Galesville honors its cherished past, ponders future

October 25, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

GALESVILLE -- From the Quaker Burying Ground to the water's edge, Main Street stretches a mile, and the peninsula it sits on is not even that wide. That's it, that's Galesville, that's all there is to the southern Anne Arundel County town that has lived more than three centuries by the banks of the West River.

Three-hundred-forty years, to be exact. And the people who live in Galesville and the people who love it gathered yesterday to celebrate Galesville Grant Day, marking Oct. 28, 1652, the day four colonists were granted the 660 acres where the town was founded.

"There's no police department, no mayor, there's just the village," said Roberta Cassard, president of the Galesville Heritage Society. Her capsule description of her home goes like this: "A very quiet little village along the shores of the West River that offers peace and tranquillity."

PD Ms. Cassard held up two aerial photos of Galesville looking east

down Main Street, one from the 1920s, the other from 1992. Aside from a few more trees, the addition of Hartge's marina and a few more buildings, there's little change.

"That's why I say it's an enclave," said Ms. Cassard, "away from the metropolitan growth."

Some 200 families, maybe 700 people, make their homes on this stub of land about 12 miles south of Annapolis, bound on three sides by water: the West River, Lerch Creek and Tenthouse Creek. From the beginning, the water has been the life of Galesville, which the Heritage Society says was officially designated a "Port of Entry" in 1684.

The shores of Galesville have been home to watermen, Colonial shipbuilders and oyster shuckers. Until the 1940s, the town was a regular stop for the steamship Emma Giles and for showboats sailing out of Baltimore.

On land and on water yesterday, residents celebrated their heritage with tours and historic exhibits, music and food. Two boats conducted tours of the Galesville coastline, while farmer Bill Zang drove a tractor up and down Main Street, pulling a hay wagon full of children and adults on a tour of historic sites: the Galesville Post Office (established in 1879), West River Market, the old Linthicum store and Steamboat Landing, to name a few.

At the west end of Main Street stands the Wilson House. Its windows broken and walls crawling with vines, the three-story shingled house stands as a kind of monument to freedom. It was built around 1871 by Henry Wilson, the first free black man in Anne Arundel County, and is still owned by his descendants.

Just down the road from the Wilson House, the Quaker Burying Ground rises from the road behind a white picket fence. The Friends gathered here in 1672 for only their second general meeting to be held in America. Today, the stones that mark the shaded ground bear the names of the bedrock families of Galesville: Hartge, Smith, Woodfield, Hardesty, Dixon.

"I think probably a long time ago everybody was probably related to everybody else," said Jean Trott, 66, who has lived in Galesville all her life. "It was like one big family. If one person had good news, then everybody was happy about it. If someone had a tragedy befall them, then people would pitch in."

Recently, though, the Galesville "family" split in a bitter dispute over whether to allow the county sewer line to be extended down Main Street. On one side were those who wanted to raise the value of their land and those who were concerned about sewage problems, with raw waste often flowing through open ditches. On the other, the fear that sewer service would bring development and destroy this quiet town.

Last October, a majority of the town's property owners voted to allow the sewers. The first homes are expected to hook up in 1994.

That, combined with the flight of the young natives, the aging population and the arrival of newcomers, means that Galesville may face a struggle to hang on to its small-town soul.

"The only thing we hope," said Ms. Trott, "is when [newcomers] )) move in they'll take as good care of it, cherish it as we have."

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