Before he retired from farming. 93-year-old Jesse Day likes to recall, he was able to grow his vegetables in Frederick County, cook them in Montgomery County and receive his guests in Howard County, all without ever leaving his property here.
Like most longtime residents of this still-rural region, where Montgomery, Howard, Frederick and Carroll counties all meet, Day has always been convinced he knows where one county ends and another begins.
State and county officials, however, are not quite so sure. This area, 35 miles northwest of downtown Washington, has not been surveyed in 154 years and there are occasional official squabbles over who should pay taxes to whom and where children should go to school.
As suburban spillover brings more and more people here from the Washington and Baltimore areas, the questions get more and more irksome. Finally last Friday, the Montgomery delegation to the General Assembly asked the state to resurvey the area and establish the boundaries once and for all.
In the meantime, resident of this restful region of rolling hills, dirt roads, cow pastures and white-steepled churches have learned to consider their peculiar geographic problems a way of life.
There's the case of Daniel Hudson, who lives on a 1.19-acre parcel on land in both Montgomery and Howard counties. Hudson discovered recently that for the past six years, both counties have been charging him taxes on a portion of his land which each county claims as its own.
"It's only about $60 a year (for the Montgomery taxes). But over time that adds up," said Hudson, who works for D.C. Department of Environmental Services and moved out to Howard County from Wheaton seeking lower taxes and more open space.
Montgomery County has been insisting that it is Howard County that is overcharging Hudson in taxes. And meanwhile Hudson has spent the past few weeks running up his phone with toll calls to Ellicott City, the Howard County seat, to try to straighten the matter out.
"Why can't they just square things off?" Hudson said of the boundary dispute.
There is also the case of Dorothy Day, Jesse Day's daughter-in-law. For the past year, Day has been trying to sell a parcel of land to a physician who wants to set up a clinic in Howard, less than half an acre of the parcel lies in Montgomery, which won't cede the land to Howard.
Nor has Day had any luck convincing Montgomery officials to rezone that same portion of the land for commercial use, so the doctor could build a parking lot there for his clinic -- which would be in Howard. Day has hired Del. Jerry Hyatt who represents a portion of both Montgomery and Howard in the General Assembly, as her lawyer, but thus far she has gotten no further with her campaign.
Years ago, Day says, "Most people didn't care what county they were in because they were paying low farm taxes. But now all these people coming up from Washington buying the land, they want a clear deed to the land. They want to know where the heck they're giving, (in what county) their chldren will go to school."
Nowhere are the peculiarities of being a multi-county community more evident than in Mount Airy, a town two miles north of Ridgeville which is virtually split in two by the Frederick-Carroll county border. Despite their dual affiliation, Mount Airy residents sometimes feel like orphans.
For one thing, Mount Airy receives no transportation or health services from either county. It "rents" state troopers from the state police.
It takes a toll call for Mount Airy residents to reach their fire rescue service in Westminster the Carroll County seat.
Most annoying for the 2,500 residents of Mount Airy -- indeed for many of the residents in the four-county area -- is the regulation requiring students to attend schools in the county where their parents pay taxes. In many cases that school is not necessarily the closest to their home.
"The children across the street from me live in Frederick County and go six miles to a Frederick county school. They're bused. The children right directly on the other side of the street go to school 3/4 of a mile away in Carroll County. They walk," explained Mount Airy Mayor Lewis C. Dixon.
Despite some of the drawbacks, the Mount Airy region is growing rapidly, according to Dixon, who says the population of just that community alone has grown by 50 percent in the last 10 years.
It is precisely because of the growth that the boundary survey must be done, says Del. Constance Morella (R-Montgomery), who first took the issue up with the delegation. Now that the old grain and cattle farms are systematically disappearing into subdivided housing lots, each county is anxious to get its rightful share of the property taxes.
Residential property in the area now sells for $15,000 to $20,000 an acre, according to Del. Hyatt. Commercial property sells for about $175,000 an acre, he said.
The last time the area was surveyed was in 1835, according to Judy French, chairman of the Montgomery chapter of the Maryland Environmental Trust.
French said that various county agencies in Montgomery disagree over how many square miles Montgomery actually contains. Estimates range from 506 square miles to 463, she said, quoting from different county publications.
She said she found two maps, both used by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission which each showed different boundaries between Montgomery and Frederick.
The area which would be resurveyed by the Maryland Geological survey includes an 18-mile stretch from Parr Springs west to the Potomac River and a two-mile sliver of land near Parr Springs where all four counties meet.