BAKERTON — From the air, the area around Bakerton rolls away into a patchwork of farm fields and narrow roads. Silos, barns and frame homes dot the landscape. What established the town, and its name, is a gap of calm, cerulean blue that was once an engine of commerce.
The now-defunct Engle Quarry, mined by a German immigrant family named Baker, gave the town its industry and its name. Today it is fenced, locked and equipped with signs warning against trespass. For years, the empty, water-filled quarry was just too enticing a summertime destination to resist.
In a history of eastern Jefferson County published in 2009, author William D. Theriault writes that “when the Bakerton plant closed…word soon spread that there was a new swimming hole where people could do anything they wanted with virtually no restrictions. Young people began arriving in Bakerton and staying all summer, living in tents, lean-tos, and tree houses, cultivating their own marijuana crop, and generally making the established residents of Bakerton hostile and miserable because of the noise, drugs, nudity, and profanity.”
On the Internet, YouTube videos from as recently as 2010 show young people splashing in the quarry water. “It’s all supposed to be ‘no trespassing,’” said Lt. Gary Lescalleet of the Bakerton Fire Department, who said he enjoyed a swim in the quarry as a youngster. “It’s all cleaned up and closed off.”
Today the center of activity in town is the Bakerton Market and Novelty Nook, which also serves as the post office.
“Anything that goes on, like a missing dog or a car, they call here, said proprietor Jerry Ballenger, who runs the store on Carter Avenue with his wife, Wanda, who doubles as the postmaster.
On a recent weekend, the store is teeming with activity from locals who come in for sandwiches — Ballenger calls them the best in town — or just to gather to talk.
At one time, Bakerton was a hub. The original town, known as Oak Grove, became Bakerton in the mid-18th century, when German immigrant Daniel Baker and his three sons, Joseph, William and Daniel II, arrived. They acquired hundreds of acres, 39 of which were underlaid with high-calcium limestone, which became the center of their mining operation. By 1888, they had established the Standard Lime & Stone Company and the following year, they built a railroad spur to connect their quarry with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. By 1890, the town was known as Bakerton.
As a company town, it was flush on payday. Stores opened, including a company store which deducted the cost of purchases from workers’ pay. The town’s school, which was destroyed during the Civil War, was reconstructed. Religious congregations grew. Several churches, including Methodist, Presbyterian and Protestant, were established. The company sponsored a baseball team.
Philanthropy took root in the form of the Buckingham School for Boys, which the Baker brothers established in 1898 to educate the sons of men killed or gravely injured in the mines. A school for black children was also established. The brothers established a pest house, to quarantine the ill and protect residents during epidemics, including an outbreak of smallpox in the early 20th century, and the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions worldwide.
The quarry persisted through the first half of the 20th century, slowing significantly through the Great Depression, but re-energizing during World War II. Succeeding generations of Bakers remained in plant management until 1954, when the company was sold. By 1957, the quarry was defunct and the plant was shuttered.
Today, Bakerton is quiet. The large machinery is gone and nature is reclaiming the land that people stripped of its minerals in the name of commerce.
“It’s a laid-back community,” Lescalleet said. “There’s not too much to do and there’s not too many people.”