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Main Attractions: Oakland Combines Natural Beauty with Rich History
Even for life-long Marylanders, it can be difficult to see beyond what the state is typically associated with, like the Chesapeake Bay and the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore metro areas. Located in the mountains of western Maryland, Oakland offers visitors the chance to see an entirely different and sometimes forgotten side of the state.
Oakland was one of the first towns to receive Main Street Maryland designation when the program was established in 1998. Since FY15, the town has received a combined $3.5 million in funding from various programs operated by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The funding has been used for projects large and small, such as $184,000 in Community Legacy funding for façade improvements, to $10,000 for fixes made to a parking lot through the Main Street Improvement Program.
The town’s business coordinator, Michelle Ross, is an Oakland native and is quick to extol the town’s virtues. First among those, in her mind, is the clean and fresh mountain air. Ross said the town is also unique in its welcoming environment and safe and family-friendly community. She feels that many of the visitors to the town are drawn to Oakland’s proximity to some of Maryland’s most popular outdoor attractions, such as Deep Creek Lake and Swallow Falls State Park.
Oakland’s rich local history is another part of its appeal. The town is home to three museums, all situated in close proximity to each other. Visitors can learn about the town’s history, explore its old railroad station, and visit the Garrett County Museum of Transportation for a look at old cars, buggies, sleighs and more, as well as an exhibit dedicated to the history of Deep Creek Lake and surrounding parks. The town’s history is evident outside of its museums as well. Visitors to the town can stop and have lunch at Englander’s, a local business that first opened as a pharmacy with a soda fountain in the 1940s. Today, the pharmacy has been replaced by an antique store, but the soda fountain is still in operation and offers diners the chance to have a meal at a local institution.
For all the town’s natural beauty and rich history, Ross pointed out that Oakland is far from stuck in its past. She noted another feature of the town that sometimes goes overlooked: a thriving arts and cultural presence. “We have an eclectic mix,” Ross said. “We want everyone to be able to find something here that they’re interested in.” Free concerts are an integral part of Friday nights in the summer, and the annual Autumn Glory festival brings more than 50,000 people to the town over the course of a week.
As the town continues to grow, Ross said, she wants to see the diversification of its businesses continue. . “[Being a Main Street community] keeps our emphasis on how important it is to retain our downtown,” Ross said. “We’re constantly keeping a spotlight on that and how important it is. We also have this pool of people who experience the same things as we do. We…can always ask for whatever we need to do, and that’s really helpful. It’s been very positive for us.”
“Main Attractions” is a regular series highlighting Main Street Maryland communities. Main Street Maryland is a comprehensive downtown revitalization program created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. These communities receive assistance for improving the economy, appearance and image of their traditional downtown business districts. For more information on Main Street Maryland, visit http://dhcd.maryland.gov/Communities/Pages/programs/MainStreet.aspx