When word spread in September 1933 that water had finally crested the top of newly built Prettyboy dam, some 7,500 people came to North County to see it for themselves.
They arrived after navigating 10 miles of new roads and across any of nine new bridges constructed as part of the $4.1 million dam and reservoir project, according to a 1933 report by the Baltimore Department of Public Works.
Some 80 years later, the public works department is inviting folks to visit the dam again as it holds Prettyboy Day, a free event, on April 27 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The day begins with remarks by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and features tours inside the dam's gatehouse, tree-plantings, displays of live native birds and reptiles, information on protecting the Prettyboy watershed, as well as historic photos and newspaper reports on the dam's construction.
Baltimore city joined forces with the Prettyboy Watershed Alliance to host the one-day celebration of the dam. Prettyboy holds 20 billion gallons and is one of three reservoirs supplying water to the metropolitan Baltimore area.
"We are excited about highlighting Prettyboy dam and reservoir, an important part of our regional drinking-water system," said Alfred Foxx, director of the Department of Public Works.
His agency is providing free shuttle service from Druid Hill Park to Prettyboy Day. There is also free parking at the dam.
Sharon Bailey, president of the nonprofit Prettyboy Watershed Alliance, said Baltimore officials contacted her group months ago about Prettyboy Day.
"Alfred Foxx is big on celebrating the water system and we think it's the best idea we've heard in a long time," she said. "It's important for city dwellers to see the origins of their drinking water and it's important for people who live out here to see how they can help improve the health of the watershed."
Her group is handling the planting of about 150 trees in the watershed. All planting sites will be within walking distance of the dam for those who volunteer to dig in the dirt.
Other participants in Prettyboy Day include a Master Gardeners' Bay-Wise group, members of which will give tips on managing lawn and garden to lessen impacts on the watershed. The Gunpowder Riverkeeper's Theaux LeGardeur, who is charged with protecting and preserving the Gunpowder River and its watershed, will also be on hand for the festivities.
Friend and neighbor
One of the most popular displays could be artifacts, photos, newspaper articles and videos collected over the years by George Lang, Prettyboy's unofficial historian, who has spent most of his 66 years living less than a mile from the dam.
"I started going to the dam to look for snakes when I was a kid," he said. "When I got older, I'd go take pictures whenever they were doing work on it. I'd take pictures during droughts when the water was so low you could see the foundations of the houses that were flooded."
A Jan. 17, 1931, story in The Jeffersonian about the impending flooding noted, "Sixteen hundred to two thousand acres of what are at the present time farm lands, gardens and woodlands will be lake bottom … twenty or thirty homes of today, a church and two school houses will be washed from the landscape."
Lang said he once found a 1927 quarter in a zippered wallet while exploring exposed shorelines during a drought.
Headlines on copies of newspaper articles Lang will bring to Prettyboy Day include: "2 Cliffs Provide Natural Site of City's New Dam; Section Is So Wild Raccoons Haunt It"; "Worker at Prettyboy Dam Bitten by Snake; Copperhead Attacks J. Pulaski as He Reaches Under Shack Cot for Shoes"; "$600 Pay-Roll Robbery Leads To Man Hunt; Prettyboy Woods Combed For 2 Bandits Who Held Up Subcontractor."
He has many other artifacts at his home, including an original four-ton cast iron valve once used to open floodgates. Baltimore city officials didn't want it after it was replaced with an electronic valve in 1998, so it now sits on his property.
Lang, who owns G&L Pools, also hauled home two dump trucks filled with bricks that once lined the original roadway over the dam. The city didn't want them when they were replaced with concrete in the late 1990s. Lang created walkways around his home with the 80-year-old bricks.
He found an original drill bit used to break up rock, as well as core samples of rock from drilling to determine the type of rock below the surface before construction started.
He has photographed the dam and reservoir from the air and has rappelled down its face as a member of the Hereford Volunteer Fire Company during rescue training.
Lang's extensive knowledge of the dam was invaluable five years ago when crews stabilized the gatehouse. Before taking heavy equipment across the dam, Brayman Construction workers studied photos he took during reconstruction of the roadbed years earlier to see what the base was like. They also looked at his 2002 photos when the water level was down 62 feet, showing the lower dam that is normally underwater.
"I grew up listening to my parents talk about the dam and I still go to the dam and hike along the river every chance I get," Lang said. "I take my grandsons now, and I hope one day they'll take theirs. There's always something to see."
Prettyboy dam is located at 18100 Prettyboy Dam Road, Parkton.
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