YOU MIGHT SAY Mountain Lake Park Days started with a dog fight. And we'll get to that in a bit. But first you should know that Mountain Lake Park (pop. 1,600), the second largest town in Garrett County after Oakland, was one of four summer resorts that developed in the county along the B&O Railroad line in the late 19th century. Oakland, Deer Park and Loch Lynne Heights were the others.
Of the four, Mountain Lake Park was the only Chautauqua- style resort, dedicated to improving both mind and morals of vacationers.
In its heyday, it had 35 hotels (some with 200 rooms), a lake, a golf course, tennis courts and tabernacle. Whole families moved in for the summer, bringing servants.
The most outstanding feature was the outdoor auditorium that seated 5,000 people, and filled up to hear the likes of Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan an Samuel Gompers.
Next week, during the four-day festival known as Mountain Lake Park Days, some of the flavor and activities of the Chautauqua era will be recreated for fun. The festival drew about a thousand people last year; organizers are hoping for 1,500 this year.
Starting Wednesday, there'll be concerts, theatrical performances, an old-fashioned boarding house dinner, lectures, crafts and tennis and horseshoe tournaments. One of the best events is on Friday, July 12, when there will be tours of some of the restored summer "cottages" -- houses, really, with Victorian turrets and wooden gingerbread.
Those "cottages," by the way, lead us to the dog fight that started Mountain Lake Park Days. In the summer of 1982, Mary Love, a retired psychologist, was recovering from a broken foot suffered when she broke up a tussle between a boxer and her German shepherd.
Restless from waiting for it to heal, she began driving around taking pictures of all the old houses she used to bicycle past in her youth. Then the Garrett County Library invited her to show the pictures.
"I thought there would be five or six people, maybe, but the place was packed," she recalls.
The slide show brought calls and letters from people wanting to share memories, photographs and other memorabilia, and "still hardly a day goes by that I don't get a call about some house," she says with pleasure.
Eventually the slide show led to a state humanities grant and to the first Mountain Lake Park Days in July 1983.
Last year, a group called "Friends of Mountain Lake Park" was formed to organize the celebration and preservation of the town's past.
And maybe, someday, to put a historical marker on the site of that dogfight?
MOUNTAIN LAKE PARK DAYS -- July 10-13. Many of the events require individual tickets. Thursday's boarding house dinner, for example, is $12, available by calling 301/334-2216. Tickets for the house tour on July 12 are $5; maps and a schedule areprovided.
For more information, contact the Deep Creek Lake-Garrett County Promotion Council, 301/334-3888.