When Fern Smith-Brown moved to her mother's hometown in northeastern Harford County in the late 1940s, Darlington was a quaint little village surrounded by rolling hills and valleys rich in agricultural wealth.
She was barely 10 then, but she's never forgotten the sense of belonging -- of being home -- that tugged at her heart the first time she walked along the tree-lined main street, admiring the Victorian homes sprinkled along the way.
"What I most remember was the friendliness. . . . Everybody was smiling and it didn't take them long to embrace us and welcome us in their midst," says Mrs. Smith-Brown, a writer who has published 12 books, including chronicles of Darlington.
Not much has changed in Darlington since Mrs. Smith-Brown grew up in the hamlet near the Susquehanna River and bordered by Deer Creek. In fact, time seems to have stood still in the little village that was settled by a group of English Quakers in the mid-1700s.
Darlington, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a village with one long main street and few crossroads. Mature tulip poplar and sycamore trees, majestic oaks and hickories canopy the country roads.
The Victorian homes Mrs. Smith-Brown admired years ago have been restored to their original gingerbread grandeur.
Also lining the streets are houses constructed from local stone -- Port Deposit granite and field stone. Built by Quakers, they are more simple in design, with sloping slate roofs.
Descendants of the farmers that tilled the land in Colonial times still depend on agriculture for a living. And except for deeding a few acres to family members for new homes, farmers have not sold their land to developers.
Housing developments that have cropped up along the rural roads of Harford County in recent years miraculously have not yet found their way to Darlington. But there are whispers that it could only be a matter of time before the construction crews roll into town.
"One farmer is offering lots for sale on Route 161 and Clark Turner Companies just bought some property at the corner of Route 161 and U.S. 1, and there's talk that the bank [located in the heart of the village] might relocate there," says Henry Holloway, a seventh-generation Darlington farmer.
And there's been talk for years that Philadelphia Electric Co., which owns nearby Conowingo Dam, is planning to construct a motel, conference center and condominiums along the Susquehanna River, Mr. Holloway says.
Mr. Holloway and his brother, Richard, raise beef cattle and hogs, and they grow soybeans, corn and alfalfa on 950 acres -- they own 400 acres and rent another 450 acres. "It's the most beautiful area in the county," Mr. Holloway says of Darlington. "And we want to keep it that way.
He says that although there always seems to be some fear that the housing boom will reach Darlington, the agricultural zoning code prevents high-density construction. "Under present zoning it's only one lot per every 10 acres," says Mr. Holloway.
He adds that "Darlington is unique, a very community-oriented village. People seem to mind their own business, but when they seem threatened, they get organized and get things accomplished."
Mr. Holloway recalls when during World War II farmers, businessmen, homemakers and even children kept a 24-hour vigil spotting planes above the fields and reporting them to the Army filter center in Baltimore.
He was too young to participate, but he remembers his father volunteering as a spotter.
They were keeping their vigil primarily for the people of Baltimore. The quiet country folk had little reason to fear bombing. But their village and watch post was located below the principal air approach to Baltimore, so month after month the people of Darlington took turns watching out for the safety of their Baltimore neighbors.
The community has continued to rally together. When the public school system debated closing Darlington Elementary School in the mid-1980s and busing the students out of the community, town people objected and won their battle against the closing.
Today, people are organizing a community association to monitor growth.
"Actually, we don't want anything to change at all," says June Griffith, owner of the Darlington Country Store. "But we know that can't happen, so we want to make sure that any development will be beneficial to the community and that open spaces will be preserved."
Since the town is not incorporated, Darlington has no local government. "There doesn't seem to be much interaction with the county government -- none of the delegates is from this area," says Donald E. Brand, a Bel Air attorney who grew up in Darlington and moved back to the community with his family about 5 years ago.
"I'd like to see more government focus on Darlington, a little more detailed planning based on a mix of socioeconomic and environmental characteristics," Mr. Brand says.