Giving `fabulous' place its due

Author's latest book on community traces its history


May 03, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

When author Isabel Shipley Cunningham mentions the Pasadena peninsula to Annapolis-area residents, they sometimes respond with a confused look.

"People say, `You mean the Broadneck peninsula?'" she said. "And I say, `No.'"

She definitely is referring to Pasadena, a somewhat overlooked community, she believes, between the Magothy and Patapsco rivers.

When people think of Anne Arundel County, they think of Annapolis or Glen Burnie, she says --not Pasadena.

With the release today of Cunningham's book on the history of Pasadena -- her second on the subject -- she hopes people will be able to find it on the map.

"The Pasadena Peninsula: A Closer Look at the Land Between Two Rivers" undertakes a daunting task: the history of the peninsula from prehistoric times to the present. The 393-page book, with nearly 200 photographs, follows Cunningham's pictorial history of Pasadena: "Between Two Rivers: A Panoramic View of the Pasadena Peninsula," published in 1999.

During the past three years, Cunningham, 82, conducted more than 100 interviews, looked through family photo albums and pored over newspaper archives while collecting photos and stories for the books.

Her new book tells tales of the peninsula's farms, which supplied produce to Baltimore's markets in the early 1900s; of the Pasadena post office, once served by one rural mail carrier; and of the white sand beaches that were resorts from about 1890 to the 1940s.

"It was quite a playground for the Baltimoreans," Cunningham said of the resorts. "Admission was 25 cents. People who worked hard all week, on a Saturday could take a steamboat on the Baltimore pier and spend the day fishing and crabbing."

Among other interesting facts in the new book is that the county was first in the state for strawberry and sweet potato production in 1909. The next year, the county was called the strawberry capital of the United States, according to Cunningham.

The Pasadena Business Association, which published the books, approached the former teacher in 1998 to write them. The association, a nonprofit networking group of 250 businesses, wanted to show the community's pride in its past and use the books as historical references for students and residents.

Future generations

"It's a fabulous place to live, and we wanted to make sure we could pass that on to the future generations," said Wendy Harris, the association's editor.

The association found Cunningham through Anne Arundel County History Notes, the quarterly publication of the Ann Arrundell Historical Society, for which she frequently writes.

She taught English and social studies at Southern and Glen Burnie high schools and Catonsville High School in Baltimore County.

An Annapolis resident who was raised in Harmans, Cunningham spent many days during her childhood on the Pasadena peninsula and welcomed the offer to write the area's history.

"I thought somebody should do it, because it's an area that's been much neglected," she said. "Here is something that I could pioneer."

Cunningham's first book about Pasadena sold almost 5,000 copies and was warmly received by the community, Harris said. At one book signing, residents waited in line for more than an hour, Harris said. She said many people have asked her when the second book will be out.

Lifelong resident

James Calvert, 84, who has lived in Pasadena all his life, said many elderly residents who have never left the area appreciated the first book.

Calvert was interviewed for Cunningham's books because his family is rich in Pasadena history. His father, mother and grandfather were all born in Pasadena, and his father's grandfather bought the Calvert family farm in 1840.

Calvert told Cunningham stories about living without electricity until 1932 and attending a one-room school through third grade.

"It was strictly rural area -- farms and nothing," he said. "I never figured there was a lot happening here, although when I was a kid the beaches were great things in the '30s."

Harris anticipates that all age groups will be attracted to the second book because it also covers more recent subjects. The book will be introduced and go on sale at an association gala at Kurtz's Beach from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. today.

Beginning Saturday, the book will sell for $30 at local businesses, including Angel's Grocery, All Things Country and County National Bank.

The first book was mainly funded by 19 business sponsors, while the second book was financed almost entirely from the sales of the first book.

Profit from book sales will be used for college scholarships for area students and other contributions to the community.

"It is a book that will be used, I think, for reference," Cunningham said. "It has a good index, and I think a lot of people will look up their community, their schools or their churches."

Tickets for tonight's gala at Kurtz's Beach are available for $15 at County National Bank, 4001 Mountain Road, or by calling Maureen Agro, 410-354-3900, or Wendy Harris, 410-437-8279.

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