Before prosperity came to the land around Nell Urban's cheery yellow house, she remembers a pony across the street and woods where her daughter played.
Today, she looks out on a fast-food restaurant and low-slung shops that have popped up on the corners along Route 543 and U.S. 1 in Hickory. She doesn't mind the company, she said, except for the empty grocery store behind her house, which has become an illegal dumping ground for people who bring trash by the truckload, as well as furniture, yard waste, old computers and batteries.
"It hasn't been cleaned up for many a day," she said ruefully as she walked around the circular drive behind the building, which was built to house a Festival Foods store nearly two years ago but never opened.
She stopped at an old barrel and rocked it with her foot, noting it was full - of something. "You don't know what kind of poison they might dump," she said.
Illegal dumping is a problem in Harford, especially in areas around abandoned or undeveloped property, said Joe DeLizia, an environmental sanitarian with the Harford County Health Department.
He said another example of a trouble spot is the Ames shopping center on U.S. 40 between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, which the county recently fenced off after it became an abandoned property.
"Word gets out that there's an area where you can dump, and it attracts people with the same mind-set," DeLizia said.
He said the Health Department has been to the building in Hickory several times. "It's really quite a problem," he said, adding that the next step could be to fence the property, but because it's not abandoned, the onus for the work falls to the private owner.
Stanley E. Lloyd, a Jarrettsville investor and developer who owns the store and parcel behind it where a cell tower sits, said, "We've cleaned it up several times," but he added that the store's vacancy makes it hard to police.
"I think what we're going to do is clean it up and fence it off so they can't pull back there," Lloyd said.
"I guess we've been dragging our feet," he added.
On a recent evening, refuse was scattered in at least four spots behind the building and tower. Strewn trash, faded from the sun, littered the parking lot, along with torn sofas, the shell of a computer hard drive and circuit board, old clothes, pizza boxes, ripped plastic garbage bags and a washing machine.
A black mailbox on a wooden frame with the house number 1201 was tossed across one sofa.
"People put a lot of effort into dumping," DeLizia said.
Trash collection is available in all areas of the county, he said, adding that the county has two sites where people can legally get rid of bulk trash. The privately operated Oak Avenue rubblefill in Joppa takes wood materials and construction debris. The county's Scarboro landfill in Dublin takes household garbage and recyclables for $5 a truckload, he said.
"There are options," DeLizia said. "It's just a matter of people wanting to make the effort."
County Councilman Lance C. Miller, a Republican from Darlington, said he was unaware of the dumping problem but planned to call the Health Department.
Miller and others on the council and the Harford County Board of Education have mentioned the Hickory building as a possible site to relieve crowding at area schools.
Lloyd said he has spoken with school administration members and such a use is "very possible"; however, he said he is talking with several developers who are considering "nice, upscale shopping" for the site and no final decisions have been made.
Urban, who has lived on Route 543 for 35 years, said a school would be an improvement.
Her corner has gotten busy, she said, but it's still home.
"Motorcycles can get loud," she said, "but I don't mind that. I can sleep through it all. I love it here."
As she walked back from the cell tower site, where forlorn looking sofas shared a patch of gravel with ripped and rusted mattresses, she said that soon the smell of the garbage will waft past her garden to her house. She wonders when the rats will come.
"It's only going to get worse," she said. "It shouldn't be allowed."