Where History Meets Dinosaurs and Horses

In some of my recent posts, I’ve been touring you around Howard County, Maryland the setting for my mystery novels. In Ice on the Bay, which you’ll get to read at the end of February, some of the action centers on a townhome in the community of North Laurel.

Tucked in the southeast corner of the county, North Laurel is principally a residential community of some 20,000 souls. As you might expect, it lies roughly north of the city of Laurel, Maryland. Laurel, though, lies in Prince George’s County.

Europeans first came to the area in the 1608, when Captain John Smith explored the upper Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The Patuxent River, the boundary between Howard and Prince George’s Counties, was first named on the map resulting from those explorations. Later, settlers grew crops here, especially tobacco, and built mills which brought industry to the area.  Laruel was originally named Laurel Factory in 1837 when Edward Snowden became the first postmaster. It was a mill town with schools and shops where mill workers lived in company-owned housing until the 1860s. The surrounding agricultural areas included what is now North Laurel.

Laurel maintains a historic district and is home to the Laurel Park Racecourse, a thoroughbred racetrack that opened in 1911. Perhaps more interesting and certainly unexpected, maybe even to those living in the general area, is Dinosaur Park, a rich fossil site where visitors can join paleontologists and volunteers in searching for early Cretaceous fossils.

Back on the Howard County side of the river, dinosaurs also once roamed, as did horses. The horses still do, but not so many dinosaurs anymore. Race horses have long been big business in Maryland and particularly in Howard County. On U.S. Route 1 near North Laurel, the Laurel Raceway opened in 1948 and operated under that name until it was rechristened the Freestate Raceway in 1979. It closed in 1988 and was sold for development as an industrial park. Today, a retail shopping center and car dealership live there, not four miles from that townhome that appears in Ice on the Bay.

But so far as I know, none of my detectives have ever shopped there.