Seeing Scaggsville as nowheresville Identity: New Howard County suburbanites view the name of their community as 'hickish' and say it 'sounds like the boonies.' A Scaggs family member finds the idea of a change to be 'insulting.'

March 15, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

What's in a name? In Scaggsville, you can find a controversy.

Upscale newcomers to this southeastern Howard County community don't like planting their roots in a locale with a name that lacks panache.

It's an age-old development battle: newcomers vs. old farm families.

"When I say that I'm from Scaggsville, they ask me how many cows live here," says Stephanie Lopez, a college freshman who grew up in the the Cardinal Forest subdivision.

Adds Nia Bain, a Cherry Creek resident: "It sounds like the boonies."

But for many longtime residents, the name Scaggsville works just fine, thank you.

"Scaggsville has always been Scaggsville," says Terry Hull, a homeowner in Rosemont, an older neighborhood. "Why change it?"

The reason, more than anything else, is real estate.

The once humble farming community of Scaggsville -- with its with large barns and homey ranchers -- is sprinkled these days with new subdivisions featuring homes with prices starting at $300,000.

These subdivisions -- Cherry Tree Farm, Cherry Creek, Hunters Creek -- have monikers chosen by developers, not local history. Suffice to say, Scaggsville wouldn't have made the cut.

The favored name of many of the newcomers is Rocky Gorge, the traditional name for what is now officially called the T. Howard Duckett Reservoir on the Howard County-Montgomery County line.

Since last year, they have tried to have the Rocky Gorge name adopted as the area's official name -- starting with an effort to name a new school Rocky Gorge.

"Scaggsville sounds so hickish," says Ann Scholz, a resident of the Cherry Creek subdivision. "Rocky Gorge just sounds nicer."

The controversy has prompted Robert "Bobby" Allen, owner of a convenience store named Scaggsville Station, a roadside stop that goes back 62 years, to start selling T-shirts emblazoned with "I'm from Scaggsville and proud of it."

"Too many of us have been here," says Allen. "We're not going to let them do it without a fight."

After all, the name of Scaggsville has been around a long time. U.S. Postal Service records show that Clifton W. Scaggs opened a post office Jan. 8, 1887, at what is now the southwest corner of Route 216 and U.S. 29.

The branch closed 20 years later, but the Scaggs family continued to live in the town named after them.

About 15 Scaggs descendants still live in the area, and -- not surprisingly -- they're unhappy with the proposed name change.

"Frankly, I think it's insulting," says Lynda Scaggs, whose husband, David, owns an excavating company in Ellicott City with his brother, Elwood Scaggs. "They want to change the name just because they don't like the sound of it? I would never be that arrogant."

The name Scaggsville is on U.S. maps. Scaggsville Road is the local name for Route 216. A sign along Interstate 95 says that if you get off the interstate at Exit 35 between Baltimore and Washington you're headed for Scaggsville.

Still, it's not like there are any city limits to define the place. Scaggsville is generally regarded as the land surrounding the intersection of Route 216 and U.S. 29, bordered by I-95 to the east, the T. Howard Duckett Reservoir to the south, the community of Fulton to the west, and the Gorman area to the north.

The area's official mailing address is Laurel, although residents have long referred to it as North Laurel.

That has left some of the newcomers a bit adrift.

Karina Zimmerman, who lives in Hunter Creek, says: "Who are we? We're not North Laurel or Columbia. We need to find an identity."

Residents typically have a fierce bond with place names, says Thomas Gasque, a professor of English at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, who also teaches a course in toponymy -- the study of geographic names.

"It is like a surname," Gasque says. "It's your identity.

The Scaggsville controversy reared its head last fall when some residents protested the move to name the new middle school Rocky Gorge. A compromise between the two sides yielded Murray Hill as the name, for the road where the school is located.

Similar problems forced the newly formed Rocky Gorge Regional Association to change its name two times until members settled in December on the Southeastern Howard County Regional Association.

And not all newcomers like the Rocky Gorge name. Carol Ostrow, who lives in Cardinal Forest, has her problems with it. "I think it's very poetic," she says of Rocky Gorge, "but it also sounds to me like someone losing his lunch."

Meanwhile, many old-timers scoff at the debate.

"I can't get all shook up over a name, but this name has a lot of history behind it," says William W. Norton, who has lived on Scaggsville Road for 30 years. "I'm not eager to throw away old names just because it's the politically correct thing to do today."

History still could provide a solution.

Celia M. Holland's "Old Homes and Families in Howard County" says the area known as Scaggsville was considered so remote with such bad roads it was once known by another name -- Hell's Corner.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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