Landmark site to be transferred to Naval Academy

July 21, 1994|By Tom Bowman and Andrea F. Siegel | Tom Bowman and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

The peninsula that holds the landmark U.S. Navy radio towers and that may once have been the site of Anne Arundel County's first settlement is being transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy.

Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the academy's superintendent, confirmed yesterday that the academy expects to take possession of the 231-acre Naval Radio Transmitting Facility property sometime this year. The academy would most likely use the land to expand the school.

The admiral said it was uncertain how or whether the academy would develop the property, although there was a need for the school to expand.

"We are so confined at the Naval Academy," he said of the 338-acre school. "It's going to be to my successor to see if we have a need for that, and I think we will."

A decision would fall to Adm. Charles Larson, who will become the academy's superintendent Aug. 1. The official date of the property transfer was not known.

The property includes 30 buildings and 15 towers that provide low frequency radio transmissions to the Navy's strategic and tactical submarines and to NATO forces, said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Weishaupt, an academy spokesman.

He said the transmitting facility is scheduled to close next summer. At one time, the facility had 72 military personnel and 18 civilian workers. It now has 27 military personnel and nine civilians.

The government bought the property in 1909 and used it as a Naval air station until 1917, when it became the U.S. Naval Radio Station, Annapolis.

The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission decided to shift control of the property last year. Admiral Lynch said the commission decided the facility was "superfluous to the needs of the Navy."

Archaeologists suspect the peninsula that ends at Greenbury Point may hold remains of the Puritan hamlet of Providence, which vanished nearly 300 years ago.

"It would have been right in the middle of the so-called settlement," said Al Luckenbach, Anne Arundel County archaeologist, who since 1990 found what are believed to be remains of Providence in the area roughly bounded by the South and Magothy rivers.

Dr. Luckenbach said he and University of Maryland archaeologists are asking the Navy to let them onto the property for studies next spring. Artifacts from Providence, the county's first hamlet, would yield information about 17th century life.

The Severn River Association also has its eyes on the property. Association members toured the property last weekend and said they were ecstatic over ospreys nesting in the towers, quail in the brush, and deer, fox and herons that also make the area their home.

The conservation group voted Tuesday "to look into a land use study of the former radio tower area. We want to make a study of what could be done with it," said Ned Hall, who will head the committee.

Ideally, the conservationists would like to see part of the property turned into a wildlife haven and historic preservation site. Platforms would replace the transmission towers and act as nesting spots for ospreys.

Providence, a Puritan enclave in a Catholic colony, was founded in 1649 by about 300 Puritans invited from the Norfolk, Va., area by Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore and Maryland's proprietor.

The Catholic Calverts, struggling to retain their hold on the colony amid the chaos of the English Civil War, believed the Protestant settlers would serve as a hedge against the Protestants who had seized power in London.

Providence became the colony's population center. The Puritans challenged the Catholics for power and eventually triumphed. In 1695 they moved Maryland's capital from St. Mary's City to Annapolis. Providence died in the new capital's shadow.

The area also was the site of battles among Native Americans. The Algonquins, who were fighting the Susquehanna, abandoned the site at one time, Dr. Luckenbach said.

Admiral Lynch said it was "a good possibility" that the site might be used for the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS), which Congress has considered moving from Newport, R.I.

"I think it would be a wonderful thing if we did that," he said.

An attempt to move NAPS to the academy failed last year, but the move is expected to be considered again this year. The school provides a 10-month college preparatory course for active duty and reserve enlisted men and women who are seeking Naval Academy appointments.

Admiral Lynch said the academy's 4,000 midshipmen could serve as role models for the NAPS students should the school be moved to Annapolis.

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