Sewer Plans Bring A Whiff Of Change To Reluctant Galesville

July 28, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Down in Galesville, that tiny South County town where a single main street reaches to the West River, people who moved in 20 years ago consider themselves newcomers.

To native villagers, the West River Yacht Harbor, established several decades ago, is "new," too. So is Galesville Estates, a small development built in the mid-1970s.

Jean Trott, who has lived in Galesville all of her 65 years, can count on one hand the number of houses that have been built on Main Street since she was a girl. "I can go mentally right down the main road and tell you how many houses have been built since then," she says. "One, two, three . . . four, five. I don't think there's any more than five."

Down in Galesville, the winds of change have blown gently through the years. Life is slow, quiet.

Most people fear change. Just about everyone agrees Galesville has serious sewage problems, with raw waste often flowing through open ditches. Still, many residents are frightened that public sewer service will permanently alter their community. A few are certain a conspiracy is afoot to destroy their way of life.

"Nobody in Galesville's ever gotten any kind of disease from our sewage," insists Joyce Sheckells, 60, a widow who's lived in Galesville for 41 years. "They're using this septic business as a cover-up for something else they want to do.

"I know how thiscounty works and how they like money. I think they want to turn thisinto a country club community. They want to get us low-income peopleout and bulldoze our homes so they can have a golf course and all kinds of things out here . . .

"Progress is fine," Sheckells says, "but not in a place where people are satisfied with the way they've been living all their lives."

Judd Stafford, 48, who moved to Galesville in 1952, supports the public sewer. Still, "Essentially, everyone wants (Galesville) to stay the way it is."

What is Galesville?

"It's a quiet country town. That's what it is," says Bill Woodfield, manager of Woodfield Fish and Oyster Co., built by his grandfather in 1917. "In the summer there's a lot of weekend traffic, but even with the boaters it's a quiet town."

At dusk on a summer evening, a solitary woman walks along the river. Sailboats sit on the water, temporarily deserted by their out-of-town owners. Through the windows ofthe Topside restaurant, a few people can be seen eating and drinking. On Main Street, a small group has clustered around the volunteer fire department.

The village includes 700 people and 203 homes and encompasses about a square mile, starting at the intersection of routes 255 and 468 and continuing along the peninsula to the river.

There are three restaurants in Galesville, all in waterfront buildings built around the early 1900s. The Steamboat Landing restaurant really was a steamboat landing. There's Hartge's boatyard, the West River Yacht Harbor and a sailing club, Woodfield's seafood packing plant, a couple of pile-driving companies and antique stores. The post office is a little stone building; the town market is a country store.

"There's not a whole lot to do here. I wouldn't say this is the place for excitement," says Woodfield's wife, Marti.

Despite the slow pace, time has not stood still here. The townspeople no longer earn a living from the water as they did a generation ago, before development, industry and pollution began to choke the life out of the Chesapeake Bay. Most residents now work in Annapolis or Washington.

"The tideis changing," said Trott. "We will soon no longer be here. Our children have gone elsewhere, so there will be a different feeling altogether in this community.

"I just hope the people who are coming in will think of it as home and not just as a place to stop for two yearsand move on. We like to think these people will cherish it the way we have and not change it so we won't recognize it in 15 years."

The town of Galesville dates back more than 300 years, to 1652, when the Quakers settled the area. Originally, it was named "Brownton," after a John Brown, who bought 660 acres around the river.

In 1684, Brownton was designated a port of entry for checking imports and exports. Through the 1700s up through the steamboat era, tobacco and other goods moved in and out of the port. The shipping wharf became known as "The Landing," and eventually the name of the town changed to West River Landing.

The name changed again, in the 19th century, to Galloways, after the family that owned Tulip Hill, the Georgian mansion near the intersection of routes 255 and 468. In 1924, the town becameGalesville, in honor of Richard Gale, a Quaker planter who accompanied William Penn on his visit to West River in 1682.

Through the early part of this century, the town was dominated by the watermen's culture; crabbers, oystermen and fishermen worked out of Galesville every day. Other people worked in a long-vanished canning factory and a coal and lumber yard that used to sit on the site of the West River marina.

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