.
There is a bridge over Liberty Reservoir that is temporarily closed for much-needed repairs, the Nicodemus Road Bridge, which joins Baltimore and Carroll Counties. Local residents have used this bridge for years as a shortcut from Reisterstown to Carroll County, or to go from Carroll County to the Franklin Boulevard exit of I-795.
Nicodemus Bridge has also become a very popular fishing spot over the years, but the closing of the span has halted fishing off the bridge.The bridge will not reopen until summer 2011.
The area just west, on the Carroll County side of the bridge, still provides ample choices for hiking on quiet acreage, especially now while traffic has been eliminated.
Liberty Reservoir holds many secrets under its water and in its forests. There are copper mines, quarries, old roads and a flooded town to explore. There are numerous trails for hiking, biking and exploring.
We will unlock the secrets of those trails and favorite fishing spots during the next installment of this series.