Preserving Truck Farm History

April 19, 1994

The calamitous decline of tobacco farming -- because of low prices and falling demand -- underscores how Maryland's farming legacy is increasingly threatened.

If builders of tract housing don't wipe out cultivated fields, changing habits will. Yet tobacco was so dominant in early Maryland that judicial bonds could be paid in cash or tobacco, with 100 pounds of nicotine leaves equaling one English pound of money.

Tobacco growing in Anne Arundel County has for decades been a thing of the past.

More recent changes have largely obliterated the county's once-booming truck farming, which not only provided residents with cash crops but also gave seasonal employment to thousands of Eastern European immigrants. These new settlers would come from Baltimore City to work on fruit and vegetable fields.

From the latter part of last century to World War I, most of the agricultural output of Anne Arundel came from such farms, which quickly disappeared in the suburban sprawl following World War II.

Where were they located?

Almost everywhere in the north county. Many of those fields have now long been housing developments. Harundale, for example, was built to alleviate housing shortage when GIs returned from World War II.

The rise and decline of the truck farms tell the story of a county in the throes of social transformation. For that reason, we are happy to see the continuing assemblage of truck farming equipment and memorabilia at the Benson-Hammond House in Linthicum.

Last fall, the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society completed exterior work on a corn crib, a tack house and a combined summer kitchen and wash house. Interior restoration should begin this summer.

Further plans by the society call for the erection of an authentic barn, a picker's shanty, an equipment shed and an outhouse to replicate the look of a typical 19th-century north county truck farm around the Benson-Hammond House.

"It's one of the last standing farmhouses from an era that was only 30 short years ago," says Esther Doyle Read, of the historical society. "The area was covered with farms."

We support this project. It will lend perspective for understanding what's going on in present-day Anne Arundel County.

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