Sterling Park did not come easily to Loudoun County. As the first major development in what had been a serenely rural county, unexpected obstacles confronted its earliest residents.

First there were the plumbing problems that kept some families from moving in on schedule. Because they already had sold their old homes, they had to rent apartments until their new homes were ready.

Once moved in, they had to travel an unpaved Sterling Boulevard, alternately muddy or dusty, to get to Rte. 7, along the southern edge of which the development lies, just west of the Fairfax County line.

Also, when they looked beyond their new community, Sterling Park dwellers found little welcome from their neighbors to the west, where some oldtime residents resented the influx of new people and the development of what had once been farmland.

As one of Sterling Park's first residents said, "It was just a little farming community and the city slickers was movin' in. That's the way it was."

Despite its shaky start, Sterling Park has survived and prospered.

Last Saturday this community, which now houses nearly one-third of the county's 60,000 residents, threw a 20th anniversary party that was pure celebration.

Hundreds of families came out to watch the anniversary parade along Sterling Boulevard, paved now and four lanes wide, with its median strip neatly mowed by the Sterling Park Jaycees.

An unincorporated community, Sterling Park lacks the government workers of Loudoun's seven incorporated towns, so civic organizations like the Jaycees pitch in where needed.

Citizen awards were part of the community-sponsored event. Among those honored were Sterling Park's first walking mail carrier and the First Lady of Sterling Park, Lillian Burby, former editor of the community newspaper, the Loudoun Easterner.

A first resident award might have been conferred but for a complication. No one has ever officially pinned down just who was the first family in Sterling Park.

Awards committee researchers found that the Paul Stone family was the first to move in its furniture, but plumbing problems kept the family from being the first to actually live in its house. The Thomas Brooks family is held to be the first to spend the night in its Sterling Park home. But not everyone agrees. The committee played it safe and honored members of the Alfred LaPlaca family, who moved in Feb. 18, 1963, as the longest continuous residents.

Sterling Park's 20th birthday was "not a speechifying day," according to Catherine Callahan, one of the event's planners, because "everyone wanted to march in the parade."

It was a day for some politicking, with incumbents and their challengers for the eastern district seats on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors waving from parade vehicles and scattering candy and campaign brochures.

"You see that guy over there? He used to be our mailman," said Norma Bowers, gesturing toward the 1949 pickup truck that carried state Sen. Charles Waddell up Sterling Boulevard. Delivering Sterling Park's mail was a second job for Waddell in the 1960s, before he entered politics.

Norma and Bud Bowers moved to Sterling Park in March 1964. "We wanted to raise our children where it wasn't city-city and where it wasn't country-country," Norma Bowers said.

The Bowers' two children never had to walk more than a few blocks to elementary school, middle school and high school. "You can't get that most places," Bud Bowers said.

"A friend of mine recently asked me, 'If you win a million dollars, would you move,' and I said 'no,' " Norma Bowers said.