Groundbreaking is tomorrow


May 09, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

ST. LEONARD -- The point where the Patuxent River meets St. Leonard Creek is said to have more history per square foot than any other spot in Southern Maryland.

Just off the shoreline was the scene of one of the most improbable naval skirmishes in the War of 1812. The hastily assembled "Chesapeake Flotilla" led by Commodore Joshua Barney gallantly held off a British fleet on June 26, 1814, before later succumbing to the invasion.

Several hundred yards inland is the grave of Richard Smith, Maryland's first attorney general.

His resting spot is framed by 1930s-era farm buildings designed by Gertrude Sawyer, one of the first women admitted to the American Institute of Architects.

Around the grounds are more than 100 sites where archaeologists have unearthed Indian spearheads and other artifacts dating back 9,000 years.

On a site already so steeped in history of all kinds, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is about to make some more -- literally.

Tomorrow, he and other dignitaries will gather for a groundbreaking at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, a 512-acre estate donated to Maryland in 1983. The ceremonies will start construction of the $3.2 million first phase of the $11.7 million Maryland Archaeological Conservation Facility and Museum Service Center.

When complete in 1995, the project will be a veritable history factory for the state -- a multi- faceted processing center where artifacts from throughout Maryland will be brought for research and conservation.

It's also the site where permanent and traveling museum exhibits will be prepared for display around the state.

"As the central repository for Maryland's archaeological collections, this facility will become the center for the exploration and study of 12,000 years of Maryland history," Mr. Schaefer said in a prepared statement. "It will be the finest facility of its kind on the Eastern seaboard."

In addition, the governor will break ground in the same area tomorrow for a $3 million estuarine research center, a 22,000-square-foot laboratory complex planned by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Scheduled for completion by July 1994, it will be the first permanent home for the academy's Chesapeake Bay laboratory and will employ a staff of 35 scientists with an annual payroll of $1.5 million.

The academy's laboratory has studied the Chesapeake Bay continuously for 30 years, exploring subjects such as the effects of acid rain and nutrients. The academy's Maryland staff will move from leased space in Benedict, in Charles County.

Also to come is a 35,000-square-foot, $8.5 million archaeological conservation lab and storage center that will process everything from paleo-Indian projectiles to Colonial-era shipwrecks. It will also be used to store up to 5 million artifacts previously housed in Annapolis at the old Hall of Records, a building the state recently sold to St. John's College.

"The goal is to get the collection in excellent condition so the artifacts are stable, readily accessible and available for loan to any one of the 220 history museums in Maryland," said Wayne Clark, executive director of the park and museum.

Statewide resource

The construction activity is a sign that Mr. Schaefer is once again using his knack for capitalizing on the strengths of a particular place. In this case, his strategy is to turn a regional attraction into a statewide resource.

The project will help the local economy by creating more than 100 temporary construction jobs and several dozen permanent jobs.

It will also protect the history and buried treasures on this picturesque parcel -- itself something of a buried treasure -- from larger-scale development that might have ruined it.

One of the largest and most valuable parcels ever given to Maryland, Jefferson Patterson Park was the gift of Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, granddaughter of tire magnate B. F. Goodrich and widow of Jefferson Patterson, a former U.S. foreign service officer and heir to the National Cash Register Corp. fortune.

Now 87, Mrs. Patterson donated the longtime cattle farm and its approximately 30 buildings with the stipulation that the state make good use of the gift.

The Maryland Historical Trust, a division of the state's Department of Housing and Community Development, has operated the property for the past nine years as a free public PTC attraction that now draws upward of 32,000 visitors from mid-April to mid-October.

The old "show barn" that Mr. Patterson built to show off his prize Aberdeen Angus cattle now houses the main museum space on the property, featuring exhibits on the Patuxent Indians, the Battle of St. Leonard Creek and other subjects with regional connections.

Land near the river has become the site of an archaeological dig in which researchers have unearthed foundations of the 17th-century port town of St. Leonard. And the grounds are used for a variety of festivals and events.

On June 6, the state will open a farm museum featuring "1,000 years of Maryland Agriculture."

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