Writing project unearths community's hidden past

NEIGHBORS

January 21, 2001|By Christina Bittner | Christina Bittner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT'S BEEN SAID that the more things change, the more they remain the same. A recent assignment given to sixth-grade pupils at Brooklyn Park Middle School has shown that to be true.

The assignment was to write a 150-word essay comparing the Brooklyn Park of today to the Brooklyn Park of the 1930s. A few little-known facts were uncovered.

Allison Ports discovered that in 1853, the land in Brooklyn Park was owned by the Patapsco Co. At that time, the Brooklyn community was in Anne Arundel County. Because the area resembled Brooklyn, New York, in that a river separated it from the city, the area was named after its northern counterpart.

It wasn't until 1916 that John K. Culver began to develop the community for the company.

Through her research, Lindsay George learned that in the course of the community's development, some of the street names were changed. Maryland Avenue became Maude Avenue, Baltimore Street became Baltic Avenue and Potomac Street was changed to Pontiac Avenue.

Despite these changes, the fabric of the community remained. Ports noted that modern Brooklyn Park, like that of 1930, is home to people of many ethnic backgrounds and religions.

This made for interesting reading. It occurred to me that there must be other interesting details about Brooklyn Park.

Then Woody Bowen told me an impressive story of community history. Bowen is vice president of the Olde Brooklyn Park Improvement Association and the community's unofficial historian.

Bowen said that in the late 1950s, 10 families mortgaged their homes to pay for the football field on Hammonds Lane.

Nellie Lewis' family was among them.

"Brooklyn Park didn't have a football team, but the other schools did," she said. "Back then the county didn't have the money for the extras. So we got together, used our homes for collateral and got working on the field. We were all young and didn't have anything, but we believed in the cause."

So the field was built, and people came. Every weekend the families worked at the concession stand to pay off the loan.

"We sold a lot of hot dogs, and made a lot of coffee and hot chocolate," Lewis said. "We had the high school games on Friday nights and the Brooklyn Park Broncos games on the weekend. We bought the uniforms, the lights and built the concession stand. There wasn't a monthly payment. Each week we paid what we took in."

The football players helped, too. "The children worked real hard. It was like a competition," she said. "You had all the communities up here: Cedar Hill, Brooklyn Park, Pumphrey. The children would go door to door asking for donations, and each tried to outdo the other. If children from one community collected $10, then the others wanted to collect more."

Once the field was ready, Bowen helped wire the scoreboard.

"I was just out of the military and got a call to help with this," Bowen said. "Walter Schmidt and I were the only two working on it, and we worked nights and weekends. The sign was donated by the Coca-Cola Co., and when we threw the switch, it worked."

Lewis said no one doubted the cause of helping the community. "Maybe we were crazy, but we didn't know it then. We really didn't think that the county would let us lose our houses. We believed in the school and we believed in the cause."

Lewis said many have done their bit to help the community, naming two District 31 legislators, Democratic state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno and Del. Joan Cadden, also a Democrat.

"There are so many people that have done things to help," Lewis said. "We believe in the community. I still believe in Brooklyn Park, and I believe in the Chesapeake Center.

"What you take from a community you have to give back," she said. "Can't just say that the government has to do it. We are the government and we are the schools.

"You know, I always read that Brooklyn Park is a blue-collar community. Well, we might not be the richest section in town, but we are the proudest. But I can't take credit for all of this; I was just one of them. My memory is fading and I can't remember all their names, and many of them have passed on. We all worked together like one big family."

And I thought that things like mortgaging your home to build a sports field happened only in the movies.

Ravens bone-cracker

A little sidelight to the almost-Super Bowl champs: Speakers at the next meeting of the Olde Brooklyn Park Improvement Association will be Alan Sokoloff and Michael Ferguson, chiropractors with the Yalich Clinic in Brooklyn Park.

Sokoloff is chiropractor to the Baltimore Ravens.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brooklyn Park Elementary School at Morgan Road and 11th Avenue.

Meeting or association information: 410-636-3269.

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