History of the Reisterstown Area


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The Reister Family


John Reister was born in 1715 in Germany. Reister was educated in Germany and had knowledge of many rural living skills. In  September 1738 he sailed from Rotterdam to Philadelphia. He settled in York, Pennsylvania and in 1746 married Margaret Sohn, daughter of a local innkeeper. In 1746 Mr. Reister purchased 50 acres of land west of the present town of Westminster. He carved a farm out of the wilderness making it his home for the next 12 years. All six children were born there. In 1758 he acquired 20 acres on the Conewago Road (Reisterstown) and called it "Reister's Desire". He moved his wife and six children to this land. They built an inn or tavern. This tract was too small for successful farming. On January 1, 1763 Mr. Reister purchased 83 acres of land which adjoined his property. This purchase gave him land on both sides of the main road. This became the center of Reisterstown. Life on the frontier was not easy. Food was their first concern and water and woods supplied an abundance of fish and game. Fruit trees were planted for future orchards. Photo of the house at 218 Main Street. He opened a successful tavern and inn: "a place of public entertainment for travellers and strangers." According to the Maryland Historical Trust the building at 218 Main Street (pictured at left) is close to the original site of John Reister's tavern. What cannot be determined is whether today's building is in any way a remnant of this tavern.


By 1785 all of the Reister children were married and settled on land given to them by their father. They were a very self-sufficient family group. John Reister Jr. married Mary Yohn, and they took up residence on the east side of the road opposite the inn. In addition to farming his father's land, John Jr. was a blacksmith and a carpenter and he operated a distillery producing rye whiskey for the tavern. Margaret married Peter Trine. The Trines stayed in Reisterstown a short time and then moved the family back to York, Pennsylvania where Peter established his own tannery. Mary married John Beckley, a skilled blacksmith, who opened a shop in the rear of his house.


Catharine married Roland Smith and together they became the first merchants in the area, operating the Reister store south of the inn. Philip married Eve Gardner, and they managed the Reister Inn. Elizabeth married Henry Weist, who operated a tanyard in the rear of their home which is now 410 Main Street.


Photo of the house at 365 Main Street.


Mr. Reister moved near 365 Main Street where he retired and died in 1804. The original house was torn down.





Photo of the house at 202 Main Street.


A portion of this house at 202 Main Street was built by John Reister, Sr. in 1779 as noted in a Maryland Historical Trust.





Photo of the house at 214 Main Street.


Two identical houses, now 208 and 214 Main Street, may have been built by Henry Gore in 1877 which were located side by side and north of Reister's original inn.



Founding of Reisterstown


Historic Reisterstown, well over 200 years old, originated from a tract of land called "Reister's Desire". Reister's Desire, twenty acres on the Conewago (Reisterstown) Road, south of the roads going north to Hanover and west to Westminster, was acquired by John Reister on March 2, 1758.


When traveling to Annapolis from his land in Frederick County (now Carroll County) John Reister must have noted that the point where the Pipe Creek Road (now Westminster Pike) joined with the older road to Pennsylvania was only sixteen miles from Baltimore Town. This would provide an ideal site for a settlement, and the fork would be an excellent location for an inn. While in Annapolis he learned about a twenty acre tract of unpatented land half a mile south of the junction of the roads. It was located just south of an Indian trail leading to the Patapsco River now known as Cockeys Mill Road.


A tavern, which provided lodging as well as food or drink, was constructed as soon as possible. Acquisition of property gave John Reister a stretch of land extending along both sides of the Conewago Road almost five eighths of a mile. As early as 1787 the name Reister's Town had been acknowledged by the Electors of Baltimore County. The first businesses catered to travelers - taverns, a store, smithshops, saddleries, and a tannery - they were soon followed by other types of commercial establishments. With the acquisition of more land the whole area north and south of the Reister land, became known as Reisterstown.


First Church and School


Lutheran cemetery in 1941In 1764 John Reister obtained three-quarters of an acre of land which he called "Church Hill" which he intended for a place of worship and interment. Dr. Dickson states that, "The people worshiped here in a log-house up the Franklin Academy Lane (Cockeys Mill Road), which was first erected by the Lutherans, yet free for all denominations." When, in 1854, a wall was erected around the cemetery, the building was torn down. Unfortunately, many of the older tombstones have disappeared, and while a Reister burial plot may be seen, no stone remains to mark the grave of the cemetery's donor, John Reister.


Old view of Academy BuildingThe log church had played another important part in the history of Reisterstown, that of housing the first school. As the population increased, the town needed a separate building for the school which was then located on Reister property in 1793. The townspeople themselves raised the money by public subscription to erect the Franklin Academy building in 1824. In 1826 the townspeople also bought and had installed in a specially built cupola, the school bell which now stands in honor at the entrance to the Franklin High School. In the 1870's the Academy became part of the newly organized Baltimore County school system. The building housed the first public high school in the county, created in 1874, and with additions was used as a school until the early 1900s. Currently the structure is a part of the Reisterstown Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library which adjoins the old Lutheran Cemetery (currently known as Reisterstown Community Cemetery).


Reisterstown Now and Then

Now view of Main StreetThen view of Main Street

References and Acknowledgements


Dickson, Dr.Isaac N., The Early Days of Reisterstown and Vicinity (Manuscript).1869

Marks, Lillian Bayly, Reister's Desire, 1975.

Maryland Historical Trust State Historic Sites Inventory Form, BA 1228, BA 1227, BA 1226, BA 164, BA 1249.


Coordination of this information done by Linda MacLeod, Ellen Saunders, and Marlene Kuhl of the Reisterstown Branch.
Thanks to the Reisterstown Historical Room for sharing information and pictures with us. Thanks to Tom Sollers, BCPL Art Department, for taking the photographs and creating the picture files for our pages. Thanks  to the Marketing and Programming  and the Art and Printing Departments of the Baltimore County Public Library.



Revised: July 13, 2015