In Harney you don't have to cut through the city haze to see brilliant stars. Grand, rolling farms frame the community on all sides. The Monocacy River has entertained generations of children who venture there for a quick swim or to fish.
Tractors rumble down the road in this place where the residents' sense of community is defined by three things: history, farming and the local fire hall.
Called Monocacyville until the late 1850s, Harney rests on the edge of Carroll County, four miles north of Taneytown and almost the same distance to Gettysburg, Pa. The Mason-Dixon Line runs on a hill north of town near the lovely Mountain View Cemetery.
In the early years, Harney was a welcome sight for weary travelers -- as many as six roads lead to the tiny community, and residents proudly say that Harney then offered three stores, two cigar factories, three blacksmith shops, a coach repair shop, one boot/shoe/harness repair shop, a barber, two hotels, at least one saloon and three churches.
The turn of the century was the high point for Harney, however. As the years passed, most of the businesses dissolved, and the original buildings are either vacant or have become permanent homes or rental properties.
Buildings around "The Square" are in haunting disarray, and the one booming business, Harney Woodworking, is only identified by temporary banners strung across the front and side offering employment for cabinetmakers and woodworkers.
"Nobody believes we're here, but few of our customers are walk-ins, so I didn't see much point in putting out a nice sign," said owner Charlie Cole, who has been in Harney 20 years. "If I moved the business to Baltimore I wouldn't have the strong work ethic I have here. Fathers and sons work for me, real craftsmen, and working here has become a family tradition."
With 30 employees working two shifts and an operating budget of more than $2 million a year, Harney Woodworking is an anomaly. Thomas Equipment, just down Conover Road to the east, is doing well, and there are a handful of other small businesses, including a taxidermist and home-based computer printing service. Harney is not the business center it used to be.
Residents hope that Realtors are correct in their estimate that the construction of The Links at Gettysburg, an upscale 305-acre golf resort, will bring businesses to town and perhaps drive the average price of single-family homes from $79,900 to $129,000 over the next few years.
The Links, an 18-hole course in Mount Joy township, just over the Mason-Dixon Line, is expected to lure more than 30,000 golfers a year.
"It will be very interesting to see what happens to Harney once the golf resort is finished," said Hank Johnson, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate of Westminster. "Harney is a natural place for services to spring up, and the growth might continue into residential development or restoration."
Business boom or continued lull, most residents think Harney will be just fine. After all these years, Harney is not just a place, it is -- as the Rev. Charles Marshall explains -- "a state of mind."
"There is this overlay of those who are lifelong residents, and for them Harney is about neighborliness, sticking together, honoring traditions, and lamenting, somewhat, about the gradual loss of things," said Marshall, pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church for the last nine years, and president of the Harney Lions Club.
"And then you have the people who move here looking for and appreciating a community where people are not faceless or impersonal," Marshall said.
Harney attracts first-time homebuyers who often take advantage the increasingly popular Rural Guarantee program, a federal loan program offered for the past five years to first-time buyers.
Through the program, first-time buyers are purchasing homes in Harney with no money down, and sellers are paying up to 6 percent of the sales price toward closing costs. Eligibility is based on family size, income and whether the home to be purchased falls within geographical boundaries and population sizes determined by the government.
Harney also attracts dreamers who want to peel back history, hidden underneath decades of wallpaper, plaster or chinking. One couple made the local newspaper about 20 years ago when they discovered a sketch of 1896 presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan beneath four layers of wallpaper in the old cigar factory, which had been divided into rental apartments.
Many homes were built in sections, including Kenneth and Frances Fields' farmhouse a few miles west of Harney's square.
"One section was built in 1750, another around 1820 to 1840, and the last addition in the early 1900s," said Kenneth Fields, who said he fell in love with "the bluebells and open meadows" outside Harney and bought some of the land 30 years ago.
The Fieldses raised six children on their almost 200-acre farm that straddles Carroll and Frederick counties.
"Most everybody knows everybody, and everybody works together in Harney -- you have to in a small community," said Loretta Bowers, a member of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Harney )) Volunteer Fire Company and a resident since 1973. Bowers' husband, Larry, and her son Lee are trustees for the volunteer fire company, and her son Leonard is the treasurer.
The social hub in Harney is the fire hall, where you can enjoy that "pinch-me-this-can't-be-the-'90s" kind of fun. And when the weather is nice, residents gather at the VFW Post 6918 Pavilion, formally called the Charles W. Bridinger Memorial Building, for ice cream socials and the Lions Club's "Good Old Days" celebration -- complete with cake walks, games, hot dogs and sodas at olden-day prices.
Members of the Ladies Auxiliary go to the fire hall at least one Friday each month to get things ready for "feeds," which attract as many as 200 people, full capacity for the fire hall. During feeds, folks enjoy hearty home-cooked meals and buy "chances" for lawn mowers, tools or guns.
In the spring, the fire company "chances off" hams; and on Saturday, at $7 a ticket, it'll "chance off" 40 turkeys.
"In Harney, the fire company is second to none," said Cole, who stressed the volunteers' dedication. "The farmers come rushing from the fields when they are called."
Public schools: Taneytown Elementary; Northwest Middle School; Francis Scott Key High School
Points of interest: Harney Firemen's Building; Harney VFW and Pavilion; St. Paul's Lutheran Church
Zip code: 21787
Homes on market: 2
Average price of a single family home: $79,900*
* Based on two sales over the last 18 months as recorded by the Metropolitan Regional Information System
Pub Date: 11/15/98