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Suburbia Catches Up With Unger, W.Va.

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 26, 2006

UNGER, W.Va. -- Twenty-two years ago, burned-out Washington lawyer George Farnham hauled his 1955 jukebox around Sleepy Creek Mountain and moved into an old farmhouse here where he found peace and understanding and got into collectibles.

Here, his ponytail turned gray. Here, he erected four huge fiberglass statues in his back yard -- Muffler Man, a 26-foot-tall beach boy in sunglasses, Santa Claus and a monstrous grocery clerk called Big John. And here, he fit right in with the other eccentrics who had come to escape the madness across the mountain.

Then, one day recently, Farnham discovered something scary. Test holes were being drilled in a field across from his house. And he knew: All that he had fled years before had found him once again. A housing development was coming to paradise.

Bummer.

In the weeks since, Farnham, 52, and others who migrated to Morgan County to escape urban insanity and suburban sprawl have launched an old-fashioned '60s-style anti-development campaign.

In protest, they've erected multicolored outhouses along county roads and the main streets of the county seat, Berkeley Springs. They've called for a moratorium on big development. One weekend this month, they rallied before Farnham's backyard titans to repeat the mantra, "Keep Morgan County Rural. Keep Morgan County Green."

The bearded Farnham, clad in jeans, cowboy boots and a pale blue polo shirt, said he paid $65,000 for his seven-acre property two decades ago. The son of a lawyer, Farnham said he was raised in Scarsdale, N.Y., and grew to detest suburbia. "For me, it was the sameness," he said. "The restaurants, the stores, the houses, just block after block of the same."

He attended George Washington University Law School and gained public notice in the early 1980s as a leader in the failed initiative to legalize marijuana in the District. "Those days are gone," he said recently.

In Unger, he found freedom -- mainly from zoning regulations. This enabled him to assemble in his yard his car-stopping collection of fiberglass giants in the past few years.

He also has a gigantic eagle with a 12-foot wingspan, a huge crab, two giant apples and a collection of plastic flamingos that belongs to his wife, Pam, who raises alpacas.

Farnham said that along with the freedom and beauty, he fell in love with Morgan County's people -- "an eclectic mix of old-timers and aging hippies who got here in the '60s and '70s . . . You'll meet more characters in Morgan County per square mile than you will anywhere else."

The joke in Berkeley Springs for years has been that there are more massage therapists than lawyers, he said.


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