Above Dennison's hobby shop on Main Street, the Four County Model (railroad) Engineers are building The Four County Line. There's Four County Terramite, which rents backhoes, also on Main Street. Four County Automotive, a repair shop, is out on Ridgeville Boulevard. Just south of town lies Four County Farm. Nearby is Four County Exxon.

Here in the heart of Maryland -- actually at a point on Four County Farm -- converge the counties of Montgomery, Frederick, Carroll and Howard. The Frederick-Carroll County line bisects most of South Main Street in Mt. Airy proper, a municipality of 2,500 or so platted along Parr's Ridge, about 40 miles northwest of Washington.

Mayor Lewis Dixon peers out the rear window of his True Value hardware store on Main Street. "Right now, we're sitting in Carroll County. See that white house across the parking lot. It's in Frederick County." A corner of Dixon's own home lot, located in Carroll County, , touches Frederick.

The home next to the old Pine Grove Chapel on South Main Street. Before the festival flap, her group had had the town placed on the national historic register.

"Ninety percent of the people weren't in favor of it," said Mac Molesworth, the president of the town council whose family has produced two mayors since the town's 1896 incorporation. "There are two old buildings, the railroad station and the Pine Grove Chapel . . . . The rest are just plain houses, nothing fancy, nothing old," Molesworth said.

"We have people in this town who are totally historically insensitive," said Linderman. "Then, there are others of us who, even though not born and bred here, are working daily to raise the public awareness of what a real little treasure they have here . . . .

"It upsets me that some of the old folks who've been here all their lives see it as a bunch of old buildings. My husband and I see it as a little jewel at the foot of the mountains."

Then there's Bob Hilton, a real estate developer who lives seven miles south, in Montgomery County. Hilton was a founding member of the Mt. Airy Businessman's Association, which died the other year for lack of interest.

For a few years, it sponsored a spring Oldtimers Day on the sidewalks of Main Street. Hilton wanted to close the street but encountered opposition and dropped the idea. The event went on anyway. Three thousand people came.

"The reason you see the town looking the way it is is that people move very slow here," Hilton said. "They're slow to accept new ideas, which is good and bad. They're not joiners, which is good and bad. It's a marvelous thing, unless you're trying to originate something."

Mt. Airy is the kind of town, he said, where a new idea must be mulled over, "seasoned" for a year or so before being seriously considered. It's the kind of place where the railroad crossing signs are still standing more than a year after the tracks were taken up and the station converted into medical offices.

The controversy over closing Main Street for the festival, he said, is "a perfect example of the new meeting the old and nobody being willing to compromise."

Said Nina Dennison, at the hobby shop, "Personally, I think both sides are being childish. It became an emotional issue . . . and I think that's a shame. Everyone was trying to use their influence rather than having the doggone festival. They chose up sides is what happened. Most businesses didn't care a hoot one way or the other, before the sides were chosen."

A few doors down, Dorothy Gosnell, who helps run the Olde Town Restaurant owned by her son, said, "This is not what Mt. Airy's about. We're a loving town, where everybody knows everybody else and people care about each other. We're not a bunch of fighters. We're grownups. It's sad."

Molesworth, who owns a car dealership on Ridgeville Boulevard, shrugged, "It is a nice little town. Unfortunately, you got a few new people who stir things up. They [think] they're gonna change the world. Eight or 10 years ago, a few new people were gonna take over the town. They put up candidates, went door to door. They got beat so bad, nobody ever heard of them again."

Linderman, describing herself as "politically active," suggests the old guard may face new challenges in the next election, nonetheless.

But for now, fast food outlets and new subdivisions are sprouting on the outskirts of town, in both Frederick and Carroll counties. Even Sandra Linderman's large, sloping backyard borders a new development. It's called Merridale. "Cookie-cutter houses with cookie-cutter people," she said.

Eighty-eight-year-old Motie Cuthbertson lives on the Four County Farm her family has owned since 1837. "We're the old, old-timers," she said.

On her farm, five springheads in a pond form the headwaters of the Patapsco River (which empties into Baltimore Harbor), known hereabouts as Parr's Spring. Underwater is the original four-county marker.

For years, she paid taxes to all four counties, but Montgomery recently decided the amount received from the thin sliver of county land on her property wasn't worth the price of processing the tax bill. "We're not in the corporate limits, we're orphans," she said.

But her parents married in Mt. Airy, she attended school there and she is, to the core, an unabashed town booster.

It's 25 miles from Rockville, 15 from Frederick City, 22 from Westminster and 24 from Ellicott City, she notes, adding, "Now, where else would you find a little town within that distance of four county seats?"