Columbia's often unusual place names have history behind them


May 19, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GRAY OWL Garth. Phantom Court. Coon Hunt Court. Columbians have endured the snickers of outsiders over the names of our streets for decades.

But few know how our unique names for roads and villages came to be.

Contrary to a rumor circulating when Columbia was being developed, the street names were not concocted by a reclusive old lady who was paid $100 per name.

Barbara Kellner, manager of the Columbia Welcome Center and the Columbia Archives, said the system for naming Columbia's streets came into being because of a postal regulation restricting the use by the new town of names existing in the surrounding counties.

Up to 21 repeats of standard favorites -- Elm, Park and Main streets -- already existed in Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

The method for naming Columbia's streets and locations is attributed to James W. Rouse, the town's founder; Scott Ditch, then director of marketing for the Rouse Co.; and Kay Sarfaty, former Rouse Co. marketing administrator.

These Columbia pioneers decided that most of the names of the roads, villages and neighborhoods would come from the works of American writers, artists, poets and folk songs, and some would have their origins in local history.

The family of Robert Goodloe Harper Carroll -- once prominent in the county -- lent its name to one of Columbia's villages.

Legend has it that Carroll gave his son a choice of two farms in the county.

The son chose the farm that later became the site of the Village of Harper's Choice.

Columbia's first village -- Wilde Lake -- is named for Frazar Wilde, former chairman of the board of Connecticut General Life Insurance Co.

The company was chief financier of Columbia.

The neighborhood of Running Brook takes its name from the Robert Frost poem "West Running Brook."

Priscilla Hart, a resident of the Harper's Choice neighborhood of Longfellow, can tell you the precise origins of the names for her neighborhood's streets.

Hart, a former volunteer for the Columbia Archives, knows that the names come from the works of 19th-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

"Whenever you give your street address to people, they always say, `Oh, I bet that's in Columbia,' " Hart said. "When I moved to Columbia 30 years ago, I learned that the streets in my neighborhood were named after something that Longfellow wrote."

She was familiar with some of the sources for street names -- "The Wreck of the Hesperus" for Hesperus Drive, "The Village Blacksmith" for Blacksmith Drive and "The Ride of Paul Revere" for Paul Revere Ride -- a cul-de-sac off Hesperus Drive.

Hart said she had to learn to recite these three poems as a child, "but a lot of them I was not familiar with."

Hart purchased an 1899 edition of "Longfellow's Complete Poems" at a League of Women Voters' book sale at The Mall in Columbia four years ago.

"I thought, `Aha! Now I can find out where these names came from,' " she said.

Hart spent a few hours researching and bookmarking the Longfellow poems.

She was able to find a reference for all but two of the streets -- Mystic Court and Round Tower Place.

"When I realized that Harper's Choice was having a 30th anniversary of the village this spring, I decided to give the book to the village," Hart said.

Wendy Tzuker, Harper's Choice village manager, appreciated the gift.

"It's a wonderful labor of love," she said, "and the village association is grateful for her gift."

The Harper's Choice Community Association will keep the poems, although neighbors who would like to see them are welcome to do so.

Some might run in Harper's Choice Voice, the village newsletter.

Anyone interested in learning more about the origins of their street and village names can also head over to the central branch of the Howard County Public Library.

Ruth Newton, the assistant branch manager, said the library has information on all of Columbia's villages, with the exception of River Hill, which is too new to be included.

Ask a reference desk librarian for the Columbia street name file to find out how you came to live on a street with a name such as Endymion Lane or Mustering Drum.


Four members of the Howard Community College cross country team have been selected as 1999 National Junior College Athletic Association Cross Country Academic All-Americans.

The honored are Nathan Hornburg, Seth Geoghegan and Erik Heden of Columbia and Jeff Bailey of Laurel.

Hornburg and Bailey are participants in the James W. Rouse Scholars Program -- the community college's two-year honors and leadership program.

The 3.6 grade point average of the men's team ranked second nationally.

Jumping to success

Fourteen members of the Kangaroo Kids competition team competed last month in the U.S. National Jump Rope Championship Northeast Regional Tournament, held at Towson University.

The team won 14 gold, six silver and seven bronze medals, in addition to taking second place in the Group Team Show at the tournament.

All medal winners qualify to represent the northeast region in their age group at the U.S. National Jump Rope Championship, to be held next month at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Congratulations to Thomas Egan, Jessica Lumpkin, Elizabeth Egan, Liz Butterfield, Nicole Lumpkin, Emily Butterfield, Robby Moylan, T J Simons, Marissa Schwartz, Amanda Ramsey, Jimmy McCleary, Jasmine Evans, Tory Lancaster and Catherine Diamond for their strong showing at the tournament.

Pub Date: 5/19/99

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