Robert Durham

Robert Durham has lived in Finksburg since 1960. Robert talks about how rural Carroll County want many years ago.


Robert Durham

KAREN COHEN: My name is Karen Cohen, and I’m a graduate student at McDaniel College. And today, Thursday, June 9, 2011, I will be interviewing Bob Durham of Finksburg, Maryland. Thank you, Bob, for allowing me into your lovely home and agreeing to this interview. I will start by asking you some background questions. Where were you born?

ROBERT DURHAM: Born in, um, Venetia, Pennsylvania.

KAREN COHEN: OK. And where did you grow up?

ROBERT DURHAM: Venetia, Pennsylvania.

KAREN COHEN: So you grew up in Pennsylvania?

ROBERT DURHAM: It’s south, uh, southwest of Pittsburgh.


ROBERT DURHAM: Little town.

KAREN COHEN: OK. Not far from Carroll County. Uh, what year were you born?

ROBERT DURHAM: 1933– 32. 3.

KAREN COHEN: OK. Um, when did you move to Carroll County?


KAREN COHEN: 1960? Uh, what was it like when you came to Carroll County?

ROBERT DURHAM: Carroll County was mostly a farm area. Rural, very rural. 140 was in, but, uh, you could travel from Reisterstown to Westminster and never see a car. The only shopping center was Westminster Shopping Center. It was a co-op. And the department stores, most of the stores were on Main Street in Westminster.

KAREN COHEN: Tell me a little bit about the co-op.

ROBERT DURHAM: Co-op was a grocery store, pretty much like Food Lion or any other grocery stores we have now. But that was the only one. And on Main Street was most of the– uh, was the department store and most of the businesses. Uh, there’s Pennsylvania Avenue– there was, uh, a Farmall tractor store.

There were two lumber companies– Bruce Smith and Reifsnider, where the fire company is now. And Schaeffer Lumber Company, where Belair– I think it’s Belair Block or Bel Air Stone there now. It was pretty much rural.

KAREN COHEN: What were– what were some of the sights and sounds that you experienced? I know that you had mentioned to me before about how it was neat to drive up to the co-op. Can you–

ROBERT DURHAM: Oh, yeah. When you go to the co-op on Saturday, all the farmers would be there with their pickup trucks. And you could smell the manure on the trucks. That doesn’t happen anymore.


ROBERT DURHAM: But, uh, It was very nice, very nice. But with the growth in Carroll County, the two lumber companies have folded. They were both family-owned. And there was a lumber company that we dealt with in Lineboro, Kopp Lumber Company. They’re no longer there. They’ve closed up, mostly because of Home Depot and Lowe’s.

KAREN COHEN: Sure. [INAUDIBLE]. Have you always lived in the house you’re in now?

ROBERT DURHAM: No, my goodness. We’ve uh– when we moved here, we rented a house at Hillandale Farms, near where the Hillandale Trailer Court is. Well, the big house there, when Mr. and Mrs. Lassiter owned it. We rented the small brick house beside it.

And the funny thing about it was after we moved in, he says, where are you going to go to church? I said, well, we haven’t decided yet. He said, well, we go to Sandy Mount. You might as well go there. So we went to Sandy Mount Church. And we got very active in the church.

KAREN COHEN: Did you ride with them sometimes to church?

ROBERT DURHAM: No, no. It’s only right up the road from where we lived. And like I said, we got very active in church. Sally was a volunteer, uh, secretary there for, for 10 years. And we built the new church. I was a building committee chairman. And, uh, we had a good time. We used to have dinners there every summer. And people come from all over– Baltimore, come to the dinners.


ROBERT DURHAM: And we worked on the dinners. It was a nice church.

KAREN COHEN: Do you still belong to that church?

ROBERT DURHAM: Oh, yeah, we still belong to it.

KAREN COHEN: OK. Um, how old were your children when you moved to the house you’re in now?

ROBERT DURHAM: Our son– oh, in this house? Um.

KAREN COHEN: Whatever. I mean–

ROBERT DURHAM: When we moved, when we moved here, our son was two years old and our daughter wasn’t– she wasn’t born yet. We went back to Monongahela, and that’s where she was born, in Pennsylvania. Because Carroll County didn’t have a hospital at that time.

KAREN COHEN: Oh, so you went– drove all the way to Pennsylvania to have your daughter?


KAREN COHEN: That must– interesting. How far of a drive was that?

ROBERT DURHAM: It’s about, uh, four hours, I guess, four or five hours.

KAREN COHEN: So Sally, your wife, had to be ready and no–

ROBERT DURHAM: Well, she stayed with her mother and father.


ROBERT DURHAM: And her father took her to the hospital in a Porsche. She could hardly get in or out.

KAREN COHEN: And so, so you were down here–


KAREN COHEN: –at the time. And so you had to drive up to meet her at the hospital.

ROBERT DURHAM: Right, right.

KAREN COHEN: And did you have your son with you?


KAREN COHEN: OK. So that must have been a– a hurried drive.

ROBERT DURHAM: Yeah, it was.

KAREN COHEN: It’s a long drive for that. Um, so, so you said your son was two. And then you had your daughter how many years after that?

ROBERT DURHAM: About three years.

KAREN COHEN: Three years later.


KAREN COHEN: And then Sally and your daughter moved back down.

ROBERT DURHAM: Well, as soon as she was born and was released from the hospital, she came back.

KAREN COHEN: OK. And so were you still at the house at Hillandale?

ROBERT DURHAM: Yes, we were.

KAREN COHEN: And then where did you go?

ROBERT DURHAM: Well, we, uh, we bought a piece of ground over on Emerald Drive outside of Sykesville on Liberty Reservoir. And we built a, uh, an Albi home.

And Albi was a company that was located in Ohio. And when we went to them and talked to them, they said that they would give us the final mortgage on it. But after we had it built, uh, they declined. They wouldn’t do that.

And so we went to the bank. And Mr. [INAUDIBLE] was president of the Union National Bank at that time. And there was a branch bank down in Finksburg. And Joe Beaver was a manager of that. We went to him.

And he said, well, let me talk to the manager. And so in a couple days, we met with Mr. [INAUDIBLE]. He came over and he said, looked at the house, and we were there working. He said, sweat equity is good, and gave us a loan.

KAREN COHEN: Oh, that’s nice.

ROBERT DURHAM: And we lived there for a few years. And then we– I built houses besides teaching school. I guess I’ve built– I don’t know– 20 houses or so in Carroll County.


ROBERT DURHAM: And we went from there, and we built a house over in Bethel Ridge. And we lived there for a few years. I built us– I built two houses over there. And then we moved here and built the house that Carter lives in. And then we built this house. And then I’ve built several houses since then.

KAREN COHEN: So how long have you lived in this home that you’re in now?

ROBERT DURHAM: We’ve been here, what, about 20 years, I guess. Something like that.

KAREN COHEN: That’s great.

ROBERT DURHAM: I’m not good with dates. [INAUDIBLE].

KAREN COHEN: That’s OK. OK, so, Bob, you’ve been a teacher for many years. How many years did you teach?

ROBERT DURHAM: I taught 30 years, 20 of those down at Franklin Senior High School, grades 9 through 12. I taught industrial arts– woodworking, architectural drawing, and machine drawing.

And then I taught in the school over in Essex. It was Battle Monument School. And, uh, Eastwood Center, I was in Eastwood Center, which was a high school [INAUDIBLE]. And it was for physically and mentally handicapped kids. And I taught there for 10 years. I taught woodworking and a little bit of drawing. And our biggest project– I’d have 12 kids at a time. And our biggest project was making crab mallets. We probably made crab mallets for every restaurant in Baltimore.

KAREN COHEN: Did you sell your pieces to these restaurants?

ROBERT DURHAM: Oh, yeah, yeah.

KAREN COHEN: So you made money for the school.

ROBERT DURHAM: We made enough money that every year we took the kids on a trip.


ROBERT DURHAM: But a crab mallet– you know what a crab mallet is. We had to divide it up into 12 different jobs to make a crab mallet. And we made thousands of them. And we made picnic tables and outdoor chairs, and that kind of thing.

KAREN COHEN: It’s a valuable skill to learn.

ROBERT DURHAM: Well, they enjoyed it. I don’t know if they learned much, but they enjoyed it.

KAREN COHEN: Well, I think, uh, I think it is a valuable skill. The skill is starting to wane now in public schools.


KAREN COHEN: So I think that’s a good thing. What are some of the changes you remember about the school environment where you taught during the 1960s and ’70s?

ROBERT DURHAM: You know, there weren’t too many changes, I don’t think. The biggest change was when Madalyn– Madalyn Murray– she got– we used to, on the PA system, they would read a Bible verse every morning and have pledge allegiance to the flag.

And she got the Bible out of the, out of the schools. And shortly after that, they didn’t have to say the Pledge. If they didn’t want to, they could sit at their– they didn’t have to stand up and pledge if they didn’t want to do that. They could just sit at their chair.

And from that time on, you could see the schools going downhill. Discipline became worse. I had kids that would wear flags on the back of their pants and sit on the flag all day long.

So I think that was one of the worst things that happened in the school. Now, that was in the senior high school. We didn’t have that with the physically and mentally handicapped. Those kids– remember, I’m teaching industrial arts– those kids really had very limited abilities. But, boy, they gave you 100% of it. The other kids, they were just there to get through.

KAREN COHEN: Yeah. How you– how did the Civil Rights Movement affect your– the teaching environment?

ROBERT DURHAM: I really didn’t see any effect where I was at at all. In the high school, or– I only had two black kids that I taught. And, uh, didn’t have– you know, they were fine. I didn’t have any problems with them.

When I moved to the, uh, special ed school, I had an aide, which was a black fellow. And he was outstanding. So I really didn’t have any effect with that.

KAREN COHEN: So you worked directly with, with your– the aide that you had.

ROBERT DURHAM: Yeah, the aide came in. And, uh, every teacher had an aide that would come in and help. Of course what we were doing with those kids, you know, with saws and drill presses and all that stuff. We needed somebody to be there with them to help them.


ROBERT DURHAM: Keep them safe.

KAREN COHEN: What were some of the things that you may have noticed that changed in Carroll County from when you moved here in the 1960s to now?

ROBERT DURHAM: I think Carroll County became a bedroom community. There’s a lot of people that, uh, live here and work in Baltimore. Farms started to diminish. Farmers started growing houses instead of corn. And I think that was a big, a big change.

And of course, then, the other box stores come in. And that’s what put the lumber companies out of business and put some of the grocery stores out of business. And of course, the tractor place in Westminster went out of business. It was a Farmall Tractor.

KAREN COHEN: The co-op disappeared.

ROBERT DURHAM: The co-op disappeared. But just another– another grocery store went in there. So.

KAREN COHEN: Did you ever witness any discrimination, can you recall, while you were shopping? Or anything that bothered you that didn’t seem right to someone of another race.

ROBERT DURHAM: Yeah, I never noticed that in shopping or anything. But when I was– when I was building houses, I built two houses over in Bethel Ridge. And I was having some lumber delivered from the store, and I can’t remember the name of the place, the lumber company in Frederick. And it was a black man that delivered it.

And usually about 10 o’clock I would go out and get coffee and donuts for the guys who were working for me. And I remember he, he delivered the load of lumber. And we were having our coffee break.

And I just handed him the bag of donuts. I said, take a doughnut. He wouldn’t do it. He, uh, wouldn’t take it. I said, come on, take a doughnut. It doesn’t rub off. And he did.

KAREN COHEN: He did. Well, that’s good. He probably wasn’t used to that.

ROBERT DURHAM: No, probably not.

KAREN COHEN: No. How did the construction of Highway 795 change Carroll in your eyes?

ROBERT DURHAM: Oh, my goodness. That opened the floodgates.


ROBERT DURHAM: And, uh, people started– you know, they built that, and when they did build it, they were talking about that was going to really relieve the pressure off of Reisterstown Road. And it did. But not anymore. There’s as much traffic on Reisterstown Road now as there was before they ever built it.

But of course, the other road now has got a lot of traffic on there, too. But that really opened up Carroll County. And a lot of building going on in Carroll County. And not many farmers anymore.

We have a friend who’s a farmer down here on Old Westminster Pike. And he owns ground that borders both sides of 140. And he does a little farming, but not like he used to be. And I think most of the farms have gone that way in Carroll County. So 140, I guess, was good, and it brought more people in. But it also destroyed the life of some people– farmers, particularly.

KAREN COHEN: Yeah. Did it improve your quality of life, or did it make it more difficult?

ROBERT DURHAM: The only way it improved it is it makes it easier to–

KAREN COHEN: Get from one place.

ROBERT DURHAM: Get one place to the other. But it’s– and I’m not even sure that that’s an improvement because it’s really not safe to be on 140 anymore, the way traffic is. And speeding doesn’t mean anything anymore. People are terrible drivers.

Other than moving traffic, I think that’s the only improvement.


ROBERT DURHAM: Brought a lot of people into the county, that’s all. And also 140 and, and 795, we travel back to Pittsburgh every once in awhile. We usually leave here, oh, I don’t know, 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning.

And there is a steady stream of cars from Gettysburg down to Westminster and down 140 that time of the morning. And they’re all going to work somewhere down here in Maryland. So that just brought more people in, also. Of course, everybody has a right to be where they want to be.

KAREN COHEN: That’s right.


KAREN COHEN: Well, I want to thank you again for allowing me to come into your home and to interview you for the Carroll County History Project. You have been very helpful.

ROBERT DURHAM: Well, thank you.