It’s easier than you think to visit the coolest small town in America.
According to voters on Budget Travel magazine, Sykesville, Maryland, is the coolest small town in the U.S., winning by a landslide 25 percent. The second-place town? Pipestone, Minnesota.
“It’s come an awful long way in terms of activities, business and even housing,” said Carroll County Commissioner Doug Howard about the town. “It’s nice to have that recognized.”
Winning the contest was no easy feat. Budget Travel chose its top 15 from towns with populations under 20,000 that had “unique shops, great food, a fascinating history, beautiful location, thriving arts and music scene” and more, according to its website. After snagging a top 15 spot, it was up to voters to get Sykesville to No. 1.
“We had to constantly keep voting top of mind for not just members of our community but supporters across the state and country,” said Steven Colella, director of economic development for Sykesville. “We were staying in constant contact with people, reminding them to vote daily.”
Sykesville’s various community Facebook pages were filled daily with links to the Budget Travel site, encouraging citizens to vote.
“The spirit of it was pretty exciting for everybody,” said Dawn O’Cronin, a Sykesville resident. Once residents knew about the contest “people really jumped on with a lot of enthusiasm.”
Sykesville also was able to garner support from Maryland’s top government official, Gov. Larry Hogan, who supported the town and promoted the contest on his Facebook page.
“The biggest thing is that this new award is really a springboard toward a very bright future,” Colella said. “That kind of recognition is priceless when it comes to getting people to visit, relocate here or choose to open a business here.”
With a population of around 4,500, the Carroll County town boasts a quaint historic district and Main Street that hearkens back to its railroad days. Unique shops and local eateries like E.W. Beck’s Pub are favorites of locals and visitors alike. Residents can patronize the farmer’s market every Sunday in June-October, along with other historical landmarks and museums.
This new title will help small businesses on Main Street and bring recognition to a town not widely known outside of Maryland, said town council member Leo Keenan.
Rachael Beck, owner of E.W. Beck’s Pub on Main Street, said that the award will bring much-deserved acknowledgment to the small businesses that are all active in the community.
“I have been involved with E.W. Beck’s Pub since it opened in 1992 … To witness the growth of the town has been really exciting,” Beck said.
For a small town, Sykesville hosts a variety of events and festivals. The yearly Fine Art and Wine Festival includes entertainment and wine tasting, while the Chili and Beer Festival features craft beer, chili and other vendors. This year Sykesville hosted its first ever IceFest, complete with ice sculptures, a skating rink, and even cornhole boards made of ice.
“It’s been a lot of hard work to revitalize Main Street and bring Sykesville back to being a vibrant small town,” Keenan said. “[The award] is a feather in our cap.”
For citizens of the town, Sykesville’s picturesque Main Street is deserving of the new title.
“Main Street Sykesville is a unique and cute place,” said Kelsey Quinn, a college student and Sykesville resident.
Not everyone in Sykesville is quite ready to proclaim it paradise. For younger adults, however, the sit-down restaurants and boutiques of the town aren’t quite what they’re looking for. In other words, it’s a little … dull.
“It’s very safe, a good place to raise kids …but there’s nowhere for young teens to really do anything,” Quinn said.
All of which might be fine for many residents.
O’Cronin, a mother of three young children, sees Sykesville as a “model small town.”
“We’ve lived here for nine years, and I know they’ve made a lot of improvements to parks and expansion of parks,” she said. O’Cronin also praised Sykesville’s effort to introduce new and free programming like outdoor movies and yearly festivals.
“[Sykesville] certainly deserves it,” she said. “It’s a great place to raise a family.”
To celebrate their big win, the town plans to sell new T-shirts and other merchandise and host a “blowout party” on June 18, according to the Sykesville Main Street Facebook page.
“It’s really a step forward for the business community in Sykesville,” Howard said. “From the county’s economic development standpoint, we want to shine a light on it.”
- Population: 4,436 (2010 Census)
- Area: 1.58 square miles
- Notable residents:
- Birthplace of Frank Brown, Maryland’s 42nd governor
- Leo Kanner, noted psychiatrist and autism researcher, died there in 1981
- Nan Agle, a renowned children’s book author, died there at the age of 100 in 2006
- The town was established in 1830 when Baltimore businessman James Sykes built a five-story hotel on the Howard County side of the Patapsco River to accommodate travelers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; soon, other businesses joined Sykes’ hotel at “Horse Train Stop,” as Sykesville had yet to be named
- The first store on Main Street was built in 1835 by Dr. Orrelana H. Owings
- Much of the town was destroyed in an 1868 flood and rebuilt on the Carroll County side of the river
- In 1904 Sykesville elected its first mayor, Edwin M. Mellor Sr.
- Today, Sykesville is on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized as part of Maryland’s “Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area”
- Fun facts:
- Scenes from the movies “Cry-Baby” (1990) and “Head of State” (2003) were filmed in Sykesville
- Sykesville has a Gate House Museum of History and Historic Colored Schoolhouse, among other historic restored buildings in the town
- Kids can ride a 1949 twelve-gauge miniature train at the Little Sykes Railway Park
Sources: U.S. Census, MainStreet.com, Wikipedia