Harper's Choice to mark its silver anniversary

June 08, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

You'd have to have been one of the earliest residents of Harper's Choice Village to remember what the community's first manager describes as the "famous battle of the water tower" in 1972.

Water towers may be commonplace in towns throughout the country, but early Harper's Choice residents took to heart the Rouse Co.'s promotion of a new city in which utilities such as telephone and power lines would be buried so as not to clutter the view.

"And, suddenly, we were going to have a water tower looming above. We didn't win that one," said Barbara Rudlin, the village's volunteer manager from 1969 to 1971.

Now the water tower near Harper's Choice Middle School is part of the 25-year history of the village, which will celebrate its silver anniversary from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Kahler Hall. Features will include the Oriole Bird, the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, activities and food.

The village, the second of 10 in Columbia, was established legally by the Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, in early 1968. But the first residents didn't move in and the first village board wasn't elected until 1969. A year later, weekend softball teams from two competing streets in the Longfellow neighborhood launched an offbeat Fourth of July parade, which continues as an annual Harper's Choice tradition.

Michael Riemer, a landscape architect who moved with his family to Columbia from Ohio in 1969 to work for the Rouse Co., remembers trying to persuade residents that the water tower was necessary and wouldn't be an eyesore.

"Oh, boy, people were upset about that," recalled Mr. Riemer, who lived in a small rental townhouse in Wilde Lake, Columbia's first village, for nearly a year with his wife, Louise, and four children while waiting for the completion of the family's Harper's Choice house.

The Riemers have lived in that house since 1970, and have vivid recollections of Harper's Choice's earlier days. Construction was nonstop, Mrs. Riemer said.

"It was like living in a beehive, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing. Something was always going on," she said.

The Riemers' house was on a bare lot, with a few seedlings. From there, the Riemers could look across the fields that were being developed and see other residents moving in on other streets, and apartments, shopping centers and a hospital being built nearby. Now the woods throughout the community have grown so much that they can't see much past their neighbor's house. Ms. Rudlin said one of the most indelible early impressions for her family, which moved from Silver Spring in 1969, was the sight of cows grazing at Harper's Farm and Eliot's Oak roads, a main intersection at the village's hub.

She remembers going to a flower shop in Wilde Lake to pick up her mail because delivery had yet to come to Harper's Choice.

"It wasn't that far [from Silver Spring], but it seemed like the end of the world," she said.

Harper's Choice Village originally was part of a farm owned by the late Robert Harper Goodloe Carroll.

Ms. Rudlin recalls the creation of a Harper's Choice village board -- an advocacy body of residents who kept an eye on development -- as an exciting time.

"Up until that time, there had only been the Wilde Lake board to speak for people in Columbia. All of a sudden, there were two boards," she said. "There was a feeling of 'we're on our way, there'll be more of us, things are changing.' "

Where and when schools would be built and how children would be moved between schools were big issues during Harper's Choice's formative years, said several longtime residents. The Riemer children were represented in the first classes of six different new schools.

Some of the original spirit and neighborliness diminished as development plans for Harper's Choice were fulfilled, the residents said. Mrs. Riemer said that even though everything in Columbia felt and looked temporary when they moved to Harper's Choice, it was easy to make friends because everyone was going through the same experience and tended to reach out.

Now, the Riemers agree, those looking to buy property in Columbia seem more concerned about making a real estate investment and acquiring a place to live than in buying into a lofty concept.

Mary Lorsung, Harper's Choice Village manager from 1976 to 1984, said village boards during that time seemed to be more active and attuned to "broader issues," such as county planning and zoning.

But current Village Manager Wendy Tzuker said the village is experiencing a "renaissance. New families are moving in, young families. There's been a resurgence of the early activism Harper's Choice was noted for, and that's been great."

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