She draws on memories to sketch history

Lifelong Aberdeen resident's book depicts town's homes, businesses and churches

December 17, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Charlotte Cronin sat leafing through a book of sketches, recalling stories about the places they depicted.

"This is a photo of an early tavern at the crossing of the 17th century Post Road and the Bush River Neck Road," she said, pointing to a pencil rendering. "There are no actual photos of the tavern. I dreamed this building.

"And this sketch shows the intersection of Broadway and West Bel Air Avenue as it would have appeared in 1910," she said.

On a recent afternoon, Cronin, 81, made her way through the first of several books filled with the drawings she has completed over the past decade, which she used to compile Sketches of Village to Town to City: Recalling Aberdeen, Maryland.

"My father told me that a drawing would provide a record that would help me remember events in my life," said Cronin. "He told me to sketch and write [them] down."

Divided into 12 sections, the 154-page book depicts more than 250 homes, churches, schools and businesses in Aberdeen. The book, which costs $20, was published in October.

All proceeds from book sales will be used for growth of the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum Inc., a repository for items related to the history of Aberdeen.

Cronin and her husband of 58 years, William Royall Cronin, started the Aberdeen Room in 1987, shortly after her retirement as a journalist.

"The book is homespun," said Lynne Livezey of Aberdeen, who volunteers at the museum. "It's a preservation of history that younger generations can understand. Too often, faces and places are forgotten and we mustn't let that happen."

Cronin, a lifelong resident of Aberdeen, said she grew up in a home filled with history.

"The museum seemed like the thing to do," she said. "It was a way I could record history for future generations."

The museum acquires, records and displays items that relate to the city of Aberdeen, said Cronin, who is the museum curator. And the exhibits in the museum, which include more than 4,600 accessions, are a template for her book, she said.

"I have the museum exhibits broken down by subjects including churches, businesses and Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and historical places," she said. "The book is arranged in about the same way."

Cronin's desire to record and preserve history results from a lesson instilled in her from an early age by her father, Clinton Garretson.

She attended college, but not to study art or history. Instead, in 1942, she was admitted to the school of finance, now known as the Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1945, she earned a bachelor's degree in economics and psychology.

In 1996, Cronin started making note cards and postcards depicting historical sites and businesses in Aberdeen.

"People would see the ones that I had done," she said. "Then they would come and ask me to [draw] their business."

She honed her skills, and her work began drawing attention from local arts organizations. Subsequently, she was commissioned to draw local landmarks.

As her collection of cards grew, so did Cronin's desire to put all of the sketches in one place.

In 2003, she decided to create a book that would include some of the history she has spent her life recording.

Although she had several drawings completed, she needed more for her project.

She increased her visits to historic places so that she could photograph and, in some cases, draw them on location. Her endeavor was not without trials.

The mayor's home, the C.W. Baker House, built in 1885, gave her the biggest headache, she said.

"I had a terrible time trying to get one of the cornices," she said. "I had to get pictures several times. And when that didn't work, I began standing on the corner in front of the house to draw it."

Though many of the places were drawn on-site, some were done from memory, Cronin said.

"Some of the places I drew have been demolished," she said. "Some of them I drew from memory, and some I found photographs of in the newspaper files that were owned by my father-in-law dating from 1919 to 1986."

After spending more than a decade compiling a portfolio comprising more than 375 drawings, Cronin selected about 250 for the book.

She begins the book with a short history of Aberdeen that includes details of events such as the boom in the canning industry; the building of Aberdeen Proving Ground; the opening of Bata Shoe Co. in 1939; the construction of U.S. 40; Aberdeen growing from a town to a city; and the opening of Ripken Stadium complex in 2002.

"This is my contribution to the preservation of Aberdeen's history," she said. "And it's a part of my history that I want to live on long after I'm gone."

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