Where We Live

Indian Head, Md., free of sprawl - for better and worse

Geralyn Adams and Norman Dyson ride on Indian Head's Rail Trail.
Geralyn Adams and Norman Dyson ride on Indian Head's Rail Trail. (Ann Cameron Siegal for The Washington Post)
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Real estate locator map of Indian Head, Charles County
Gene Thorp/The Washington Post
By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, January 28, 2011; 11:10 AM

Beauty and challenges surround Indian Head, located on the peninsula where the Potomac River meets Mattawoman Creek in southern Charles County - a place known in the 19th century as the Indian headlands.

"What makes Indian Head unique," said Randy Albright, a former vice mayor of the town, "is you can't drive through it - you drive to it for a reason."

The town turned 90 years old last year. "We're still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up," Mayor Ed Rice quipped about the just-over-one-square-mile community 30 minutes south of the Capital Beltway at the end of Maryland Route 210.

"The town exists because it's adjacent to the Navy base," said Rice, who retired from that base in 1995.

Now called Naval Support Facility Indian Head, the base began in 1890 and spurred the incorporation of Indian Head by 1920. Today, Navy representatives are included on town commissions and residents serve as liaisons to base organizations. "There's good cooperation between us," Rice said.

Lenny Wallace, a third-generation resident, said: "Indian Head was the county hub in the '60s. We had go-kart tracks, a movie theater, a bowling alley, shoe store, hardware store, and several car dealers and grocery stores." But that all changed when Waldorf, La Plata and the Bryans Road area began growing as commercial centers.

"Our commercial growth is a niche one that will only appeal to certain developers," Rice said in his first newsletter to residents in 2009.

Two dollar stores and a Chinese cafe recently moved in. And yet, even with about 4,000 residents in the town, many stores sit empty. The town lacks a library, grocery stores, medical facilities, and real estate and law offices.

"The sprawl has gone up the road," said Caroline Ghebelian, a 50-year resident who lives in one of the few houses overlooking the Potomac River, just outside the incorporated boundaries. "It's not as convenient, but it's a trade-off," said the avid birdwatcher and longtime volunteer at nearby Chapman State Park. Various entities are "working with the county to make the area more of a tourism destination," she said.

The Indian Head Rail Trail, which opened in 2008, is part of that plan. It is a linear park with a paved 13-mile path running from Indian Head to White Plains, along a former railroad to the base.

Mattawoman Creek is popular for fishing and kayaking. There is currently no public access to the Potomac River in town, but plans are underway for a 1,500-foot boardwalk along the bank.

Early residents came for the base, said Century 21 real estate agent Norma Rice (no relation to the mayor). "Many come here now for the lifestyle and lower prices," she said.

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