World War I comes to the Gunpowder Neck

Harford history

December 21, 2008

The need for an expanded ordnance proving ground gave Congress the authorization to take over and acquire for the United States war effort large tracts of land along the shoreline of Harford County. President Woodrow Wilson's first proclamation claiming the land was dated Oct. 16, 1917, but was amended on Dec. 14, 1917. Owners of land were given until Jan. 1, 1918, to vacate their properties. Some went willingly; others went grudgingly. John Cadwalader, owner of a mansion on Maxwell Point, was not happy, but delayed vacating his property while he tried to find other homes for his tenant farmers. Sadly, his longtime caretaker Frank Gowan, 80, died on Dec. 11 from burns he received while trying to light a kerosene stove in his house. He accidentally set his clothes on fire and the burns proved fatal. The larger part of the new proving ground north and east of the Bush River became Aberdeen Proving Ground. Another 3,400 acres, accessible by two rivers and the Pennsylvania Railroad, became Edgewood Arsenal, a chemical weapons plant.

Source: Harford Historical Bulletin, Number 63, Winter 1995. "From Plowshare to Sword: Historical Highlights of Gunpowder Neck and Edgewood Arsenal to the End of World War I" by Jeffery K. Smart, pp. 12-15.

Compiled by Harford County Public Library staff

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