Monday, April 14, 2014

A Tale of Two Counties

[Saturday, early afternoon]

I am writing this post from my Eastern Shore Bureau office (which doubles as a coffee shop) in Princess Anne, Maryland.  On the weekends, you can find an establishment that produces a delectable latte, but don’t count on taking your first sip until 9:00 am, when the good café opens for business.  Those who crave the bean and can’t wait until that hour either have to settle for a Royal Farms offering or take the lonely drive up US-13/Ocean Highway to Salisbury, twelve and a half miles to the north.

Long before Get’n Grounded sold their first scone, former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Samuel Chase hailed from this area.   The U.S. House of Representatives impeached him, on charges relating to “arbitrary and oppressive conduct of trials.” [In brass-knuckles Realpolitik terms, the Jeffersonian Republicans in the House were ill pleased with the outspoken Chase, who became an ardent Federalist.] Partisanship: same as it ever was.  The good news for him is that he was acquitted on all counts in the Jeffersonian Republican-controlled Senate.  He remains to this day the only Supreme Court justice to have been impeached. 

Oddly, Princess Anne hasn’t turned this historic curiosity into a major tourist attraction.   This is the same Samuel Chase who tried to corner the flour market during the Revolutionary War.  The statue sculpts itself.

The population of Princess Anne, the county seat of Somerset County, is 3,290, which makes it smaller than most Villages in Columbia. The presence of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore gives the town a somewhat greater sense of vitality.  The total population of the county is 26,470…about one quarter of the number of Columbia residents.

Before the aforementioned high-water mark from the 2010 census, the previous population peak of Somerset County was 26,455…it recorded this tally in 1910.  What followed was a decades-long decline to 18,924 in 1970.  The 1980s witnessed a 22% increase in population, smaller but steady growth in the ‘90s and ‘00s and a small dip from 2010 to 2012 (a net loss of approximately 217 residents). 

So what does it all mean?  While it is a lovely region, I suppose it serves as a cautionary tale on the dangers of stagnation.  There simply isn’t much “there” here.

Now, there are many, many differences between Howard County and Somerset County, and both are fine places to “live, work and play.”  That said, it is amazing to think that, even as recently as 1950, the two counties had roughly the same number of residents, with Somerset being the more populated of the two until that census.

It took bold, dynamic, and forward-looking leadership, from the private and public sectors, to help Howard County grow into the County that it is today.  It would be a shame if the plague of negativism and fear of forward movement gripped our communities, sapping them of the energy to find creative new ways to help maintain a high quality of life for all of our residents (new-comers and long-timers, young and old, etc…).

I can’t help but think that Samuel Chase, if he were alive today, would choose Howard County as his home.  And our grocery stores carry all the flour he will ever need.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


  1. Don't forget he was also a Signer... and one of the sources of a certain preschooler in HoCo's first name.

  2. All the more reason why he was one of the more noteworthy Founders!