Glen Burnie has been mentioned quite a few times in Maryland related nodes, but sadly nobody has gotten around to noding this quintessential blue collar Maryland suburb. Windigo's node Glen Burnie Sunset does a pretty good job of setting the mood, but I figure with my many years of living and working in and around Glen Burnie, that I am as good a noder as any to tell its story. Glen Burnie is the bustling and unpretentious anchor for the south end of the Baltimore metropolitan area - a sea of car dealers, shopping centers, and housing developments. Glen Burnie is too big to be a small town and too small to be a city, and just old enough to have at least a little bit of seedy charm hidden among the strip malls. It is the address of choice for upwardly mobile residents of Baltimore, Dundalk, Brooklyn Park, and Essex.
Glen Burnie is located about 10 miles south of Baltimore, in the Northern part of Anne Arundel County. Officially, it is located at 39.16 North, 76.6 West. Unoffically, Glen Burnie spreads along Maryland Route 2 from Exit 3 on the Baltimore Beltway south to Maryland Route 100 for a distance of about 5 miles, and a couple of miles on either side. Neighboring towns are Brooklyn Park to the North, Linthicum and BWI to West, Severn to the Southwest, Severna Park to the South, and Pasadena, Curtis Bay and Rivera Beach to the East. Nominally, the center of town is at the intersection of Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and Ritchie Highway, about 3 miles South of the Baltimore Beltway. There are also several exits along Interstate 97, Maryland Route 100, and Maryland Route 10 which lead directly into Glen Burnie.
Population (2000): 38,922
Median Family Income: $45,281
Ethnic Makeup: White: 81%, African American 13.5%, Hispanic 2.8%
Glen Burnie is the commercial hub for the Northern half of Anne Arundel County, as well as neighboring parts of Baltimore City and parts of Baltimore County as well, benefitting from its proximity to BWI, and the convergence of several major highways in or near Glen Burnie. Glen Burnie is also the home to Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration, and a diverse collection of light manufacturing and service industries as well. Glen Burnie is most noted for its commercial district which stretches nearly unbroken for over 5 miles along Ritchie Highway. The sheer volume of automobile dealerships and shopping centers has inspired some people to give Glen Burnie the nickname of Chrome City. Glen Burnie does not really have a downtown, although what passes for downtown is centered around the area of Ritchie Highway, Crain Highway and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, where the town originally took root.
The first modern settlement of Glen Burnie commenced when land was deeded to Elias Glenn, who established a county seat in the area. The Glenn family ran a sucessful business during the 19th century known as the Curtis Creek
Mining Company, and the settlement was officially recognized by the state of Maryland in 1888. It wasn't until 1930
that the name was officially changed to Glen Burnie.
Glen Burnie gained two major thoroughfares in the early part of the 20th century which spurred its growth. The first was Crain Highway, which connected Baltimore to US 301 in 1927, and became the town's main street. In 1939, Ritchie Highway opened, a four lane highway which connected Baltimore with Annapolis and which ran parallel to Crain Highway for several miles. After World War 2, Ritchie Highway became the focus of growth and a bustling commercial district developed along its roadside in the 1940s and 1950s, in particular car dealerships and shopping centers which dominate Ritchie Highway to this day. Along with the commercial development, thousands of houses were built in Levittown style developments in the areas surrounding the commercial development along Ritchie Highway. In 1959, Glen Burnie became host to Harundale Mall, the nation's first totally enclosed shopping mall, the first of several malls to be built in Glen Burnie. In 1961, the State of Maryland opened the new main office of the Motor Vehicle Administration at the north end of town adjacent to the then brand new interchange with the Baltimore Beltway. In a town that seemingly was built to sell and service the automotive lifestyle, it seems fitting that the MVA was located in Glen Burnie.
Life wasn't so sweet along Crain Highway in the 1960s however. Development had bypassed the older commercial business district, and the business district along Crain near B & A Boulevard deteriorated into a seedy and blighted stretch of abandoned storefronts, seedy bars, garages, and even seedier porno shops, while development boomed along nearby Ritchie Highway. In addition, the B & A Railroad had been abandoned, leaving a derelict abandoned right of way right adjacent to the old commercial district.
In the 1970's an effort to revitalize the old downtown was undertaken. The centerpiece was a new courthouse and local government service facility located between Ritchie Highway and Crain Highway, along B & A Boulevard. The new courthouse and government center also included an adjacent parking garage which provided badly needed parking not only for employees of the government center, but for local businesses as well. A new multiplex theater was also built as part of the center. The efforts to redevelop the "downtown" continued with the conversion of the abandoned B & A Railroad right of way into a hiker-biker trail.
Glen Burnie Today
Today, Glen Burnie has sprawled toward and pretty much swallowed many neighboring towns, as space within Glen Burnie proper has been pretty much built out. Over the last fifteen or 20 years, most of this growth has been along Ordinance Road east of Ritchie Highway, starting with industrial parks in the 70's, followed by some big box retailers, such as Home Depot, Costco, and Wal-Mart. Growth has also taken place along the southern part of Crain Highway down where Glen Burnie borders with Severn, where new shopping centers and apartment complexes have sprung up in recent years. Since redevelopment efforts of the '70s and '80s, the heart of Glen Burnie has seen a modest rebirth, and the area around the courthouse is filled with attractive little shops and attractions. Most of the northern parts of Crain and B & A Boulevard outside of the immediate downtown are still lined with a gritty mix of used car dealers, repair garages, and houses converted into commercial offices, and retains the flavor of the real Glen Burnie. As has been the case for decades, the big car dealers and shopping centers still rule the roadside along Ritchie Highway. Unable to compete with the much larger and more upscale Marley Station Mall a mile away, Harundale Mall is gone, and the real estate redeveloped as a regular shopping center. The residential neighborhoods surrounding the business district are mostly stable, though a few areas have endured some periods of urban blight, mostly during periods of recession. Despite its warts, Glen Burnie is not a bad place to live, it is convenient to Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, and is affordable and unpretentious. I might even move back there someday.