From the kitchen window of Helen Green's house in "The Hill" section of this tiny Frederick County town, progress can be seen in the making: A convenience store, a High's with gas pumps and public telephone, is under construction.
"It's going to be so nice when it opens up," said the 76-year-old Green. Also on the way, with government help, are indoor plumbing and tap water for her house, once, during the days of racial segregation, a two-room school for black children. Like many among the town's black minority, Green has lived without those amenities all her life.
Libertytown, set in the Appalachian foothills an hour's drive from Washington, was once an important stopping place along the main road between Baltimore and Frederick. Then Rte. 40, and later Rte. I-70, bypassed the community, and it faded into the kind of peaceful obscurity that typifies many small farm towns.
Bypassed by progress for years, the town today has 511 residents, compared to 425 in 1940, but there are two subdivisions and a soon-to-be-opened shopping center on the outskirts, the new High's store in town and a plethora of state and federal programs to help its citizens improve their lot.
The community's first sewage treatment plant is under construction, and with loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Frederick County and the state, housing for some of the poorest residents is being upgraded.
Spurred in part by the movement of more middle-class families to Frederick County, and especially to adjoining subdivisions such as Wisperren Oaks and Fox Ridge Estates, private developers are about to open the Libertytown Shopping Center, which will have a long-awaited supermarket and drugstore, on Rte. 26 a mile west of town.
"That's our progress. There it is," said Ada Beall Poole, a retired teacher and lifelong Libertytown resident. "I think we're experiencing a period of resurrection . . . . "
The $1.3 million sewage plant is being built just south of here on Town Creek. It will serve the town's 134 households and allow for up to 46 new homes to be built.
"Sewerage is something we really needed," said Jim Ecker, president of the Libertytown Civic Association. "But once we get the sewerage in, it's going to progress too fast, I think, because we got some people talking about building. We don't want it to go too fast too soon."
In part because they didn't want to see the town grow too quickly, residents recently won a rezoning battle against another shopping center at the more affluent eastern end of town.
This is a town of few streets. Besides Main, there are North and South streets, where most of the blacks live, and a few small bisecting alleys. While the area was said to have had the largest slave population in the county before the Civil War, only 56 -- 3 1/2 percent -- of the 1,848 persons living in the Liberty election district are black, according to the last census.
The population count also indicated that nearly 10 percent of the townspeople were 65 years or older, but residents believe the figure is actually higher.
An estimated one-fourth of the population holds jobs in the Washington metropolitan area. Others commute to jobs in Frederick, 11 miles west, or find employment locally.
Larry Welsh, 47, pays close attention to the population statistics, because he is the local life insurance salesman and president of the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Company. A relative latecomer -- he married a local resident and moved here in 1959 -- he describes the fire company as "kind of the center of the wheel of the community," serving a larger area of nearly 70 square miles.
"Basically, it's a good rural town," said Welsh, who came from Mt. Airy, another small town in neighboring Carroll County. "We'd like to keep it that way, but I don't think we can. We've more or less turned into the suburbs of D.C."
Still for now, Libertytown, like many Frederick County towns, is full of Norman Rockwell scenes of vintage America.
There's one blinking light at the intersection of Rtes. 75 and 26, Libertytown's "downtown." At this strategic corner sits a bank building erected in 1913, now a branch of the Farmers & Merchants Bank, and Simpson's general store, which has survived the ravages of fire and time for more than a century in the same family. The current owner is Richard Hemp, who can keep an eye on his enterprise from the branch bank he manages across the street.
There are 22 (soon to be 25) street lights in town, and the $375 bimonthly bill is paid by the civic association, which is the closest thing to a town government in this unincorporated village. The association withered after the fire company was formed in the 1960s, according to Ecker, who has headed up both, but the association was revived to raise money to keep the street lights burning. A town park is also on the association's agenda.
The community, first surveyed in 1739, was platted and named Libertytown in 1782, immediately after the Revolutionary War. There were copper and zinc mines in the surrounding hills, and a succession of taverns and small businesses in town.
From 1851 into the 20th century, the town had its own newspaper, "The Banner of Liberty." Oldtimers also recall a movie theater, roller skating rink, the consolidated Liberty High School and three churches, two of which survive.
Three cemeteries also remain. St. Peter's is noted locally for its monuments to the victims of the Titanic, although no locals were aboard the luxury liner that sank in 1912, and to Army Pvt. William Buncke, a native who died in France in World War I.
The father of current town resident Stewart Cashour hauled thestone for the Buncke memorial, and the high school principal, Ada Poole's father, did the masonry work. To them, the memorial remains a special local landmark.
Cashour, 66, is related to the Simpson family and worked at the store "as soon as I could reach the cash register and change money."
He wound up in the feed business. In semiretirement, he still keeps his hand in business, and "clerks sales," which means he keeps the books at estate auctions throughout the countryside.
While it no longer holds the Monday night fruit auctions that Cashour recalls from the 1920s and '30s, Simpson's is still the center of the community. In addition to foodstuffs and general merchandise, it now sells microwave pizza and has videocassette rentals, electronic games and a Maryland lottery computer terminal. Understandably, the folks at Simpson's aren't too high on High's arrival.
But currently, said Jim Ecker, "We only got one store Simpson's . That's 'high' (price), too. So we'll gladly have two 'high' stores."
Viola Theresa Davis, 79, who lives directly across the street from the High's site, says she likes the idea of having a convenience store nearby.
"Yeah, the town is beginning to get up a little better now," said Davis, who said she is also looking forward to indoor plumbing to be installed in her home this summer.
Libertytown, she said, is "getting on the map."