Bwi Layovers Provide Tour Of Historic Home

Neighbors/Odenton, Ft. Meade, Gambrills

December 10, 1991|By Marc LeGoff | Marc LeGoff,Staff writer

Instead of browsing through racks of magazines, coffee mugs and stuffed toy crabs in the gift shop, holiday travelers with time to kill between flights at Baltimore-Washington International Airport now havea new option.

They can be shuttled free of charge to visit and shop at the nearby historic Benson-Hammond House.

A pictorial display of the 19th-century three-story brick farmhouse was unveiled Friday morning in the BWI lobby by representatives from the state Department of Transportation and the Ann Arrundell Historical Society. The house, which serves as headquarters for the society, is the only residence on the 3,200 acres of surrounding land that was not demolished when the airport was built in 1947.

Airport sightseers will receive free transportation to and from the house -- about a four-minute drive from the airport -- during its regular business hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

"This collaboration with BWI is an arrangement a historical society can only dream of," said Ann Arrundell President Will Mumford. "I think the government is sometimes a little reluctant to get involved in projects like this. So far, everything has run smoothly. Everyone is very enthusiastic."

"We've created a unique sightseeing opportunity for our BWI travelers," said Secretary of Transportation O. James Lighthizer. "Forming the partnership is just one small step in recognizing that Linthicum was here first. Sure, there will always be complaints about noise pollution and traffic congestion. But we can all live together responsibly. Now, more people than ever will get to see what a great place the Benson-Hammond House was and is."

Doris Hammond Birx knows first-hand what kind of place the house is. The 72-year-old Harundale resident was born and raised there. John Thomas Hammond and RezinHoward Hammond -- her grandfather and father -- bought the house in 1887 from the Benson family.

"I have many wonderful memories of growing up there with my six brothers and sisters," Birx said. "Plenty of fresh air and a lot of trees. My father added on the big front porch and a kitchen around back. It was a real beautiful home."

The county historical society began restoring and renovating the Benson-Hammond House in 1977. Once surrounded by 152 acres of land, the house now sits on a 2.6-acre lot.

At the ceremony, Birx met Gladys Benson Snodgrass and Margaret Benson Beck for the first time. The cousins are great-granddaughters of Thomas Benson, who built the house in theearly 1820s.

"I think it's delightful that so many new people will be visiting there," said Snodgrass, 89, who grew up in a home about2 1/2 miles from the Benson-Hammond House.

"Although I never lived there, I remember driving by it with my parents," said Beck, 84.

These days, when Beck visits her family's residence, she often brings along her 8-year-old granddaughter, Brooke Renwick.

"I think (Brooke) loves going to the house even more than I do. She likes the antique doll collection and all the candles in the windows. It's especially nice to visit over Christmas. The decorations are just lovely," Beck said.

Even the outhouses have poinsettia wreaths on them. Several historic outbuildings from area farms have recently been relocated to the grounds, giving it more of a 19th-century feel. The propertysurrounding the house was used as a truck farm, growing fruits and vegetables for the Baltimore markets. Rezin Hammond farmed the land, previously known as Cedar Farm, until his death in 1928.

One of thephotographs in the airport display shows several young children working in the field. Immigrant women and children were brought to the farm by wagon and housed in "pickers' shanties."

The grainy black-and-white photo is one of hundreds snapped nationwide by photographer Lewis Hine. Hine, who was hired by the federal government, helped bring about enactment of the child labor laws of the early 1900s through his photographs. A collection of his photos is on display at the house.

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