The country store feeling is alive and well -- and living in Highland.
For many Howard County residents, Highland is defined by the stores and businesses clustered around the junction of Routes 108 and 216. For those who live there and nearby, however, Highland embodies much more, a neighborly rural serenity that attracts folks and keeps them coming back after they begin to have families of their own.
That draw has been augmented in the last few years by the building of Columbia's last village, the Village of River Hill in Clarksville, just a little more than two miles northeast of Highland's defining junction. Longtime residents of the area view the growing development in the Clarksville area with mixed emotions.
Annie Cooney, who has lived in the Highland area most of her 90 years, expressed those conflicting emotions most vividly.
Visiting her small frame home along Highland Road (Route 216) is like taking a step back in time. But even there the relentless pace of progress intrudes.
Cooney recalled when Highland Road was made of dirt and the only paved road was Route 108. Now, the ever-growing traffic to the junction means that trucks delivering goods to the burgeoning area often wake her as early as 4 a.m.
But, at her age she doesn't begrudge the extra morning hours, and often will spend the time preparing for the many activities she may have on any given day.
And, since she is the community's historian, those activities often include educating the newly arrived about Highland and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Yet, despite new faces, many aspects remain the same in Highland.
According to Barbara Mac-Adoo, an agent for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. and longtime Highland resident, "Highland has managed to stay nice despite the dramatic changes in Clarksville and the impending development in Fulton. It's a peaceful island between [the] two cities" of Washington and Baltimore.
Carved from numerous family farms that were sold off either bit-by-bit or sometimes in large parcels, Highland has evolved from its origins as Wells Cross Roads, where a Colonial tavern once sat, into an eclectic mix of single-family housing in a rural setting.
While there are scattered pockets of newer housing, the majority of Highland's homes are of an older vintage, which doesn't necessarily fit what buyers are looking for in this part of Howard County.
But, those older homes have an attraction all their own -- price.
"While the average is around $400,000, the real story is that the range goes from $179,900 to $599,900," MacAdoo said.
"You have a real mixture of homeowners in the area, from teachers, who bought their own property and built at their own pace, to millionaires whose estates sit secluded way back in the woods."
It is the search for rural seclusion that has orchestrated the placement of lots in Highland. It is not uncommon to find homes situated on numerous adjacent "pipe-stem" or "flag" lots or along long private lanes.
Another attraction is the large parcels of open farmland that appeal to the various segments of the growing equestrian community.
And, in a nod to those homeowners who opt for the horse country lifestyle, Schooley Mill Park on Hall Shop Road sports an equestrian ring in addition to the usual fare of ball fields and basketball and tennis courts.
"The problem with rural living is that your mailbox is a distance from the house," MacAdoo said. When combined with teen-age forays of midnight mailbox bashing, the solution is obtaining a post office box, a cherished rural commodity in Highland.
"Postmaster Bill" Dailey, who came to the Highland Post Office in 1993, and his relief, Carol Simmons, have revived community service with a vengeance.
Striving to deliver old-fashioned service, the current post office harks to the past when Ada Disney, the "post mistress," and her sister, Lillian, served Highland's farming families from a corner set aside in their small general store.
Then, as now, the postmaster and his staff makes the most of the small trailer space allocated. The results of their can-do efforts are reflected in the fact that for three years running the Highland Post Office was voted the No. 1 office out of 185 in the Capital District for customer satisfaction.
Trenton Schwarzer of the Print Depot, a new Highland business that celebrated its first anniversary in April, feels that "the whole environment is great for building a business. [Highland] has that true small-town feel, making it easy to give customers the personal touch."
For Larry Boarman, longtime owner of Boarman's Market, the personal touch is what continues to generate business for his family owned grocery store.
Specializing in meats and butchering, Boarman and his son George offer a personal touch that sometimes is lost in more urban areas.
They are known for ordering fresh turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas in the poundage you want, processing venison during the fall deer hunting season and making up special orders of their own special recipe sausage.