Memories of a Life in Longfellow – by Jan Olsen

Fifty years flew by in a flash.  Our young family of five moved into Longfellow during the later part of Columbia’s first year, May 1968.

Longfellow was mostly mud with the carvings of streets to come.  Elliot’s Oak was just a short street that was not complete. Bulldozers were part of the scenery.

A few other adventuresome families were excited to choose lots in Longfellow and waited until later in 1967 when the Longfellow lots were released for sale.  Construction began soon and our home was one of the first occupied in Longfellow, still within the first year of Columbia’s  official existence.

Longfellow school followed a few years later.  Our young daughter was a first year student there.  Our older two children were first year students at Bryant Woods with its open space concept.  They also opened the Middle School and Wilde Lake High School.  Eighth graders went to the high school the year it opened, so one son spent 5 years there.

Gradually, our street filled with wonderful neighbors and it was an ideal place for our family.  Children newly located to Columbia had the safe freedom to roam the countryside and also the newly developed pathway system that wandered through open space that connected the neighborhoods.  Bikes and their own legs were their gateway to exploration of the nature around them.  Pick-up softball games were the norm.  As were evening games such as King of the Mountain, played from dusk until dark.  There was time and freedom to chase lightening bugs and to do other things that we adults probably never knew about! All told, there were about 50 young children on our street when all the homes were completed.

Soon after the pools were built, a friendly rivalry emerged between the neighborhoods, particularly between Bryant Woods and Longfellow.  Lasting friendships were made through meeting others at the swim meets.  Our daughter swam in many competitive AAU meets with two other 4 year olds from Longfellow and a very talented gal swimmer from Bryant Woods.

Other simple childhood activities came about, mostly from the children themselves.  Longfellow had its 24 hour continuous swim, to raise money for charity. There was a pet fair for younger kids with their stuffed animals.  And of course, the development of the annual Longfellow Fourth of July Parade preceded by the baseball game between the Hesperus Wrecks and the Elliot Oaks, which ended in the Hamel’s back yard for a few years.  The beer truck was always there.  This parade continues today without all the people in the Hamel’s yard, since Longfellow grew over the years!

Early shopping was mostly confined to Wilde Lake Village Center.  The nearest department stores were Sears in Silver Spring, a ride south along two lane Route 29, or nearer to Baltimore where there was Hochschild Kohn in the Edmondson area on Route 40.  So our Village Center in Wilde Lake was a Mecca.  (Route 29 became a 4 lane divided highway between  Burtonsville and Route 40 in the early 1970’s)

The Giant was very popular and a place where most people knew one another.  James Rouse while shopping there would often hold conversations with the new residents and remembered most of our names.  And of course, we enjoyed the convenience of The Columbia Bank and Trust Company, opened by William Jefferson and also Mr. Powell’s pharmacy.  Many other small shops lined the center including the hair salon, cheese shop, Miss Eugenie’s Dance studio and the butcher shop owned by her husband.

Many memories, but this is a sampling.  These can be multiplied by the stories of other adventurous pioneers that took the risk, on faith, that Columbia would live up to its touted concept and be a “garden where people could grow”.  I would say that its beginning was fabulous and that James Rouse was the true “Pioneer”!