Down in southeastern Prince George's County where tree-lined country roads wind through what was once tobacco heaven, the town of Eagle Harbor sits tucked away on the banks of the Patuxent River.
Modest wooden and brick cottages line the streets of this riverside hamlet, bearing names like Overlook, Peyton Place and The Skipper instead of street addresses. The streets run along curbless and sidewalkless paths as if they had no particular destination. Street lamps look out over the town, but there are no traffic lights.
Here, 12 miles up from where the Patuxent pours into the Chesapeake Bay, the muddy brown river is a mile wide and teems with famous Maryland Blue Crabs and assorted fish, Piers extend from the shores of Eagle Harbor, seemingly reaching out to greet Calvert County across the way.
Smokey stacks announce the presence of a PEPCO generating plant a half mile down the river, but the shoreline otherwise is green-brown and perfect.
Except for the sounds of the river lapping against the shore of an occasional car rumbling through the streets, there is little to break the quiet tranquillity of Eagle Harbor. It is a quiet so familiar that residents claim to know the sound of an approaching neighbor's car.
Little has changed since this tiny black resort town was carved out of a farm in 1925 and incorporated as a municipality in 1928.Small, comfortable homes have replaced the tents that once formed the core of the town and many of the roads have been paved, but that is about all.
Eagle Harbor citizens perhaps are the only residents of an incorporates Prince George's municipality who still use deep wells and septic tanks instead of a water and sewer system. Many of the present residents are even decendants of earlier settlers.
For most of the year, the town is so small that its 30 permanent residents could fit into the town hall. However, when the weather warms, cottage owners from nearby Washington and as far away as Pennsylvania and Connecticut come to fish, picnic and enjoy the fresh cool breezes that come in off the river.
"We like to think of Eagle Harbor as a do-drop-in kind of a place," said Harriet Hunter, 63, resident of the town for nearly 20 years. "Everyone is pretty friendly and neighbors drop in on one another all the time. People usually share some of the vegetables in their gardens and we all keep an eye on one another's houses."
According to Hunter, many residents feel safe enough to leave their doors unlocked when they are away.
"The people of Eagle Harbor are part of one big extended family," said Mickey Proctor, 32, who spends his weekdays in Washington but often frequents the little town by the river. "They care about one another and they look out for one another."
"It's not like the city, where you're compelled to stay inside because you are afraid to walk the streets," adds Hunter, a short, stocky woman with curly gray-black hair. "You can walk up and down our streets without worrying about somebody mugging or harassing you."
However, for many who own cottages in Eagle Harbor, the town is not home, but a refuge from the city -- a place where people come to spend their weekends and summers.
Mayor Bertha Guerra, 38, who also lives during the week in northwest Washington is one such person.
"I like to come out here because it's natural, easy living," said Guerra, who for the last 15 years has been spending many of her weekends in Eagle Harbor.
"You don't have to worry about the traffic congestion and ambulance sirens, the crime and air pollution out here that you have to worry about in the city," she said.
"You can see people letting off all of the steam when they step out of their cars around here after spending a lot of time in the city," said Hunter, gesturing to mimic a fresh arrival. "They seem almost to the point of throwing up their hands and shouting: oh boy! They know that everything will be different at Eagle Harbor -- the air, the people the water."
Central to the life of Eagle Harbor is the river. It lurks behind every conversation, whether the talk is of boating, fishing, crabbing or just of sitting and reflecting upon the tranquillity of the place.
Some even see it as medicine for an aching soul.
"Whatever your problems, if you get up early enough in the morning, go out on a pier and look out over the river, you'll find that there is no medicine that the doctor can give you that will better help soothe a troubled soul. It makes you feel that things aren't so bad after all," said Hunter.
Then, there are the husbands who steal away between April and November to go out and spend long days on the river -- crabbing. "I wish I could get my husband back," said Evangaline Boozer, 32, who for nearly a decade has lived in Eagle Harbor year-round with her husband Don and two children. "I don't see him during the crabbing season. He is either out on the river or at work."
The Boozers are so enthralled with Eagle Harbor that they have stayed even though Don, 36, must commute 70 miles each day to and from his communications specialist job with the U.S. Postal Services in Washington.
"The casual life style, the fresh air, the seafood and the natural atmosphere all make it worthwhile," said Don.
Eagle Harbor is not without its problems through. Local residents have complained about a point constructed by PEPCO that is causing to accumulate and make the river shallower. However, opinion in the community is divided over the man-made point which boaters grumble about but crabbers see as beneficial.
One of the town's problems is a shortage of funds to make public improvements. Mayor Guerra says that most of the roads already are paved but there are other needs. The town hall needs a new roof and a seawall behind it to stop soil erosion, but the 50-cent tax rate won't pay for it.
The average property owner pays about $40 a year in taxes to the town -- barely enough to keep the trash collection, mosquito control and road improvement programs going.
"I don't know what we'll do but we definitely need more money for improvements," said Guerra.
Aside from these problems common to big towns as well as small, the residents enjoy Eagle Harbor.
"I would never leave it," said Evangaline Boozer, looking out over the rolling brown waters of the Paxtuxent. "I think it's the closest I'll get to paradise. It's not sophisticated. It's just plain down-home simple."