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Charles B. Anderson Jr., first Harford County executive, named Living Treasure

Harford County Councilman Chad Shrodes, left, gives his thoughts on Charles Anderson Jr., center, being named a Harford Living Treasure during the council's Dec. 17 meeting. Anderson, who was surrounded by family during the presentation, was Harford's first county executive when the county adopted charter government in 1972.
Harford County Councilman Chad Shrodes, left, gives his thoughts on Charles Anderson Jr., center, being named a Harford Living Treasure during the council's Dec. 17 meeting. Anderson, who was surrounded by family during the presentation, was Harford's first county executive when the county adopted charter government in 1972. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Charles B. Anderson Jr., who served as Harford’s first county executive when the county adopted charter-based government in the 1970s, was named a Harford Living Treasure by the County Council.

“He blazed new trails ... so he’s helped everybody [get] where we’re at today,” Councilman Tony Giangiordano said while presenting the Living Treasure proclamation to Anderson during the council’s Dec. 17 meeting.

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Anderson served on Harford County’s prior governing body, the Board of County Commissioners, from 1970 to 1972, according to a bio posted on the Maryland Manual On-line website. He was elected county executive in 1972, the same year voters adopted a county charter, making Harford a “home rule” county with an executive branch led by the county executive and a legislative branch made up of the County Council.

Anderson recalled his 1972 campaign slogan, “Charlie and Charter,” meaning a vote for him also was a vote for the county charter. He held the office of county executive until 1978.

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“In my 88 years in Harford County, I have seen unbelievable change,” Anderson said. “There’s not hardly a day [that] goes by, someone says, ‘Hey Charles, what was it like back in the ‘30s and ‘40s?’”

Anderson was surrounded by members of his family, including his great-grandchildren, during the induction ceremony. He said his mother and father each had 10 siblings, “so I had a built-in voting bloc.”

He recalled that his mother, who was born in Fallston in 1902 and was educated in a one-room schoolhouse, would often say, “There’s two things we can’t get past — death and taxes.”

“Before she died, she said, 'There’s one more element: death, taxes and change,’ and Harford County has certainly gone through change in the last 30, 40 years,” Anderson said.

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He encouraged people who want to get a sense of what Harford County was like in the 1940s and ’50s to drive on Old Emmorton Road, which is off of Route 924 just north of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Old Emmorton, which Anderson said is 16 feet wide and “was the main drag from Edgewood to Bel Air,” currently ends at Laurel Bush Road in Bel Air South.

“When they put in 924, we though we died and went to Heaven,” Anderson said. “I mean, we thought this was a big deal.”

Harford County has seen significant growth through the 20th century and early 21st century, with Route 24 now serving as the main north-south artery between the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground and Bel Air and then extending north to Forest Hill, through Rocks State Park and up to the Mason-Dixon Line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Route 24 also intersects with I-95 in Abingdon — the interstate was extended through Harford County in the early 1960s.

Anderson recalled visiting the Bel Air racetrack as a child and seeing horse-pulling contests. He also would see mounted cavalry soldiers riding north on Mountain Road from Edgewood, as well as other horses pulling wagons and artillery.

“The changes in Harford County have just been absolutely unbelievable,” he said.

Anderson told another story about his time as a county commissioner. The commissioners also sat as a zoning board, and the group voted 3-2 one meeting in favor of rezoning a farm. One commissioner slammed his hand down and said, “If we keep rezoning these farms at the rate we’re going, our kids are going to have to go to the zoo to see a cow!”

“And he was right!” Anderson said.

Some dairy farms remain in operation in Harford County, and youths who don’t have regular interaction with livestock can see cows — as well as pigs, sheep, goats and other creatures — each year during the Harford County Farm Fair. The number of working family farms, including dairy operations, has declined significantly over the years as more and more housing is built, although the county government has an active agricultural preservation program.

Councilman Chad Shrodes, who represents the largely rural northern Harford County, praised Anderson for his efforts to establish local charter government, noting that “I heard the name Charles B. Anderson all the time in my household” growing up.

“We wouldn’t be where we’re at today, if it weren’t for the vision that you had back in the early ’70s,” Shrodes told Anderson.

Shrodes noted that new concepts are not always popular, however.

“To go from a commission form of government over to a charter form of government, where we have an executive branch and the County Council balancing each other out, somebody had to lead that charge and that man was you,” he told Anderson.

The county’s Cultural Arts Board forwards nominees for the Living Treasure honor to the County Council for approval, and inductees then participate in interviews about their lives. The oral history is preserved through the Harford County Public Library Living Treasures Oral History Project.

“I can’t think of anybody who should be a living treasure more than you, and I know that future generations will look forward to the oral histories that are going to be left in the Harford County Public Library forever,” Shrodes told Anderson.

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