LOOKING AT TODAY's sprawling Baltimore-Washington International Airport, it is hard to believe that it was once the site of a thriving truck farming operation. Yet from the 1860s until the 1930s, more than 300 truck farms existed in northern Anne Arundel County, supplying Baltimore with produce from cucumbers to cantaloupes. They also supported the institution of a-rabbers, itinerant vegetable and fruit vendors whose colorful horses and carts are rapidly disappearing from Baltimore streets.
Prior to the Civil War, many farms around Anne Arundel's Friendship village -- as today's airport locale was then known -- employed slaves. Later, transient "pickers" were hired and brought in from Baltimore. Many were Polish or Czech immigrants straight off the boat.
This fascinating era is recalled in exhibits at the Benson-Hammond House, the headquarters and museum of the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society at Aviation Boulevard and Andover Road. Farming tools are on view, and a replica of a picker shack. Also on display is a collection of "picker checks," brass tokens which indicated how many quarts of strawberries or bushels of beans or peas a laborer had gathered. They were commonly exchanged for cash or produce.
The Benson-Hammond House is one of three sites run by the historical society, named for the county's namesake, the wife of Cecil Calvert, the Second Lord Baltimore. The society also operates a genealogical research center in the Kuethe Library and Genealogical Research Center in Glen Burnie and the Old Railroad Power House consignment shop in Severna Park. Each is worth a visit. But the Benson-Hammond House, with its leafy trees and shaded picnic tables, is a particularly delightful summer or fall destination. A collection of farm buildings is being added to the complex in the hope of eventually replicating the look of a 19th-century truck farm.
The Benson-Hammond House also has extensive collections of European and American antique dolls, some of them as old as 150 years, as well as other artifacts. Among the docents giving tours is John Stoll, whose mother was a member of the Hammond family. Thus, in spite of jets taking off overhead, the circle of history in Linthicum continues.
Pub Date: 8/23/96