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The history of Maryland’s first state park, Patapsco Valley State Park

Betsy McMillion and Ed Johnson have written a book about the Patapsco Valley State Park and its long history.
Betsy McMillion and Ed Johnson have written a book about the Patapsco Valley State Park and its long history. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The recent publication of “Patapsco Valley State Park,” by authors Betsy A. McMillion and Edward F. Johnson, chronicles the history of the creation of Maryland’s first state park in a lively format of descriptive copy and lavish archival photographs.

The cover alone is enough to catch the reader’s attention, as a family of eight, four of whom are children, dine on a freshly laid picnic in the park on a warm summer’s day in the 1920s. In the background are two flivvers, which brought them there over bouncy roads.

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It is a charming sepia snapshot from a more formal time, when gentleman, impervious to the heat, wouldn’t dare consider going abroad without wearing starched collars, ties and white shirts, while women dressed in long sun dresses.,

In 1907, John M. Glenn, a Catonsville landowner and Russell Sage Foundation director, donated 43 acres to the Maryland Board of Forestry, which “hired staff to manage and promote conservation efforts, monitor public activities, and prevent and manage forest fires,” the authors wrote. At that time, the park’s name was the Patapsco Forest Reserve.

By 1919, it expanded to 1,000 acres and included 200 campsites and included several surrounding trails for hikers. It officially became Maryland’s first state park in the 1930s.

During that time, the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, added cabins, pavilions, campgrounds, fresh drinking water, restrooms and access roads.

Today, the park has grown to more than 16,000 acres and extends 32 miles alongside the Patapsco River, while offering recreational possibilities to nearby Baltimoreans, Washingtonians, and those from the surrounding counties.

The park also extends into four counties: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Howard.

The authors remind us that the Patapsco River Valley had once been heavily industrialized with mills, like the Avalon Nail and Iron Works, and Orange Grove Flour Mill, as well as the Bloede Dam, a hydroelectric dam, that was demolished last year.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s mainline, with the historic Thomas Viaduct, to Baltimore, and its Old Main Line, which heads westward to Point of Rocks, course through the park.

Mother Nature has also wreaked havoc with catastrophic floods that have roared through the Patapsco River Valley in 1866, 1868 and in 1972, when Tropical Storm Agnes devastated the park, caused loss of life and destroyed businesses. Nearly 10 miles of the B&O’s Old Main Line were washed away near Ellicott City, stranding a 150-car freight train and its crew.

In 2016 and again in 2018, a 1,000-year flood swept through the valley.

Today, the park hosts more than a million visitors annually, report the authors.

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