Port Deposit is looking grim these days, but the town's fortunes may be turning around with the construction of 170 waterfront town houses.
Located on the Cecil County side of the Susquehanna River within view of Interstate 95, the Tome's Landing development is being built on a site that was used by Wiley Manufacturing Co. to build sections for the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels before ceasing operations in 1987.
The developers plan to create a self-contained community that will sport a marina with 400 boat slips, a commercial and retail shopping complex, waterfront restaurant, pool and tennis courts, fitness center and yacht club.
And local residents hope the development -- whose town house prices range from $92,150 to $137,000 -- will help revitalize the area.
"We hope interest will spill over to Main Street. We don't have a service station or a bank," said Donald Poist Sr., who was mayor of Port Deposit from 1979 to 1988.
Residential development is a new venture for United Dominion Industries, developers of Tome's Landing.
Best known for creating the retractable domed roof over the SkyDome sports stadium in Toronto, United Dominion Industries retained ownership of the waterfront site after Wiley Manufacturing Co. closed.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based manufacturing, construction and engineering company also put up the $50 million development financing.
The developers will face a challenging engineering project when they try to pick up and move an 800-square-foot granite building dating from about the 1880s that is also designated as a national historic building.
At one end of the long, narrow site, the building is known as the old gas building and was once used as a sport clubhouse.
The developers eventually plan to pick up and move the building to the entrance of the development. The space may be used as an art gallery, said Michael Doran, development manager for the community.
The on-site sales office contains a large model of one of the homes. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall fall, and by next spring the first section of homes and boat slips should be ready for residents.
By summer 1993 the builders hope to have the waterfront restaurant completed.
While much of the Susquehanna River's bank is protected from dense development by the state's 1984 Chesapeake Bay Critical Area law, the Port Deposit site was recommended for waterfront development in a Cecil County development master plan that became effective March 4.
Paul H. Kozloski, town administrator for Port Deposit, said the Tome's Landing plan didn't face development constraints from the Critical Area law because the site had an exemption because it was previously used for industry.
Mr. Kozloski said Tome's Landing is better suited for the site than a proposal two years ago for a marina with 800 in-water
boat slips and 800 above-ground boat slips.
That plan was opposed by the community in favor of a use that would provide a more integrated, residential community.
Grace and Clyde Humphries, a retired couple, have lived in their Main Street house since 1946. Mr. Humphries said the town started its steady decline in the 1950s.
Grace Humphries is concerned about losing her view of the river.
"I can look out of my window and see the river," she said.
"The view of the river is what I loved about it."
But Mr. Kozloski said views of the river will be enhanced by the new housing development.
When the site was used for manufacturing, there were bulky storage sheds that obliterated any river view from numerous houses along Main Street, which parallels the river.
Instead of massive industrial structures, the town house
development -- with its less dense buildings -- will allow more views of the river.
"Some people haven't been out there in 50 years [while the site was used for manufacturing]," Mr. Doran declared.
"Now they can walk down to the water and there will be a 15-foot pier to fish on. The whole image of the town will change," he said.
Mr. Poist, who is still referred to as Mayor Poist by his neighbors, has a home on Main Street that will be located just behind the new town houses.
He worked to bring new development to the Wiley site during his administration, and is pleased to see the Tome's Landing development get under way.
Port Deposit's problems began when "we were invaded by the U.S. Navy" in the 1940s at the Bainbridge property which borders Port Deposit, Mr. Poist said.
Bainbridge was used as a Navy training center and served as a boot camp training area during World War II.
When the Bainbridge area was taken over by the Navy, absentee landlords started taking over Port Deposit.
Homes and buildings started to deteriorate, according to Mr. Poist.
The Navy occupied the 1,260-acre Bainbridge site from 1942 to 1976. Then the U.S. Department of Labor operated the Chesapeake Job Corps Center on the property.
While the Job Corps used the site, Bainbridge was plagued by a series of fires and plain neglect.
Bainbridge has been vacant since the Job Corps center closed in December 1990, and now the Navy is doing an extensive asbestos cleanup at the site.
The Maryland Economic Development Corp. is drawing up the documents to take over Bainbridge from the Navy, according to Hans Mayer, MEDCO's executive director.
Bainbridge is a half-mile from Interstate 95 and is on a site that towers 40 feet above Port Deposit.
Mr. Mayer says the agency envisions a mixed-used development that will have a small town center with service-oriented shops, single-family homes, a golf course and an industrial and commercial area that would be established first to bring jobs to the area.
In the meantime, Mr. Mayer is looking for the estimated $7 million needed to clear the land and put in the infrastructure to support new development.
Situated in the Bainbridge site is the historic Jacob Tome School, which Mr. Mayer says he hopes will become the signature property in a corporate center.
It is said that Jacob Tome, who is also the namesake for the Tome's Landing development, drifted into Port Deposit on a raft from York County, Pa., in 1833.
Mr. Tome built up lumber and banking businesses in Port Deposit, served as an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln and was offered a place in President Ulysses S. Grant's Cabinet.
His famous school was originally created for orphans, and when he died in 1898, Mr. Tome bequeathed his entire estate to the town.
The town houses range from 975 square feet to 1,250 square feet.
The two-story town houses are built over the garage, and some units are split in half with one residence over the other, similar to an old-style flat but all the homes have private entrances.
When bought with a condominium, 30-foot boat slips cost $12,000 and the 40-foot version sells for $16,000.