Pasadena 'Mountain' Could Be Clue To Town's Name Algonquin Indians Made Yearly Visits To 'wishing Rock'

October 12, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

A 4,000-year-old Pasadena "mountain" that once was a vital part of Indian society may explain how the community got its name. And county officials are determined to preserve it.

Pasadena's "Wishing Rock" is a 50-foot mound of quartzite, a geological oddity along the coastal plane and an important archaeological site within a couple of hundred feet of Ritchie Highway.

Used this century as an illegal strip-mine, a site for stripping cars, a teen-age hangout and a track for all-terrain vehicles, almost half of Wishing Rock, also known as "Rock Hill" has been mined or eroded away during the last 50 years. The highest stone in the formation -- now scrawled with the names of rock bands -- is on the verge of sliding down a cliff.

"What we have to do now is secure it before it's destroyed," said County Archaeologist Al Luckenbach. "This is a real anomaly. It's very important to science that we study it. There are only three other known formations of its kind in the world: one in New Jersey, one in Florida and one in France," Luckenbach said.

The county has been trying to buy a two-acre parcel that includes the hill and parts of the surrounding wooded trails with $61,700 in state Program Open Space money.

Last week, County Executive O. James Lighthizer, dissatisfied with the pace of negotiations with landowner N. Pazkiewicz, of Baltimore's Columbia Vending Services Inc., asked his staff to begin condemnation proceedings, allowing the county to seize the property at fair market value if it can demonstrate that it is in the public interest.

Lighthizer, a history buff who supports archaeology and land preservation, wants to acquire the land and convert it into some kind of a park or reserve before leaving office in December.

Lighthizer's administration has acquired several historic and archaeological sites during the past eight years, including Hancock's Resolution, Earleigh Heights Depot, the Cook Farmhouse, Friendship Parsonage and Quiet Waters. Another Lighthizer acquisition, J. D. Owens Park in Davidsonville, is the only place in the state where a local government has purchased an archaeological site to preserve an old Indian village.

Pazkiewicz, who refused to give his first name, said he would be happy to sell Wishing Rock to the county "for a fair price." But so far, the two sides haven't been able to agree.

In May 1987, Pazkiewicz applied for the grading permit to level the mound, presumably so he could develop the property. The grading permit, however, was held up by planning and zoning officials.

Neighbors say a warehouse on the front of the property that was used as a skating rink and auction house and the mine-scarred mound that faces Wishing Rock Road behind Pasadena Plaza are eyesores, attracting delinquents to their neighborhood for three generations.

"We've been complaining for years and years to the county about the partying up there. This is an isolated community, and I guess that's why the kids come here," said neighbor Duel Grogan.

Luckenbach, who has studied Indian campsites throughout the region, says Wishing Rock was a regular stop on the seasonal migrations of the Algonquins and their native predecessors going back at least 4,000 years.

In any given year, he said, the Indians would set up several campsites: along the Chesapeake to catch oysters and crabs, along the banks of the Patuxent River during the then-prodigious fish spawning runs, in the inland woods to collect nuts berries and fruit and to Wishing Rock to collect the raw materials for their tools.

The quartzite at Wishing Rock, unlike the sandstone found throughout the county, is perfectly suited for flaking into sharp and durable stone tools.

Although there are no arrowheads to be found on the hill, the waste flakes from tool-making are everywhere, the archaeologist said.

Luckenbach, who learned of Wishing Rock only last year, said studying the hill may provide new insight into the naming of Mountain Road, which passes near the hill. The all-but-forgotten Indian campsite on the hill may also explain how Pasadena got its name.

According to the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology card index, "pasadena" is an Algonquian word, meaning "a gap between mountains." Since there seemed to be no mountains in the area, historians assumed the name was imported.

The prevailing, though undocumented, explanation is that when the Southern Land and Silk Association of Baltimore bought a large tract of land in 1888, the California-born wife of one of the owners persuaded her husband to name the farm after her hometown.

Wishing Rock, the Algonquian hilltop campsite at the northwestern boundary of Pasadena, may have been loosely defined as a "mountain" by the Indians. This gives credence to a theory that another mound may lie somewhere south or east of the village and that the area may indeed be a "pasadena" or gap between mountains.

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