Charles County has come a long way from trading with American Indians to
legalized gambling into a bustling bedroom community for the Washington,
D.C., metro area. Within its lifetime, the county has suffered through
the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. All of them
had devastating effects on the economy and stunted growth for decades
after. The largest population growth for Charles County came in the
mid-twentieth century and has continued to escalate beyond anyone's
History of Charles County: The Gateway to Historic Southern Maryland
In 1632, King Charles I of England granted Sir George Calvert - who held
the title of Lord Baltimore - a charter for establishing a Maryland
colony that would be located just north of the Virginia colony on the
opposite side of the Potomac River. It was Calvert's second charter he
was granted to establish an English province. The first was in
Newfoundland, but the climate proved too harsh. Maryland (Terra Mariae)
was officially chartered in England on June 30, 1632. However, Calvert
died in April of 1632 and all land promised, as well as the charter,
passed to his 26-year-old son, Cecilius (Cecil) Calvert, who became the
Second Lord Baltimore.
Cecil Calvert had a mind for business and quickly gathered a diverse
group of businessmen, their families and servants, as well as Jesuits to
settle Maryland (Terra Mariae). He chose to stay in England in order to
keep his position secure in the royal court. In his place he chose his
brother, Leonard Calvert, to serve as the lieutenant governor. He also
sent his youngest brother, George Calvert, along for the task.
In October 1633, the Ark and Dove set sail for Maryland with good Roman
Catholics on board. Craftsmen were handpicked for their specific skill
such as carpenters, farmers and brick makers. Also on board were gentry
and investors who had received smaller land grants. The Ark and Dove
landed on St. Clements Island on March 25, 1634.
Law and order were established in Charles County when Gov. Josias
Fendall issued a proclamation in the name of Lord Baltimore on May 10,
"That a commission be drawn up for the keeping of a court, on the North
side of the Wicomico River, and that part of the province be erected
into a county."
The 26 years prior to the establishment of Charles County did not mean
there was not life in the county. Although there were manors established
consisting of an average of 2,000 acres, smaller farmsteads also
existed. Most of the population lived in or very near the port towns
that sprang up along the Potomac River. At one time there were 27 port
towns in Charles County that were shipping centers for imports and
exports, such as tobacco, lumber and slaves.
One such town, Port Tobacco, eventually became the county seat. Then the
county seat moved to La Plata in 1895 after a devastating fire destroyed
the Port Tobacco courthouse. It was the third courthouse built in that
location. Presently a replica of the 1819 courthouse has been erected
through the efforts of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco,
the aid of local thespians the Port Tobacco Players and many others.
At the turn of the 20th century, Charles County became a destination for
Washingtonians who traveled by steamboat to Marshall Hall Park and
Chapel Point Park on the Potomac River. After the steamboats went out of
business, visitors still came by bus or car.
Chapel Point was originally a private resort for St. Thomas Manor
residents and guests. It was sold to B. B. Wills and open to the public
in 1925. They had facilities for picnics, roller-skating, a pavilion for
social functions, a dining room with kitchen, a beach with bathhouses
and a hotel. It was also the site of the first county fair in 1924.
"One of my cherished memories of Chapel Point Park was the election
dance I attended as a candidate for Queen Nicotina in 1951," said Bobbie
Baldus, co-chairman of the 350th Anniversary Celebration. "I was crowned
the 17th Queen Nicotina that evening and my date was later to become my
husband, Carl Baldus. We celebrate our 55th anniversary this year. My
family always came to Chapel Point for recreation. My father used to say
if there was a breeze anywhere in Charles County it would (be) there."
In the early 1940s, Charles County began to transform into a different
kind of destination spot with the installation of Route 301, which ran
north to south ending at the newly built Harry W. Nice Bridge. Slot
machines were legalized in 1949, which brought unwanted elements to the
county and were phased out by 1969. The development of the St. Charles
Community in 1968 took center stage and life would never be the same for
little old Waldorf.
From the very beginning, Charles County has been an agriculturally rich
county. But in recent years, the farming community has dwindled due to
rising land values, taxes and a higher cost of living. In 1945, there
were 1,436 farms in Charles County and in 1950 there were 1,576,
according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. As of 2002, there
were only 418. Current census information is not available.
"Charles County has deep agricultural roots," said Pam King, agent for
the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Agency in Charles
County. "I have really noticed a dramatic change in agriculture since
the 20 years I've been here. Not only with the 2000 Tobacco Buyout
offered by the State of Maryland, but with the lifestyle of the county's
residents. Growing tobacco was about culture - the planting schedule
ordered their year. When to plant, pull up, strip, it was the flow of
life. When the buyout came along it was a good opportunity for aging
farmers, it justified an end for them. I now wonder how the popping of
the housing bubble coinciding with the end of the buyout period will
affect future agriculture in our urban state."
Joyce Simpson said she is proud of her Charles County heritage. "I am
related to Thomas Greene, second provincial governor of Maryland, and
also to the Bean family. They were the ones Mattawoman-Beantown Road was
named for. Beantown was a small village that lay just south of the newly
built train station. It was named Bean Station for a short time," she
said. "In 1850, it was renamed Waldorf. Waldorf is a German word meaning
'village in the forest.' My other grandparents owned Trotter's Hotel on
Route 5 South, so I've seen a lot of changes through the years and it
seems to me that Waldorf is at a saturation point."
"I was at the 300th celebration ceremony at the Port Tobacco Courthouse
when they buried a time capsule," added Simpson. "I turned to my friend
and told her I'd be around for the 350th, and here I am."
Baldus said there are plans to bury a new time capsule at the end of the
year. It will contain the memorabilia from the 350th anniversary
Part of this year's celebration is the building of five, 24-foot high by
24-foot wide birthday cakes at every entrance to the county.
"My husband Carl is in charge of the construction of the birthday
cakes," added Baldus. "They are exact replicas of the one built in
Waldorf for the 300th anniversary celebration. All the land where they
are placed, as well as materials and labor are donated. They have
three-and-a-half candles on top of them to symbolize our county's 350
years and they will be lit at night. We hope they bring a smile to
Charles County's colonial heritage is deeply woven into the tapestry of
America by several Charles Countians. Congressman John Hanson helped
ratify the Constitution. Gen. William Smallwood commanded the Maryland
line during the Revolutionary War, while Brig. Gen. John Dent commanded
the militia of the Lower District on the Western Shore during the
Revolutionary War. Matthew Henson discovered the North Pole with Adm.
Robert E. Peary. The list can continue to increase, possibly with you or
your children's contribution to this great county in flux.
Charles County 350th Events
13 1 - 3:30 p.m., Lecture: "Patriot's Day Celebration," Chapman State
Park, Mt. Aventine.
10 2 - 3 p.m., Lecture: "Pearson Chapman and his Mt. Aventine:
1824-1860," Chapman State Park, Mt. Aventine.
14 Noon, Mass, St. Ignatius Chapel Point celebrated by Archbishop Donald
14 2 - 3 p.m., Lecture: "The Civil War Years in Western Charles County:
1860-1865," Chapman State Park, Mt. Aventine.
6 350th Anniversary Golf Tournament, White Plains Golf Course.
11 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Art in the park, Mattawoman Creek Art Center.
12 1 - 5 p.m., Benedict Oyster Festival, Serenity Farm.
12 2 - 3 p.m., Lecture: "A Photo Walk through Chapman State Park,"
Chapman State Park, Mt. Aventine.
19 2 - 4 p.m., Fall in Southern Maryland, Friendship House.
9 Veteran's Day Parade, Town of La Plata.
16 2 - 4 p.m., Colonial Thanksgiving Celebration, Friendship House.
For more information please contact Amy Calvin, events specialist at the
Charles County Economic Development and Tourism Department. Call
301-885-1342 or email calvina (at) charlescounty.org.