Aberdeen To Celebrate Town's 100th Anniversary

March 22, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

Aberdeen these days is perhaps best known as the hometown of a couple of baseball-playing brothers named Ripken.

But at the turn of the century, the big names in town were Baker, Mitchell, Michael and Osborne -- some of the families that owned canning operations in Aberdeen.

Today, on the 100th anniversary of the date Aberdeen was incorporated as a town, residents are celebrating its diverse history with a special church service at 1:30 p.m. at St. Paul's Lutheran Church anda dinner at 4:30 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground Officer's Club.

As part of the weekend's festivities, comedian Phyllis Diller performed a special concert yesterday at the APG theater. More festivities are planned in June.

"For a long time, Aberdeen was nothing but a farming community. Then two important things happened," said George Baker, who is among the keepers of the Aberdeen Room, a town museum. "Mygreat-grandpappy (George W. Baker) found he could can corn and sell it commercially for a pretty nice profit. He canned at home on the stove. He had five sons, and they and everyone else picked up on this idea."

The canning business started by great-grandfather George W. Baker in 1860 expanded to include his five sons, and other home-canners followed suit. At one time, about 180 different canneries existed in the county.

While showing a visitor the Aberdeen Room, located in the old library on Parke Street, Baker laughed as he pointed out his relative's promotional materials for a new product -- canned tomatoes.

"He had a pretty high opinion of himself," said Baker, pointing to adjectives that ranged from "delicious" to more grandiose descriptions of quality. "They made more money than they knew what to do with. Of course they managed to lose it before it got to my generation."

The canning industry boomed for many years, partly because the Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio railroads ran through the town, partly because of its proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways, Baker said.

In 1917, the second great event in the town's history occurred: the Army took over 75,000 acres of water and land to create the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"With the taking over of this nice farmland, some of the canners had to go to Delaware," said Baker. "But we owe a great deal to the proving ground, because it contributedto the growth of the town. They brought in highly qualified personnel who brought scientific knowledge and cultural contributions."

Ascanneries died out during the Depression, service-related businessespopped up to serve the personnel at APG, which also provided jobs for local civilians.

The town numbered 13,087 residents in the 1990 Census, but in the beginning -- on March 22, 1892 -- the town population was so small, residents lived within a small square bounded by Plater Street, Edmund Street, Front Street and West Bel Air Avenue.

The original town map is the prize possession of the Aberdeen Room museum, started in 1987 by Charlotte Cronin. The museum also has old telephone books dating to 1961, high school yearbooks and photos, the second bottle of Coca-Cola (still full) that came off the production line of the Havre de Grace bottling plant, and pictures that tell the stories of such local businesses as Ivins Drug Store, famous for its ice cream.

Over the years, Aberdeen has changed into a bedroom community, with many residents commuting to Baltimore to work, Baker said. An applied high-tech research and education park also is planned for the area.

To reflect the changing needs of its population, the Town Council voted in January to convert to a city government. And inpreparation for today's centennial celebration, a new seal was designed.

"We wanted to put something down in history," Chuck Jacobs, chairman of the Centennial Celebration committee.

The new seal includes the words "transportation" and "technology" and features an eagle's head and a shield with pictures of a helicopter, a MARC train anda historic house.

The committee also is selling a number of centennial keepsakes, including a cookbook, T-shirts, mugs, commemorative plates and video.

The items will be on sale through June, when thetown is scheduled to celebrate its centennial a second time.

Oddly enough, the town's planned weeklong centennial celebration is scheduled to begin June 6 -- the same week in June during which the town celebrated its 75th birthday, Jacobs said.

"We wanted to do a lot of outside, family style events, so we decided to have the weeklong celebration when the weather was warmer," he said. "And we built everything around the Boumi parade. We didn't plan it this way, but when wewere through scheduling events, we found that 25 years ago the town actually celebrated its anniversary the same week."

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