Pasadena's rock of ages Landmark: The Wishing Rock, which was a hub for Native Americans 10,000 years ago, has been all but forgotten by most modern-day residents.

February 18, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Just off Ritchie Highway, south of Jumper's Hole Road, is a huge mound of quartzite that was a hub of Native American commerce and toolmaking 10,000 years ago.

Yet the grand significance of the "Wishing Rock," a monument that may have given Pasadena its odd name, is lost on modern-day residents -- much the way the rock is lost in the midst of strip malls and fast-food franchises.

It came as news to William Gawne, who has lived in Pasadena for two years, that Algonquian speakers from all along the East Coast chipped fragments from the 50-foot tall, acre-wide hill to make spearheads, knives and scrapers.

"Hadn't heard about it till you told me," he said.

And Rob McDaniel, who was shopping recently at Festival Plaza, a few hundred feet north of the rock, was surprised to learn that the rock is somehow connected to the seemingly ill-fitting name of "Pasadena" for a community with hardly any hills. Pasadena in Algonquian means "a gap between two mountains."

"I thought Pasadena came from California," he said.

"Where is it?" asked Carolyn Roeding, a 16-year resident and president of the Greater Pasadena Council.

The sad truth is: Rocks -- even big, historic ones -- aren't regarded so highly these days. And the mighty Magothy Quartzite Quarry has been neglected and all but forgotten.

It sits on Wishing Rock Road, several hundred feet east of Ritchie Highway, behind a thicket of trees and shrubs. A large debris removal plant looms in front of the mound. Wishing Rock Road is unpaved, marked by a tiny rectangular sign.

Even the county archaeologist didn't know about the landmark until relatively recently.

"I was shocked when I first saw it," said Al Luckenbach. "Until 1989, I had no idea that it was here."

That year, county officials set out to buy the 2-acre parcel that surrounds the mound to prevent property owner Norbert Pazkiewicz of Columbia Vending Service Inc. from selling it for gravel.

Even so, rescue came too late. One-third of the quartzite already had been destroyed, and the Wishing Rock has been the target of graffiti vandals and partying youths who have left trash and empty beer cans and liquor bottles strewn about.

Rose Grogan, who has lived on Wishing Rock Road for a decade, said things have gotten better since the debris removal plant opened last year. "But when [the employees] are not there, kids still go up there and hang out," Grogan said. "I don't like it."

Luckenbach, who has researched Indian campsites in the area, said the mound attracted early Native Americans migrating through the region to catch fish in the Patuxent River and crabs and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

"We can learn a lot about what life was like in the past if we study the rock," he said. "It's the only known prehistoric quarry site in the county, and that alone makes it worthy of preservation."

In "The Origin and Meaning of Indian Place Names in Maryland," Hamil Kenny connects the area's name with the rock and the people it attracted.

"Except for its being Algonquian, the name is entirely out of place in this county," Kenny wrote.

Nevertheless, the prevailing notion is that its history goes back no further than a homesick Californian in 1890. The "Maryland A to Z Dictionary" informs that a silk grower who was part of a company trying to raise silkworms on the tract that is now Pasadena had named the farm after his wife's hometown.

"That's the one I heard," Roeding said. "I heard that she was so distraught about leaving California."

Whatever the theory, Anne Arundel County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond, who represents Pasadena, is considering taking firmer measures to preserve the Wishing Rock.

"We need to do something," he said. "A lot of things have gone unnoticed and neglected, and this is one of them."

Pub Date: 2/18/97

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