The tourists stop by Accident on their way to someplace else -- curious to know The Story.

Accidentals, as the natives are sometimes puckishly called, are proud to relate how Accidents happen.

"We're the only Accident in the whole United States," said Postmaster Earleena Tressler about the Garrett County town. "And we wouldn't want to be called anything else."

How Accident came to be is a little coincidence of history. In 1751, so the story goes, King George II of England gave a land grant to a man named George Deakins in payment of a debt.

The terms of the grant allowed Deakins his choice of any 600-acre tract in the Western Maryland wilderness. Deakins promptly dispatched two engineers, each without knowledge of the other, to find his paradise. To their surprise, both engineers returned to find they had surveyed the same plot starting at the same tall oak tree. Deakins called the property "The Accident Tract," and the name endured.

These days, the name adds a certain wry aptness to several enterprises in the rolling rural town of 260 people. The Accident Professional Building on Main Street houses two dentists and a physician. In case of fire, residents summon the Accident Fire Department. And should they be involved in a wreck, the Accident Garage will be happy to repair the damage.

"From the Chrysler Corp. on down, we get kidded by everybody," said Bob Paugh of Accident Garage, which also serves as the Accident Chrysler-Plymouth dealership.

To answer the inevitable question, garage employes offer business cards with the story of Accident printed on the back. Town Clerk Marjorie Fratz, whose husband Wayne is the mayor, supplies a two-page history of the town. Tressler, the postmaster, hands out papers entitled, "How Accident Got Its Name."

"I was born and raised in the area," Tressler said, "and I had never thought a thing about the name, 'Accident.' Until, one time, I was at a postal forum in Washington. I stood up and introduced myself as the postmaster of Accident and it brought the house down."

Most people who stop and inquire about the origins of Accident usually have chanced upon the community. It is on U.S. Rte. 219, south of U.S. Rte. 40 and north of Deep Creek Lake, a 4,800-acre lake that draws thousands of vacationers to the area each summer.

The rounded Allegheny Mountains, delicate with new greenery, surround the collection of homes and small stores.

Accident originally was settled by English farmers from Prince George's County; they quickly discovered, however, that the Garrett County terrain was not suited to growing tobacco. Later, the town became a German settlement. It was incorporated in 1916.

Today, Accident is a well-scrubbed little town of frame houses and woodpiles, clotheslines and pickup trucks. It has three Lutheran churches, none of which have Accident in the name; three schools, including Accident Elementary School, and a home for the elderly.

Sixty-seven percent of the town's residents are over 60, Marjorie Fratz said.

"They take a lot of pride in keeping the town clean," she said. "The people are out early in the morning, washing windows. The ladies keep the sidewalks swept. It's not unusual to see them out there with a dustpan."

But cleanliness in Accident runs second to a fierce loyalty, a defensiveness about the area that has become something of a Garrett County characteristic. For the last few years, "outsiders" have depicted the county not as a picturesque resort area but as a state leader in unemployment and poverty. In the early spring, the unemployment rate is as high as 19 percent, said Tom Jones, the county's economic development director.

Nothing riles residents quite so much as an intimation that the area is poor and struggling. For a monologue on the subject, a visitor was directed to Matthews Grocery; "Ask for Rosie."

Matthews Grocery is half of a pale-green, two-story house. The screen door clacks softly shut. The floors are wood. The shelves are crammed with everything from Timex watches to canning jars. On this particular afternoon, owner Joe Matthews, 73, was engaged in sympathetic conversation with a bread deliveryman who had a painful toothache.

Clerk Rosie Smith, 65, who has commanded Matthews Grocery for 40 years, fairly bristled with indignation as she talked about the area's poor image. She drew herself up to her full height, five feet. Her brown eyes flashed.

"In a way, we feel like we're more a part of Pennsylvania than Maryland," Smith said. "Television stations and newspeople from all over Maryland come up here and what do they do? Do they take pictures of the nice new post office we're building? No! They go pick out some old tumble-down barn that nobody even uses anymore. See why I get my feathers up?

"One day," she said, "a big carload of wealthy people pulled up outside and wanted to see how we live. They had heard all about how poverty-stricken we were. People think we're destitute and running around barefoot up here!"

Smith stopped to assist a man in workclothes who bought a package of cupcakes. She recorded the sale in a small loose-leaf notebook.

"We're not trying to flower up anything," said Joe Matthews, a tall man with a mild manner of speaking. "We defend the town because we know the people.

"We don't have much crime here," he said, "maybe a little pilfering at night is all. Oh, a few years ago -- five or six or seven years ago -- somebody robbed the bank. Made the bank people lay down on the floor. They were caught in a little while. They weren't from Garrett County. They came up from the Washington area.

"That's about the only big thing that's happened around here," Matthews said, "but it's big enough."