Since the city of Aberdeen celebrates its 100th anniversary this weekend, how about a tour?
Founded in 1882, the town took its name from the local train station, which got its name from a resident raised in Aberdeen, Scotland. The whistle-stop town was well placed for commerce, located between Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Visitors always begin their tour at the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the largest collection of vintage armored vehicles in the East. There's "Anzio Annie," the huge cannon the Nazis used to pin down American soldiers on the Anzio beaches in World War II. Some 200,000 folks a year visit the collection, although of course that's not the reason for the proving ground, a research and training base with 15,000 employees that's growing even as the military shrinks.
Though the dominant presence, the facility isn't all there is to the town. It's not even located in the town proper. The true Aberdeen can be found on streets such as Bel Air Avenue, where a few Victorian mansions, as impressive as any in Cape May, N.J., are the legacy of families who made fortunes canning vegetables at the turn of the century. A lot of that land was lost when APG opened in 1917.
Behind town hall is a new Victorian-styled park that was once a cow pasture where the Ripken boys learned baseball. If you're gonna mention Cal Ripken Jr., locals say, don't forget Irv Pankey, a native son who is still playing pro football after 12 years, or Matt Slutzky, who just became Maryland's first four-time high school wrestling champ.
Like reading rings on an oak stump, you can learn much about the history of the state's 15th largest city by its housing stock: World War II barracks turned into low-cost homes near the base; 1960s tract developments farther out and farther still new colonial homes going up at $40,000 less than they'd cost in northeast Baltimore County.
As we head out of town, we pass the train station being renovated for the new commuter line to Baltimore and Washington and a passel of hotels just off Interstate 95. Aberdeen has 60 percent of all the hotel rooms in Harford County. It also is one of the hot industrial spots in Maryland, with plants going up to make Frito-Lay snacks and Clorox bleach and a high-tech research park in the works.
Although it might seem like Everytown, Aberdeen has a rich and varied history. Bisected by rail and highways, this utilitarian place of 13,000 residents is more gritty than pretty, but it's a survivor with a lot of civic pride and a plan for growth. It has residents who care about it. No town, no matter how old, can want more than that for its birthday.