While Smith took out most of her frustrations in angry letters and advertisements in local papers, she could, on occasion, be more directly confrontational.
For decades, county school officials have dreamed of building a school on her property. But the idea has repeatedly been squashed, partly because back in the 1960s, Smith used a gun to greet the last school official who set foot on her land. Standing on her porch, she fired her 12-gauge shotgun into the air in warning as he approached.
FOR THE RECORD - An article about Columbia's Blandair estate that appeared in Tuesday's Maryland section incorrectly reported that the farm's longtime owner, Elizabeth C. "Nancy" Smith, died of a heart attack. She suffered a stroke.
In a rare interview with The Sun in 1990, Smith talked about her disappointment in what Columbia had become -- and her determination to hold the line at Blandair.
"Everyone has made every possible bonehead decision," she said. "This area was completely bucolic 53 years ago. Now it's a mess. I won't let it happen here."
Her distrust grew. Even those who apparently approached her with the best intentions could not get past it.
In 1993, county executive Charles I. Ecker (no relation to Carrie Ecker) says he tried meeting with Smith to make sure her land was "tied up the way she wanted it to be."
"I was trying to help her," he says.
Five times during the last three years of her life, Ecker went to her door. But each time, he left without getting a firm commitment of her plans for the land.
After a car accident a few years ago, Smith ended her daily trips to the post office. The riding accident in her youth had led to severe arthritis, causing her to walk hunchbacked on two canes. At times, she had a cough that made her small frame shake.
As time went on, she came to use only the two main front rooms of her house. Reminders of the past were everywhere.
In one room, scattered stacks of gardening magazines and yellowed newspapers dating to the 1930s surrounded an overstuffed green chair. In the other, a dusty Steinway & Sons piano rested beside tattered floor-length burgundy drapes. In one corner, an unplugged IBM computer sat on the floor.
On the fireplace mantel stood two dingy black-and-white photographs. One, in a tarnished gold frame, pictured a young Nancy in a high-collared dress with lace trim; the other showed her on horseback in English riding attire.
On Feb. 15, 1997, Smith sat alone in her dining room at the head of a huge mahogany table. "She barely ate a mouthful," recalls bodyguard Frosty Adkins. "She just sat there real quiet."
Two hours later, Smith had a heart attack. With the help of her bodyguards, Carrie Ecker and her attorney, Debra Schubert, she was taken to Howard County General Hospital. It was the first time since she was a teen-ager that she had been to the hospital, Ecker says.
Eight hours later, Nancy Smith died.
Just the day before, Schubert had taken Smith what she considered the final version of her will.
"Everything had been drafted, it was to her satisfaction," says Schubert. "It was just a question of getting everything witnessed and executed."
But Schubert couldn't get her to sign.
In the last decade of her life, Smith had hired and fired half a dozen attorneys. Each attorney claims to have had the papers prepared to her satisfaction, but none ever got her signature.
According to one friend, Smith had gone so far as to draw up a half-dozen possible plans for preserving her property. Byron Hall, who came to know Smith after she challenged an article he wrote praising the development of Columbia, has an inch-thick stack of papers from her that he says contains her wishes for the land. Among the options mentioned are leaving the property to a humane society or a wildlife preservation trust.
"This is the closest she ever got to signing a will," Hall says. But without her signature, the documents are worthless.
Four days after Smith died, four attorneys, two bodyguards, five relatives -- mostly distant cousins who hadn't seen her in decades -- and her longtime caretaker buried her beside her father and mother on a hilltop at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Brooklyn Park.
Barely a week after her funeral, politicians started organizing task forces to find uses for the land.
Since then, national, state and local preservationists have pursued buying the property. Long-lost cousins from as far away as England filed documents with the county's register of wills, claiming stakes in the property. County zoning officials say several large developers have asked about submitting development plans for the parcel. Meanwhile, at least six local groups have formed under such names as "Friends of Nancy Smith" to lobby state and county officials to turn the Smith farm into soccer fields and walking trails.
Appraisals have put the Smith property's value at between $8 million and $10.7 million. Gov. Glendening's pledge of state funds has grown to $5 million, and been matched by Howard County, which hopes to buy the land for open space. But no one is sure if $10 million will be enough -- or if the land is even for sale.