The Smithsonian Institution announced yesterday that it has purchased 575 acres of farmland in Anne Arundel County, including the ruins of a historic tobacco plantation, that will be turned into an archaeology research site the public can visit.
The roughly 300-year-old Contee Farm off Route 468 on the Rhode River will become part of the adjacent Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, which has been conducting studies into Chesapeake Bay ecology and other subjects for 43 years, officials said.
Anson Hines, director of the Smithsonian center, said the land is in a rapidly developing area south of Annapolis and will be preserved with a conservation easement.
"This is a fabulous resource and a great opportunity for us," Hines said. "We will continue to operate it as a farm, and allow the public to see active farming and forestry done in a way to improve the bay watershed."
The institution bought the land - which its scientists have long used for research - for $6.2 million on Friday from the Kirpatrick-Howat family. The farm was named after John Contee, who was a second lieutenant on the U.S.S. Constitution during the War of 1812, helping to defeat a British warship in a battle off the coast of Brazil.
Contee used reward money he received for seizing the enemy ship to buy the plantation about 1818. But the farm is about a century older than that. And in addition to the ruins of the old plantation house, researchers have found several other archaeological sites on the property, including campsites of Piscataway Indians.
With the purchase, the amount of land owned by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center will grow from about 1,925 acres to about 2,500 acres. The center will build new paths and water trails to allow the public to hike and canoe around the land. And the ruins of the plantation house will be turned into an exhibit that people can visit to learn about 18th and 19th century American farms.