Celebrating Oakland Mills

Columbia's second-oldest village marking its 40th birthday with weekend events

June 25, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

With three children and two younger siblings to raise after her mother died, Diane Tolson wanted a big house, friendly neighbors and good schools when she and her husband, Gerald, moved in 1971 from Washington to Columbia's Oakland Mills village.

This weekend's 40th birthday celebration of Oakland Mills, Columbia's second-oldest village, seems like a validation of their choice of a five-bedroom house on Pamplona Road, just behind Stevens Forest Elementary and down the block from Oakland Mills Middle School.

"We found a very stable environment and good friends," said Diane Tolson.

The kids could walk to school, including nearby Oakland Mills High School, and it was also near the village's commercial center, built around two renovated dairy barns and featuring a supermarket.

"He wanted the kids to grow up in the same high schools," Diane Tolson said of her husband, then an IBM employee who commuted to Bethesda and Gaithersburg. The intervening years have seen major changes, both in their family and in Howard County, but the Tolsons are still happily living amid old friends and their extended family.

"We still have half of our original neighbors," said Diane, now 65, and three other homes on Pamplona Road are occupied by her grown children, Todd, Evan and Patricia, and their families.

The village birthday celebration starts Friday - the first of three days of events evoking the camaraderie of the past and boosting the community toward renewed prosperity.

"We are really excited to celebrate our 40-year history and, in doing so, our future together as well," said Mary Kate Murray, 42, a village resident since 2003 who has lived in Columbia since 1989. She fell in love with her house in Thunder Hill, which has an indoor pond and solarium.

"The sense of community I feel in Oakland Mills is 1,000 times greater than what I felt in any other place in Columbia," said Murray, a member of the Oakland Mills Village Board.

Her talents as a computer programmer have also helped connect the village's celebration of history with the electronic world, using the eight free access sites on the Internet to conduct on-line surveys, offer merchandise featuring the village's logo and to collect the memories of residents and former residents.

Among the memories she has received are those of former residents such as retired British Embassy staff member Richard Williams, who spent three years in Oakland Mills with his family from 1987-1990. His sons, now 29 and 32, still talk about their years in Columbia, when they were boys, he said via e-mail from Great Britain.

"We liked the more established feel of Oakland Mills, with lots of shade from the trees, and footpaths through to the schools and the village center," Williams wrote, adding that "the Last Chance was the clincher for me - a good place to socialize and very much like an English pub."

New owners are planning to reopen the building under the name Second Chance Saloon and re-create that pub atmosphere, they have said.

"One day, we'll come back for another look around, just to see how things have changed," Williams said.

When Oakland Mills was new, some people were complaining that the cheapest detached homes were selling for $23,000. In 1970, gasoline was 36 cents a gallon and the average new car sold for $3,542.

Those days are clearly gone forever. The advent of big-box stores has undermined the traditional village center, and Oakland Mills was redeveloped into a strip center in the 1990s. Despite that, the supermarket anchor remained empty for several years until the arrival of Food Lion, and the lot where the Gulf service station stood remains vacant, awaiting word on whether plans for four-story office building will go forward. Some residents have complained, too, that there are too many subsidized apartments and not enough new housing in the village.

In recent years, concerns have emerged about crime - resulting in a police substation in the village center parking lot.

None of that will dampen the celebration, according to Murray, who is a central organizer of the birthday bash.

"Our village is very collaborative, and a wonderfully energetic and energized group of neighbors is creating this weekend together," she said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

Happy 40th

What: 40th birthday party for Oakland Mills, the second-oldest village in Columbia.

When: Friday through Sunday.

Where: The Other Barn, Oakland Mills Village Center, 5851 Robert Oliver Place.

Highlights: Friday - Free 1968 movie night, 8 p.m., The Graduate; Saturday - OM Fest from noon to 3 p.m. in the courtyard with bands and free food/drinks. Family disco night from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults in advance and $8 at the door. Tickets for children 6 to 12 are less, and kids 5 and younger are free; Sunday - Farmers' Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A "Jazz in the Mills" music series will feature the Lavenia Nesmith Quintet from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Information: OM Village Manager Sandy Cederbaum, 410-730-4610, or http://oaklandmills.columbia.org/

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