As the urban world of Columbia closes around them, Clarksville residents who live along Trotter Road have seen just about everything in their quiet, uncomplicated world change.
So it's no wonder that a new post office for River Hill -- Columbia's 10th and final village -- would create an identity crisis of sorts for some residents.
"A lot of people have asked, 'Are we going to remain with a Clarksville address? We aren't going to get changed to Columbia, are we?' " said Shirley Geis, who has lived on Trotter Road since 1956.
But this last little piece of the area's rural identity won't be wrenched away.
"We have heard rumors that they're doing away with Clarksville Post Office," said Clarksville Postmaster Carol L. Hohman. "Well, I'm here telling you, we are here and we're here to stay."
The rumors reached their apex in December, when a brown-brick post office was being built a few hundred feet from the old one's location near the new interchange of Routes 32 and 108.
Clarksville residents wondered: Would the new post office bear the name of developer Rouse Co.'s new village?
The answer, Ms. Hohman says, is a resounding "no."
"Even though the Rouse Co. is putting up its last village, the ones that have been here for years -- their mothers and fathers probably lived in the same house -- they're going to remain Clarksville," Ms. Hohman said.
Meanwhile, the advance of River Hill will continue to enmesh Clarksville.
Houses are going up everywhere. Dump trucks, earthmovers and real estate agents have descended on the community. Where once there were horse trails, there are now the muddy makings of a four-lane highway through the middle of the community.
If that weren't enough, the new high school the county built on Route 108 -- Clarksville Pike -- and next to Clarksville Elementary School was not named after the once-rural town. Rather, it bears the names of not one, but two Columbia villages. It's called Wilde Lake High School at River Hill, and when the Wilde Lake students move into their new school back in Wilde Lake, they will leave River Hill High School behind them.
Although the Postal Service is standing firm with the Clarksville residents, it is meeting the new Columbia residents halfway.
All new development on the east side of Trotter Road will be serviced by the Columbia Post Office in Owen Brown and will use the 21044 west Columbia ZIP code. But residents who were there before the advent of River Hill will keep getting their mail from the Clarksville facility, ZIP 21029, even if they live in the new Columbia territory.
"The Clarksville carrier and the Columbia carrier wave at each other when they go by," said Norma Spicer, a window clerk who has worked at the Clarksville Post Office for two decades.
Other Columbia neighborhoods have also been left without Columbia addresses.
The residents of the Dorsey Hall neighborhood in Dorsey's Search village, for instance, are separated from the planned city by Route 108 and the Ellicott City ZIP code they must use. Residents of Huntington East in Kings Contrivance Village, at least those who live east of Interstate 95, are stuck with a Jessup ZIP code.
"ZIP codes were designed for one purpose only, and that's to move the mail in a way that's as economical and efficient as possible," said Bill Ridenour, operations manager for the Postal Service's Baltimore District.
"Local city boundaries, county boundaries, really don't have anything to do with ZIP Codes," he said.
Ms. Hohman is doing her part to maintain Clarksville's ties with other west county towns: Dayton, Fulton and Highland. A new mailbox in front of the post office is labeled with the towns' names. Mail deposited in the box is sorted in the post office and sent out the same day.
In the past, mail for Dayton was shipped to the Postal Service's massive facility in Baltimore, where it was sorted and shipped back to Howard County for delivery.
Mail for Highland -- about a five-minute drive from Clarksville -- and Fulton -- about 10 minutes away -- was also sent to be sorted in Baltimore. But after that, the mail was sent to the Capitol District sorting facility in Washington, from which it was shipped back to Howard County for delivery.
Now the mail deposited in the mail box, and a companion mail slot inside the new Clarksville facility, is driven to the Dayton, Highland and Fulton post offices directly.
Such conveniences don't make up for what's fast disappearing, however, as Clarksville and River Hill grow up around the little country post office, says Ms. Geis, who visits the post office daily to empty her post office box.
"You go to the post office now, and it's entirely different," she said. "You used to know everybody at the post office. Oftentimes, there's a couple weeks at a time when you don't see anybody you know. They're a bunch of strangers."