The unincorporated community of Clarksville, Maryland figures in my Howard County Mysteries largely as a crossroads through which characters pass and once or twice meet for lunch. This mirrors my own experience of it. I’ve occasionally stopped at the McDonald’s on Clarksville Pike (state route 108), and my bonsai club has sometimes held meetings at the River Hill Garden Center.
Those establishments are north of state route 32, much of which is now part of Columbia. Clarksville proper is largely south of route 32 and harbors some of the most expensive homes on the east coast. It’s among the wealthier parts of Howard County, which is itself the second wealthiest county in the United States.
According to the Trulia real estate heat map I sometimes consult when researching story elements, the highest concentration of high-priced homes in Maryland border Washington, D.C.: Bethesda, Potomac, and nearby areas. But Howard County has its share of pricey homes, too. The same heat map shows Clarksville in the midst of a great swath of fairly expensive real estate that arcs from West Friendship near Interstate 70 all the way down to the banks of the Patuxent River. If you browse satellite photos of the area or check real estate listings, you will readily spot multi-million dollar houses.
Yet this rolling land is something of a contradiction. In the midst of expensive housing developments, you’ll find undeveloped stands of woodland and fields actively being farmed. In fact, upscale housing mixes rather freely with nature. In 2004, a local resident even captured a coyote on camera!
All this hearkens back to Clarksville’s beginnings. Today a community of over 50,000, it is named for farmer William Clark, who originally owned much of the land here. His ancestor John R. Clark had immigrated from Ireland in 1790 and purchased John Howard’s blacksmith shop which had been one of the few African American operated blacksmith businesses in the country.
In 1869 the town was connected to Ellicott City by a ten mile privately owned turnpike, which later became part of route 108. Yet by the 1930’s, the population of Clarksville was still only 65, with its key industries being agriculture and limestone mining.
With the creation of Columbia and swelling population in the Interstate 95 corridor, things have changed markedly. Today, retail businesses sprawl near the junction of routes 108 and 32 and considerable farmland has fallen to development, making Clarksville a busy place in spite of its semi-rural setting. You will still find long roads meandering through hills and valleys, flanked by agricultural land and woods, but come around a bend and suddenly you’ll be passing great houses that most of us can’t afford.
And if you happen to stop for a bite at a fast food joint on the north side of route 32, you just might catch a glimpse of Rick Peller and Eric Dumas discussing a case over lunch.