History buff finds a 'time capsule' at wildlife refuge Severn resident researching the past at old Fort Meade range

July 22, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

To Rick McGill, the vast acreage that makes up the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on what used to be a Fort Meade firing range is a virtually untouched historical landmark.

Since last summer, the Laurel police officer, who lives in Severn, has been researching the significance of the land. The nearly 9,000 acres were part of the Snowden plantation more than 200 years ago.

No surprises have turned up so far, but Mr. McGill said he and a friend want to locate the foundations of at least two old mansions that exist somewhere on the property. He already knows where one is: under the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

"It is a time capsule," Mr. McGill said. "Everything is the way it was when the Army moved all the families out."

The self-avowed history buff started researching the project last summer, when the land was still Army property. When the wildlife center took over, he contacted officials there and asked to continue his work.

He said he will turn over finds and information to the refuge, which operates a visitors center and has had questions from tourists interested in what was on the land during the Civil War.

"Mr. McGill is just an interested citizen," said Nell Baldacchino, a spokeswoman for the wildlife research center. "We are fortunate that we have a lot of folks like him."

Once Mr. McGill gathers a lot of information, Ms. Baldacchino said, he may be asked to give a lecture series. "A lot of us would just like to be more knowledgeable about the land," she said. "I'm certainly ignorant about it. Anything he comes up with should be of interest to people."

The Army started acquiring property for Fort Meade in 1917 and finished just before World War II, eventually getting more than 13,000 acres.

Most of the land was first owned by Richard Snowden Jr. and was later part of the Montpelier plantation.

The Snowdens owned land from Annapolis to the Montgomery County line, most of it acquired in the late 1600s. Three mansions were built by the Snowden family over time, the most famous of which still stands in Laurel -- the Montpelier mansion, built around 1783.

Mr. McGill said he spent last summer searching for the other mansion, Birmingham Manor. He said he discovered the foundation for the home is under the northbound lanes of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, between routes 198 and 197.

He said he also has maps from 1800 that show the Army didn't tamper with the old road network.

Cataloging the 20 cemeteries scattered throughout the land also is a big task. "Most are easy to find, but some aren't even on the map," he said.

Already, two discrepancies have popped up. Mr. McGill said there are tombstones at different cemeteries for the same person, and another tombstone has someone dying on two different dates.

He said that several descendants of families who lived in the area already have called him offering to help.

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