Town carries on from last century


September 04, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

More than 100 years before the first suburban pioneers arrived in Howard County to found Columbia, Lisbon was a thriving planned community on the nation's main east-west highway.

Lisbon is mostly a series of neat rows of quarter-acre lots, surveyed by Caleb Pancoast when Thomas Jefferson was president.

Today, outside of a few modern conveniences such as electric street lights, asphalt paving and a gas station, the tiny crossroads village on the old National Road isn't much different than it was in the 1800s.

It still has many of the same buildings it did when it was a rest stop and a toll station for wagons heading west: wooden buildings with tongue-and-groove ceilings that once housed a general store and a tack shop with residences upstairs, an inn with a long porch and a toll house built of now-rare chestnut.

"The town hasn't changed. There's been one house built in it in the past 50 years, probably," says Norman Weller, a real estate agent who has lived in Lisbon for the last 49 years.

Lisbon does have a small modern park, with tennis courts, a playground and a bandstand, but for many area residents, the wide-open spaces that surround the town are what makes it attractive.

"We like the privacy, because of the size of the lots. We have almost four acres," says Carroll A. Naik, 54, who moved into a two-story Colonial in the 16-home Quail Meadow subdivision on Route 144 two years ago.

"Although we're not terribly close to anything, it is convenient to many areas. We're convenient to Frederick, Baltimore, the Gaithersburg area and Washington."

In fact, deciding which enclosed mall to shop at can be something of a dilemma, as malls in Columbia, Westminster and RTC Frederick all take about 25 minutes to get to, Ms. Naik says.

According to the U.S. Postal Service, Lisbon barely exists.

Those with Lisbon addresses are limited to the 139 residents and business people who pick up their mail at the tiny Lisbon post office -- a cluttered one-room affair inside an 80-year-old former milk depot. An estimated 3,000 area residents come to Lisbon to use other postal services.

A new post office is being built, but residents who want delivery will continue to settle for a Woodbine address, after the Carroll County post office that does deliver.

Although inconvenient for some, it's a blessing for Juanita "J. B." McIntosh, who has lived for 18 years in an 1837 Presbyterian church she renovated.

"The nice thing that they don't deliver the mail and we have to go to the post office and keep up with everybody," says Mrs. McIntosh, 83.

They get plenty of help, she says, from Postmaster David Yontz. "He's a dear and if they ever move him we'll have a fight," she says. "He keeps us up on what's going on in Lisbon."

Other Lisbon residents and business people in town, which is largely commercially zoned, get their news from Dot Gray, who runs the cash register at Lee's Market.

Known as the unofficial "Mayor of Lisbon," Ms. Gray keeps track of the local police officers and game wardens, forwards messages to farmers about stray animals and helps round up stray teen-agers.

Ms. Gray, rarely one to withhold an opinion, worries that the Lisbon area's rural charm may be disappearing under the wheels of progress.

Five years ago, the area saw the arrival of a strip shopping center, Lisbon Center, just north of the interstate. The center provides a home for a supermarket that put Lee's out of the grocery business, a Pizza Hut that hurt Lee's lunch business and, just this summer, the first set of Golden Arches that western Howard County has seen.

"Even this place is becoming obsolete," Ms. Gray says of Lee's, which was built about 1918. "That's a shame, because this is a contact point for a lot of people. . . . When you lose that, you don't even know your neighbors."

Although the Lisbon area is quieter than other parts of western Howard County, it is gradually being populated with people escaping more congested areas in Washington, Baltimore or their suburbs.

Two farms along Route 94 south of the village are now being subdivided into large lots typical of the area, while residents of large lots periodically carve off new homesites.

'Peace and quiet'

Mrs. McIntosh says she moved to Lisbon for "the small-town atmosphere, the peace and quiet."

"And we have nice neighbors. We don't socialize a lot, but if somebody needs something, we see that they get it, and we help them out in some way."

That's what she used to have when she lived on a farm farther east in Howard County, but that changed less than 20 years later with the creation of Columbia.

"I was burglarized twice in Columbia, and after the second one, my son said, 'Why don't you buy that church [in Lisbon]," says Mrs. McIntosh.

So she renovated the church into her home, and her son renovated the parsonage in front of it for his home. Since then, the family has renovated the old tollhouse where turnpike fees were collected, and hopes to find a future tenant to help secure a loan to renovate the town's inn next door.

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