In these days of supersensitivity about substance abuse, some people are saying they have "zero tolerance" for Whiskey Bottom, a North Laurel neighborhood where the streets have names like "Moonshine Hollow," "Bourbon Street" and "Brandy Lane."
Arguing that the name sends a bad message to school-age children, students and their parents have just about persuaded the Howard County School Board to change the name of the Whiskey Bottom Elementary School.
"That name is horrible for an elementary school," said Kate Billman, who lives on Baltimore Avenue.
But others are proud of Whiskey Bottom, which got its name from the days when wagon trains hauled shipments from a whiskey distillery along the town's hilly streets.
"We still have in the history books the Whiskey Rebellion and we don't mind that," said Fred Schoenbrodt, who was chairman of the Howard County School Board when the school was named in 1972.
"I think it's making a mountain out of a molehill," Schoenbrodt said.
The debate over Whiskey Bottom's identity illustrates the dynamics at work in the growing community, midway between Baltimore and Washington, where relatively low land prices and proximity to Interstate 95 have fueled a development boom in recent years.
"The Whiskey community has taken a turn," said former school superintendent M. Thomas Goedeke. "I guess old-line community people have moved out, outnumbered by the younger group that has moved in."
In the past decade, the population of the North Laurel-Savage area has jumped from 19,000 to more than 30,000. Many of the newer people prefer not to call their neighborhood by the old name and think of themselves as residents of North Laurel.
"I think of it as the Howard County side of Laurel," said real estate appraiser David Haas.
Whatever you call it, it's not hard to see what is causing the population boom. There's a wide a variety of housing types and neighborhoods in the area, most of it more affordable than in suburbs closer to Washington or Baltimore.
According to area real estate agents, older single-family homes may range from about $118,000 to the low $120,000s, town house rentals go for $600 or $700 per month, new single-family homes are available for around $200,000.
In increasingly pricey Howard County, there is even what could properly be called "affordable housing" in Whiskey Bottom -- mobile homes, for instance, and the several dozen units of assisted housing the county is building for low- and moderate-income families on Harmony Lane.
The area provides easy access not only to I-95, but the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Routes 1 and 29. The newcomers are commuting to jobs not just in Baltimore and the District, but in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, Fort Meade and Columbia as well. There is shopping at the Laurel Lakes Shopping Center or the Columbia Mall. There are the highly regarded Howard County public schools.
But is there a there there?
Residents of the older neighborhoods think so. They say they like the way generations of the same family might often live on the same street and people seem to know each other.
"I live on a tree-lined street. I know all my neighbors. People get together for a cause," said Billman. "My husband works at Walter Reed Hospital and it takes him 20 minutes to get to work."
Billman can walk to the nearby Laurel downtown to get Chinese food, Italian food or ribs at Red Hot and Blue. There's an old train station in downtown Laurel where the MARC train to Washington stops, she noted.
Along with the area's whiskey-making past, there is also a historic black community on Harmony Lane, where about a dozen black families live, many of them the descendants of freed slaves, who have lived in the area since the late 1800s.
"There's lots of kinds of housing -- from the most affordable to the very high -- and lots of different kinds of people," said Janice George, president of the Hammen Middle School PTA.
The area's robust growth may have brought the neighborhood greater attention from county government officials. Over the years, many residents in the area, indeed the whole southeastern part of the county, have felt neglected by the county, centered as it is in Ellicott City. There's a kind of inferiority complex here toward the more fashionable, genteel environs of Columbia, the planned community built by the Rouse Co.
Closer to the industrial parks of Route 1, the area is bracketed by two race tracks, and some parts of North Laurel have had persistent problems with petty crime, drugs and domestic violence.
But the region is changing fast. Developments and convenience stores are popping up, crowding has prompted the county to build a new elementary school, civic associations are complaining about traffic and crime, and drug problems have worsened. County officials are planning to increase library and health services in the area.
"It would have been nice if some of these retail stores hadn't gone up, but, you know, I shop at them," George said.
Similarly, Billman said she likes some of the changes, but worries about them.
"There's woods here," she said, "but I have a feeling they're not going to be around much longer."