Portland -- Once A Thriving Depot, Now Dust In The Curve

Neighbors/Odenton,Ft.Meade, Gambrills

March 27, 1991|By Jack Kelbaugh | Jack Kelbaugh,Contributing writer

When the U.S. government established Camp Meade in 1917, the villageof Portland vanished.

To find the location of this lost village, drive through Fort Meade along the new Route 32 to the traffic light where Route 198 turns off toward Laurel. Near this busy intersection once stood sleepy Portland, a village of several houses and sheds, a country store and a rail stop, Portland Station.

Geographical features have made this location an interesting one.It is the halfway point between Odenton and Annapolis Junction, along the right of way of the old Annapolis and Elkridge Railroad. Here the tracks described an unusual "great arc," a gradual curve 1 mile long.

Directly opposite the great curve, the Little Patuxent River forms a loop that pushes the water's edge fairly close to the old railroad bed. Portland stood at the midpoint of the great rail curve, with the Little Patuxent River close at hand.

The area's significancedates to earlier times. Pre-Civil War maps indicate that Jacob Bealmear's store stood on the river side of the midpoint on the great railcurve. This store served as the post office for Patuxent Forge, a village 1 mile to the south. Though the forge closed in 1856, the village remained for some years.

Post-Civil War maps no longer referredto this location on the railroad as Patuxent Forge Post Office. It became Patuxent Switch, Post Office and Station.

Sometime after 1878, the Bealmear Store (by then Gamble's Store) disappeared and was replaced by John Clokey's Country Store on the opposite side -- the Fort Meade side -- of the tracks. The relocated Patuxent Post Office wasthere, too.

About the turn of the century, Patuxent Switch, with its homes and a cannery clustered around Clokey's Store, came to be called Portland.

The late Emory Welsh, who supplied much of the information for this article, recalled that John Clokey ran a typical country store. Memories of the fresh meats and smoked ham and sausages were most clear. The store also functioned as the center for exchanging gossip, had the sole telephone in the area, and of course, served as the Patuxent post office and telegraph office.

The road connecting Portland to Patuxent Forge was 1 mile long. Welsh noted that the young men used it as "a mile straight away" race track to test their horses and horsemanship against others.

Until recently, the originof the name Portland has been a mystery to researchers. No 19th-century maps include it. The earliest reference to Portland Station is ona 1907 plot for a proposed mammoth housing development nearby.

Recently, Archie Clokey, a native of Portland now in his ninth decade, provided an immense amount of oral history related to Portland, including the origin of that name.

He recalled how the Little Magothy River caused substantial damage when it overflowed. Farmers always suffered substantial crop loss. His parents talked of a great flood caused by the same rains that caused the Johnstown Flood in 1889. A relative lost $10,000 worth of tobacco and a black settlement near the river was completely destroyed.

Clokey solved the riddle of the origin of the name Portland. A prominent and wealthy Northerner, Winslow Jones, settled there in the late 19th century. He was so influential that he had Patuxent Switch renamed Portland Crossroads, after his native Portland, Maine.

The wealthy Jones owned a packing house in Portland and served in the Maryland legislature. So well-to-do was he that he built a boardwalk between his house and the train station so his wife would not soil her hem or shoes.

Jones also was noted for his herd of prized horses. He borrowed a great sum of money from a northern bank with the goal of developing the finest bloodlines of horses anywhere. This ambitious ploy failed when an equine disease decimated his stock. The Portland sky soon was "black with buzzards," and the bank, it is said, failed because of the great financial loss.

Jones' herd was not the only failed great plan in the area. In 1907, Cleveland industrialist George T. Bishop had purchased the old A&E Railroad. He promised to electrify this sleepy old line to create fast and frequent trolley service to the area.

Richard Respess, a fast-talking entrepreneur from Canada, coincidentally, had grandiose visions of a new tailor-made city between Baltimore and Washington, much inthe spirit of today's Crofton or Columbia. The "Electric Pullman Service," provided by the newly named Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis Electric Railroad would make it an early 20th-century commuter's paradise.

Respess plotted his proposed metropolis (Respess City) around Portland. It is not clear if he owned all this land outright, or held options. The plan "looked great on paper," but after selling a few lots, the project collapsed in acrimony, recriminations and cries of "swindle." The Anne Arundel County captain of detectives directed Respess to "shut down his business or be placed in the penitentiary."

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