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Harford wants Oakington to be a park; 328-acre Tydings estate is key to bayfront plans


Standing on the cliffs of the Oakington farm near Havre de Grace, overlooking the tranquil waters of the Chesapeake Bay, it is easy to see why Harford County officials want to preserve the property.

The sweeping grounds boast shoreline bluffs 40 feet above the bay, allowing for a scenic view of the water.

With the recent $3 million purchase of the 328-acre farm, Harford officials have added another key piece in their quest for a waterfront park on the bay, south of Havre de Grace.

"Harford County has such a small amount of true bayfront land available because much of it belongs to Aberdeen Proving Ground," said Arden Holdredge, director of planning and zoning in the county. "Not much of it is held privately."

In 1993, officials drafted a plan they hoped would convert an area known as the Oakington peninsula into parkland.

The Oakington farm, once owned by former U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings, was recently purchased with a combination of county and state funds and is considered by many the crown jewel of the county's open space program.

In its early days, the land was known as the Oakington Estate.

The main house was built around 1816 and was improved upon by architect Stanford White in 1905.

In 1935, Tydings purchased the farm, and it was there that his son, Joseph D. Tydings -- who also became a U.S. senator from Maryland -- spent his boyhood.

One portion of the Tydings property was sold to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in the 1980s.

Three houses and several old barns sit on what will become a county park.

Joseph Tydings said he has many memories tied to an area he calls "one of the most beautiful pieces of land in the state.

"It was idyllic," said Tydings, 70, a lawyer. "It was one of the greatest duck shooting areas in the whole state. My father and I would spend weekends and vacations shooting."

Developers had expressed interest in building everything from homes to a marina on the property.

Tydings said he and his sister, Eleanor D. Shapiro, decided to sell the land to the county after conversations with former Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

"My sister and I have always been leaders in the community when it comes to land preservation," Tydings said. "We want people to have some of the same memories we had growing up there."

Joseph Pfaff, the county director of parks and recreation, said officials plan to maintain the area as a park.

"It's rich in natural habitat," Pfaff said. "Our naturalists are going to look at the area, and we are considering establishing some outdoor classrooms."

The purchase adds to the county's growing inventory of waterfront park property.

In 1993, the county purchased the nearby 463-acre Swan Harbor Farm, also on the Chesapeake Bay.

The farm, north of Oakington, is used as open and recreational space, and the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation is slated to move from Baltimore to Swan Harbor.

County officials would like to purchase Bellevue Farm between Oakington and Swan Harbor.

That 365-acre tract is owned by the Davis family.

Craig Lanphear, park administrator for Swan Harbor, said officials are excited about the Oakington purchase.

"To have an opportunity to preserve land right on the bay for future public use is wonderful," Lanphear said, glancing out over the landscape. "It's a rare opportunity."

Pub Date: 1/05/99

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