Founded by German immigrant John Reister in 1758, it is located to the northwest of Baltimore. Though it is older than the areas surrounding it, it now serves primarily as a residential suburb of Baltimore. The center is designated the Reisterstown Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Also listed are the Montrose Mansion and Chapel and St. Michael's Church.
Just outside the community, to its north, is the small military reservation of Camp Fretterd, which serves as a training site for the Maryland Army National Guard and Air Guard.
John Reister purchased a tract of land, which he called "Reister's Desire", along the Conewago Road on March 2, 1758. He built a tavern on the site, providing food, drink and lodging for travelers. Other businesses serving travelers soon followed, creating the settlement known as Reister's Town, and eventually Reisterstown. With the purchase of another adjoining the original property in 1763, Reister began developing both sides of Conewago Road, later renamed Reisterstown Road.
In 1764, John Reister purchased a quarter acre lot, which he named Church Hill, as a site for the community's first church, a small building constructed of logs. Funded and built by the Lutheran community, the church was free to all denominations. The building also served as a school house, a secondary function typical of churches at that time.
The town raised money with a public subscription and replaced the log building with a brick school building in 1824, named Franklin Academy in honor of Benjamin Franklin. A cupola was added to the school in 1826. Franklin Academy became the first public high school in the county in 1874 and one of the earliest schools to join the Baltimore County school system.
The former Franklin Academy was converted into a public library in the early 1900s. It still stands beside the Lutheran cemetery, across the street from the present-day Franklin Middle School. Franklin Academy's cupola, known as the Franklin Bell, proudly resides in front of Franklin High School.