Door to Door: Reston Town Center, Va., and La Plata, Md. | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Door to Door: Reston Town Center, Va., and La Plata, Md.

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Dr. Bill Eckman in La Plata, Maryland.
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Dr. Bill Eckman in La Plata, Maryland.

La Plata, Maryland

Just as the interstate highways changed the face of America in the twentieth century, railroads changed America in the nineteenth. La Plata, Maryland was part of that change. Had it not been for construction of a railroad to move Charles County’s bountiful tobacco harvest to market in the 1800s, La Plata would not be what it is today.

“La Plata was a creature of the railroad. Back in the 1800s, a railroad was put in from Baltimore down to Popes Creek. There were a number of stations on there and one of them was La Plata station, and it was right in the middle of the county. Consequently, population grew up around there, and it became a center of commerce and ultimately became the county seat,” says 84-year-old resident Bill Eckman.

Although American railroads created La Plata and American tobacco was a major source of wealth for many years, this quintessential Southern Maryland town’s name “La Plata” has a somewhat more exotic origin.

“Well, there’s no question… the name La Plata came from the name of La Plata Farm. Mr. Chapman who provided most of the land that La Plata was built from apparently had traveled to South America and was entranced by the La Plata River, I think, in South America,” says Eckman.

Railroads and tobacco are a part of La Plata’s history, but tragedy lurks there, too. Eckman says that tornados have twice tested the town and its people, and both times the town and people have proven resilient.

“Well, many people probably are aware of it, but in 1927 a tornado went through La Plata and destroyed the school building and fifteen school children died in that tornado going through. In 2002, another tornado came through La Plata, only this one was much larger. When it came through, it came through the center of the business district and wiped out a swath of about 400 yards wide the whole way through town. And it was amazing to me the way that the people in the town all got together to rebuild it, and you go through town today and you would not have any idea that there was ever a tornado that went through the town of La Plata,” Eckman explains.

But neither railroads nor tornadoes could change the essence of La Plata, which, for Eckman is its small town environment.

“The final thing I am going to say that makes La Plata unique, I think, is the fact that it is within 25 miles of the Capitol building, and yet it is a small town environment. We still have concerts on the lawn of the town hall and you’re still living in a small town.” Eckman says.

“To be able to have the conveniences of living in a metropolitan area and still have the life style from a small town is unique, and I am not sure where I would find that other than La Plata.”

Reston Town Center, Virginia

People often move to the suburbs to get away from the noise, traffic, crowds and general hubbub of the city. But in the case of Virginia’s Reston Town Center, it’s just the opposite — people are moving to this suburb so they can live in a place that feels and looks a lot like a city.

“I get asked a lot, ‘What makes Reston Town Center unique?', and I think the obvious answer is that it’s this slice of urban America in the middle of suburbia. But a more complete answer is that we are in a unique physical location where we’re between the nation’s capital and an international airport so that gives us, geographically, a very unique space to occupy, and I think that — what planners did in building out Town Center that gives it an edge — is that it is a complete Town Center or a complete center for a community,” says 55-year-old Robert Goudie.

Being a complete center for the community would seem to resemble a traditional “downtown.” And, in fact, Goudie says that’s what Reston Town Center has become.

“Reston Town Center is Reston’s downtown, if you will, and hopefully over time the region’s downtown,” Goudie explains.

For Goudie the one great advantage of living in or near a downtown — even one in a suburb — is the ability to leave the car at home and enjoy the life and liveliness of city life on foot.

“One of the advantages of Town Center is I never have to take our car to do anything, really. My wife and I, a couple times a week, walk up to Town Center. From where I live, it’s a three minute walk into Town Center. There are multiple restaurants there that appeal to a wide variety of tastes. If you look to go shopping, there are multiple retail stores there that make it nice. There’s a theatre there, ” Goudie says.

Having theatres, shopping, dining and work options all within a three or four minute walk of home would offer little reason to leave a community, and, in fact, Goudie says he and his wife plan to stay in Reston Town Center for a long, long time.

“For me to move from Reston Town Center would take a lot. My wife and I talk about spending the rest or our lives here,” Goudie says.

Music: "No, Girl" by Title Tracks from It Was Easy / "Memoriam" by Russian Circles from Memorial

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