Saturday, February 22, 2014

History of Howard County

I'm a bit of a history buff, and there are a lot of different history topics that I enjoy.  World War 2 history is very interesting.  American History is really cool.  But my favorite type of history is the history of roads.  I know you're probably thinking this is a weird thing to be interested in.  But it is incredibly interesting to me.  It started with the National Road, which my family traveled on all the way to Uniontown, PA, my father's hometown, almost monthly while growing up.  Then I discovered Route 66, which led to multiple trips "Out West" to discover and travel on the old road that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles.  The Lincoln Highway, one of the first cross-country highways, is another road that fascinates me.  But my absolute favorite topics are the highways and road in and around the area I live(d) in.

About fifteen years ago, I found a reproduction of a late 19th Century road atlas of Prince George's County.  I was crazy about it.  I used it, along with a modern ADC atlas of PG County, to track down all of the roads that were around back then.  It was a fun project, and a great source of history of the county I was born and raised in.  To me, it was incredible to explore the roads that existed more than a hundred years ago and compare them to how they exist today.

Of course, what made it really easy is the fact that Prince George's County is still so rural in many areas, and it was very easy to track almost all of the roads.  Very few of the roads have changed, or had their alignments altered.

My current home is Howard County.  In my efforts to learn about the county, I've done some reading about the area so that I can better know the county's history.  One thing that I noticed is that the really early history of Howard County isn't nearly as interesting to me as Prince George's County.  It might be because of the earlier founding of PG, since it was founded in the late 17th Century, whereas Howard actually was part of Anne Arundel County until the middle of the 19th Century.  In addition, where roads were one of my primary interests, a big chunk of Howard County was basically plowed over by the founding and building of the city of Columbia beginning in 1967.  That's when my interest was piqued, though.

I love looking at Google satellite imagery, and I've spent a lot of time analyzing much of the area around Columbia.  I've been puzzled by the labeling of several of the roads in the area, and it lead me to want to know more about Columbia's history.  Fortunately, much of Columbia's founding is well-documented, so I'm having a lot of fun learning about it.  Of particular interest is a book that I'm currently reading, "New City Upon A Hill, A History of Columbia, MD", by Joseph Rocco Mitchell and David L. Stebenne.  It has been a nice learning experience and has lead me to want to know more about the more history of Howard County and this "strange land" called Columbia.

In fact, I asked my father today about his opinion of Columbia, since he and my mother were married in 1967 and lived first in Silver Spring, then New Carrollton, before buying their first home in Riverdale right after I was born in 1969, and then to Upper Marlboro in 1973.  Specifically, I wanted to know if my parents ever considered moving to Columbia.  Dad replied that Columbia was a big deal at the time, and they did indeed check it out before buying their Riverdale home.  The biggest problem they had with Columbia was the builders.  They really didn't care for the design of the homes, and they thought the lots were too small.  In addition, Dad said that Columbia just seemed too far away.  Even though Dad worked in Silver Spring and in Rockville back in the day, Prince George's County seemed to be a bit closer.  The fact that my mother grew up in Beltsville, and two of Dad's sisters had homes in Bowie, led them to consider Upper Marlboro ahead of Columbia.

Another reason for my interest in Columbia was something I read recently but can't remember where.  It was probably on a blog that I read regularly, but please forgive me for not knowing exactly where.  Anyway, the quote was, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Those of us who grew up in Columbia likely remember playing in the grass fields before Route 32 was completed."  I know that Route 32 in its current form isn't that old.  In fact, I read on a highway history website called that only a portion of Route 32 was completed at first, a stretch along Interstate 95 that ran to Guilford Road to the west, and a short loop just east of I-95.  Guilford Road then picked up the Rt. 32 designation heading west.  Based on what I see now, Guilford Road is now broken up into multiple pieces by the current Route 32 and other current highways, like US 29.

Also, I remember Route 29 having multiple at grade intersections throughout its length with traffic lights instead of interchanges, particularly at Rt. 216, Johns Hopkins Road, and others.  One other road that holds my interest is Old Montgomery Road, which seems to at one point have covered almost the entire length of Columbia.  I can see there are short segments everywhere, though it appears to dead end at Tamar Road on the east.  It picks up again heading west off of Old Dobbin Road, then dead ends before it reaches Rt. 175, then picks up again on the other side of Rt. 175, ending at Majors Lane.  It picks up again beyond that, to the west, crosses Tamar Dr. again, continues to Oakland Mills Road where the road continues in a westerly direction, but takes on the Oakland Mills Road name.  I can't find much else about it, but am dying to know more.

So if you're aware of the history of these roads, I'd love to hear about them.  If you do, I'll make sure to give you credit.  The history is all very fascinating.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone!


  1. You can find huge amounts of information at the Historical Society in The Miller Library, Ellicott City.

    I have a few books, including one with very old roads in the different districts of the county.

    1. Awesome! I didn't even think to check at the Historical Society. Thanks for the suggestion!