Aberdeen and its neighboring Army base share a past, a future and a town culture

June 22, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

For Ryker and Barbara Hughes, there was never any question of living anywhere else but Aberdeen.

And they were fortunate to find their dream house -- a Victorian farmhouse with a wrap-around porch -- in the Harford County city of about 13,000 residents.

These days, red, white and blue banners drape the Hugheses' house -- the couple's way of taking part in Aberdeen's centennial this year. The town formally celebrated its 100th birthday with a variety of events in May and earlier this month.

Mr. Hughes, who was co-chairman of the centennial fireworks committee, jokes, "I'm thinking of getting T-shirts that say, 'I survived the centennial.' "

Humor aside, the couple, both 39, enjoy Aberdeen so much they hope to be around for the incorporated city's next milestone -- the 125th anniversary.

They hope to build on community spirit and a new appreciation of town history that turning 100 has generated.

Aberdeen has come a long way from the small farming-based community it was in the 1800s to its boom years with Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II.

The town's early history was tied closely to railroads, the first of which was started in 1835. Numerous produce canneries flourished in the mid-1800s, helped out considerably by an excellent distribution network -- nearby Chesapeake Bay, as well as the Pennsylvania and the Baltimore & Ohio railroads that ran through the town. Amtrak is the railroad name these days.

Evidence of Aberdeen's great wealth from the period is evinced in the Victorian homes, local historians point out.

But Aberdeen changed forever in 1917 with the U.S. Army's decision to locate a munitions training base, Aberdeen Proving Ground, adjoining the town on 75,000 acres bordering the Chesapeake Bay.

"The truth of the matter is that without APG, Aberdeen would still be a little backwater community, growing corn," said Leonard C. Weston, the military base's recently retired historian.

The base, now a hub for chemical weapons and ballistic research, as well as ordnance training, provided Aberdeen residents with steady, well-paying jobs on the base and an economic boon as soldiers spent money in the town.

The proving ground grew swiftly during World War II and became a major ordnance training facility -- ranging from cannon and artillery to tanks and other armored vehicles.

APG -- as the base is commonly known to its neighbors -- is easily Harford County's largest employer with nearly 8,800 civilian and 5,400 military workers. The Army estimates the impact of paying those workers, plus awarding contracts to local businesses, to be slightly less than $400 million a year.

A newly consolidated Army Research Laboratory at APG is expected to create another 350 jobs during the next five years, as part of a consolidation of research centers.

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