Down in Galesville, that tiny South County town where a single main street reaches to the West River, people who moved in 20 years ago consider themselves newcomers.
To native villagers, the West River Yacht Harbor, established several decades ago, is "new," too. So is Galesville Estates, a small development built in the mid-1970s.
Jean Trott, who has lived in Galesville all of her 65 years, can count on one hand the number of houses that have been built on Main Street since she was a girl. "I can go mentally right down the main road and tell you how many houses have been built since then," she says. "One, two, three . . . four, five. I don't think there's any more than five."
Down in Galesville, the winds of change have blown gently through the years. Life is slow, quiet.
Most people fear change. Just about everyone agrees Galesville has serious sewage problems, with raw waste often flowing through open ditches. Still, many residents are frightened that public sewer service will permanently alter their community. A few are certain a conspiracy is afoot to destroy their way of life.
"Nobody in Galesville's ever gotten any kind of disease from our sewage," insists Joyce Sheckells, 60, a widow who's lived in Galesville for 41 years. "They're using this septic business as a cover-up for something else they want to do.
"I know how thiscounty works and how they like money. I think they want to turn thisinto a country club community. They want to get us low-income peopleout and bulldoze our homes so they can have a golf course and all kinds of things out here . . .
"Progress is fine," Sheckells says, "but not in a place where people are satisfied with the way they've been living all their lives."
Judd Stafford, 48, who moved to Galesville in 1952, supports the public sewer. Still, "Essentially, everyone wants (Galesville) to stay the way it is."
What is Galesville?
"It's a quiet country town. That's what it is," says Bill Woodfield, manager of Woodfield Fish and Oyster Co., built by his grandfather in 1917. "In the summer there's a lot of weekend traffic, but even with the boaters it's a quiet town."
At dusk on a summer evening, a solitary woman walks along the river. Sailboats sit on the water, temporarily deserted by their out-of-town owners. Through the windows ofthe Topside restaurant, a few people can be seen eating and drinking. On Main Street, a small group has clustered around the volunteer fire department.
The village includes 700 people and 203 homes and encompasses about a square mile, starting at the intersection of routes 255 and 468 and continuing along the peninsula to the river.
There are three restaurants in Galesville, all in waterfront buildings built around the early 1900s. The Steamboat Landing restaurant really was a steamboat landing. There's Hartge's boatyard, the West River Yacht Harbor and a sailing club, Woodfield's seafood packing plant, a couple of pile-driving companies and antique stores. The post office is a little stone building; the town market is a country store.
"There's not a whole lot to do here. I wouldn't say this is the place for excitement," says Woodfield's wife, Marti.
Despite the slow pace, time has not stood still here. The townspeople no longer earn a living from the water as they did a generation ago, before development, industry and pollution began to choke the life out of the Chesapeake Bay. Most residents now work in Annapolis or Washington.
"The tideis changing," said Trott. "We will soon no longer be here. Our children have gone elsewhere, so there will be a different feeling altogether in this community.
"I just hope the people who are coming in will think of it as home and not just as a place to stop for two yearsand move on. We like to think these people will cherish it the way we have and not change it so we won't recognize it in 15 years."
The town of Galesville dates back more than 300 years, to 1652, when the Quakers settled the area. Originally, it was named "Brownton," after a John Brown, who bought 660 acres around the river.
In 1684, Brownton was designated a port of entry for checking imports and exports. Through the 1700s up through the steamboat era, tobacco and other goods moved in and out of the port. The shipping wharf became known as "The Landing," and eventually the name of the town changed to West River Landing.
The name changed again, in the 19th century, to Galloways, after the family that owned Tulip Hill, the Georgian mansion near the intersection of routes 255 and 468. In 1924, the town becameGalesville, in honor of Richard Gale, a Quaker planter who accompanied William Penn on his visit to West River in 1682.
Through the early part of this century, the town was dominated by the watermen's culture; crabbers, oystermen and fishermen worked out of Galesville every day. Other people worked in a long-vanished canning factory and a coal and lumber yard that used to sit on the site of the West River marina.
At 93 and 91, Nelson and Ruth Smith are among the village'soldest residents; married for 73 years, they still live in the houseon Main Street where Nelson was born. They remember going to school together at a two-room schoolhouse, eating sundaes at an ice cream parlor where the Topside restaurant now stands, playing ball, watching the oyster boats move in and out of the landing.
"I don't see thatmany changes, no more than a few houses," Nelson Smith says. Now, asthen, it's a simple, good life. Asked how he and his wife -- more active than many people in their 60s -- stay so youthful, Nelson Smith replies, "It's Galesville, honey. It's Galesville."
Today's Galesville residents are friendly, if not close-knit. Life revolves around the community hall, the Methodist church and the post office. "I think we meet more people at the post office than we do anywhere else," Ruth Smith says.
Unlike nearby Shady Side and Deale, this is not anactivist community. Many village meetings attract only seven or eight people, said Woodfield, president of the West River Improvement Association, which includes 75 families.
"It's kind of lackadaisical," Stafford noted. "The village has remained unchanged for such a longtime that people don't perceive a need to get involved unless something big really happens."
The closing of the Carrie Wheedon Elementary School, which villagers opposed, was a big deal in the 1980s. So is the sewer issue.
The Department of Utilities says more than 90 Galesville homes have failing septic systems or other wastewater problems; a few homes have no indoor plumbing at all. For 30 years, the county has offered to extend public sewer service, but the residents have never accepted. They felt like they were being pressured to change, Woodfield said.
This time, "I feel like the county is being above board on everything," Woodfield said. "There's a lot more failing systems. There's sewage above ground in some properties. The sewage is going into ditches on the main road."
Fifty-one percent of the village residents must agree to accept the sewer. Woodfield says he has no idea what Galesville will decide. "Before the last public meeting I would have thought 80 percent would have voted for it, but the way people are taking issue on the growth and the cost factor, I don't know."
Sheckells, a former school secretary, says she'll have to sell her house if the sewer goes in. Although partially offset by a $1.8 million federal grant, county officials estimate sewer connection will cost each home $3,300 initially, plus annual fees based on the size of the property and water use.
"I can't even afford to fix my house up, and they want me to pay to flush my toilet," Sheckells complains.
Paul Naas moved to Galesville from Laurel two years ago. "We need sewerage, but I don't trust development. I don't want development. I'd rather drink bottled water," Naas said at a meeting with county officials last month.
Kathleen Koch, assistant planning and zoning officer, estimates Galesville could grow by 25 percent if sewer service is installed. There are developable lots in Galesville Estates, on either side of Route 255 and in other scattered areas. County Executive Robert R. Neall has told the Office of Planning and Zoning to work with Galesville in developing a zoning plan to restrict growthif the town accepts the sewerage, Koch said.
Some villagers -- mostly newer residents -- aren't satisfied with that, however.
"Theycan't seem to separate the growth problem from whether they want thesewer," Woodfield said. "My feeling is that they have to separate it. Some of these people mean absolutely no growth. Zero houses. I don't think that's realistic."
"They might build two or three houses, but what of it?" asks Ruth Smith. "There isn't that much land here" to build on.
Even if residents refuse the sewer, chances are that the state health department eventually will condemn the septic systemsand force extension of public sewer -- all at greater cost to the villagers. So change may be coming, whether people want it or not.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing after all, muses Galesville native Mary Ruth Tereshinski, 64.
"This is not the community I grew up in;there was a time when I knew everyone in Galesville. But change is good, in some respects, I guess. Maybe we need some new life in our community."