"You want to know about Scaggsville, eh?" asked William Kolpach as he stood in front of his fruit and vegetable stand on Rte. 216 in Howard County. "Well, you know, Scaggsville has vanished in the wind."
On Interstate 95 highway builders have erected huge signs showing the way to Scaggsville. On their state maps, they have marked the town with a small dot. But what they didn't seem to notice was that the highway department bull-dozed much of the town in 1952, when they paved Rte. 29 and, in the process, took out the stores and homes at the crossroads of Rte. 216.
Scaggsville has not so much "vanished in the wind" as fallen prey to the advance of urbanization. Only six miles south of Columbia, the remnants of this rural farming community are the homes, the church and the gas station on Rte. 216, also called Scaggsville Road. All the while, family farms in the area are slowly disappearing as rising land values and increased taxes make the property difficult to farm for profit.
It takes a curious motorist only a three mile drive down a winding country road to realize that the signs tell us more about yesterday than today. For the old farming community is now one last bit of country between Columbia to the north and the far-flung Washington suburbs to the south.
What is left of the little town that was established in 1830 are the memories and traditions that the many Scaggs family descendants carry with them, and the hopes and faith in the past that many new residents bring with them as they migrate to the area.
In 1830 it was a fresh start for Alfred Scaggs when he came to Maryland from England. He found the rolling countryside near the northern Patuxent River "like home" and he and his new bride, Mary Duvall, bought 700 acres for $2,100. They had seven children and to each one they gave a farm. That was the beginning of Scaggsville.
Isaac, one of those children, had a little grocery store at the intersection of Scaggsville and Old Columbia Roads. Mildred Price, Isaac's great-granddaughter recalls how she would walk down to the store with her mother from one of the family homes and "he'd always give us a sucker or a peppermint stick."
In those days, there were horses and buggies on the roads, and kerosene lamps and coal stoves in the farmhouses. The post office was in Isaac's store and most of the people who got mail there held the surname of Scaggs.
But the beginning of the end of the village, according to long-time residents, was the time when the grocery store was torn down during the paving of Rte. 29 in 1952. "It took the store," said Myrtle Scaggs, whose husband Melvin is the great-grandson of Charles Scaggs, Isaac's brother."And then they came back a few years later and added another two lanes. The garage was torn down, along with a home that was there on the corner. The Scaggsville Super Market couldn't get access onto the road and so it died, too."
Now the crossroads of Rtes. 29 and 216 looks just like any stoplight. The focus of the village has moved further down Scaggsville Road (Rte. 216) toward the Emmanuel United Methodist Church and the Country Corner. But most people, especially the newer residents, don't call it Scaggsville anymore. They either say they live in Laurel, which is their new post office address, or Hammond Village or Saybrook or the name of some other nearby new development.
Dave Meacham, a real estate agent for the Jacyn Development Corp. which is developing farm land into a development called Saybrook, said it is "hard to sell the name Scaggsville. It doesn't have a good connotation."
Coon Hollow, named after the Coon family who lived along the ridge line in Scaggsville for many years, will soon be developed into Chelsea Estates. And the Cherrytree Farm, which some people say, "isn't really Scaggsville people after all, but just newcomers," is waiting for the right moment to develop into a shopping center.
Melvin Scaggs used to farm much of the land around Scaggsville. But with the advancing encroachment of suburbia from Washington and Columbia taking away valuable farm land, he and two of his sons are getting out of the farming business.
It is not just a change in the use of the land that threatens Scaggsville. Generations, far removed from the traditions of the past, also promote its disappearance.
The old family home, built around 1830, is still there, fronting Rte. 29. But Mildred Price's son and daughter-in-law, who live in the rambling wooden frame farmhouse, "don't want to live in it like it is. They want to get rid of it and build a small brick home," said Price. "But I don't want that, I want to get the old home fixed up and lived in as it was."
Price lives with her husband, James, in another old family home up the road "Melvin Scaggs built five of these rooms around 1885. But it passed out of the family for awhile, as did the old farmhouse down the hill. You see, those were pretty hard times, and," she adds, "some of Isaac's children had trouble with their drinking."
Melvin Scaggs and his wife, Myrtle, live just south of the old "center of Scaggsville," on the Old Columbia Road.He went to school in the one-room schoolhouse near the church "from first to seventh grade. That's all the education I got," he said.
A larger school, the Scaggsville Elementary School, was built up on the hill at the crossroads in 1942. But even that has changed. It is now a special school for developmentally delayed and intellectually limited students in Howard County.
Charlotte Selby, who works in the principal's office at the school, remembered when she would come out to Scaggsville from Washington and visit her grandmother. "It was so different then. They had an outside toilet, and we would take baths on Saturday night in the kitchen." Selby now lives in Hammond Village with her family. "We didn't go very far away from home, but we like it here. It still feels like country."
During the 1930s, the one-room schoolhouse became a saloon; the Country Corner antique store was a pool-hall and gas station. "They called it Hell's Corner around here," said Thelma Spitzer, who now owns the store with her husband, Homer. "But before that it was a blacksmith shop. We still run into the foundations every time we want to plant some flowers.
The Spitzers moved to Scaggsville from Berkeley County, W. Va. 27 years ago, and caused some disruption when they began to attend the Methodist church up the road. "It was just a family church back then," said Mrs. Spitzer. "I remember when a little old lady came up to me after we first started going and said, "I just don't know what will become of the church what with the strangers coming in.'" Mrs. Spitzer later became the choir director.
The church still provides a focal point for the community's activities. It has become famous areawide for its turkey suppers in November, its haunted house during pre-Halloween week. "Six hundred people came through here last year," said Pam Cook, an Atherton High School student and member of the church's senior high youth group. She and her friends have spent many afternoons inventing ghoulish scences for this year's extravaganza.
Cook, as well as her parents, love the Scaggsville area. "I have a horse up at High Ridge and it's just pleasant to live around here. Everyone is so nice to everyone else," she said.
"What has changed Scaggsville more than anything else," said Mrs. Scaggs, "is Columbia. They came and bought up all the property clear to Johns Hopkins Road and raised the price of the land all through here.
"Melvin can't get enough money from farming to raise three families. You just wonder where you're going to grow enough food to eat," she said. She looked out at the sheep grazing on her daughter's lawn-across the road. It is one of the few bits of land the Scaggs still farm.
"You just wonder where they're going to keep finding the open space," she said.