The first years of Aberdeen Proving Ground

Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the surrounding areas in Maryland, is once again in the news.

Last week, in this column, we talked about Old Baltimore, and the fact that the first Baltimore on Bush was in our part of Harford County before the founding of the present Baltimore City on the Patapsco. This site is now part of the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

We are reminded that there wasn't always an APG. But in just a few short years, APG will be celebrating its 100th anniversary!

So, when and how did this important part of Harford County start?

It all happened in 1917 when the Army purchased land for the Ordnance Proving Ground in Harford County, and for almost 100 years the economic benefits to the community have changed Aberdeen and Harford County.

In the years before our country entered Wold War I, testing of ammunition and equipment had been conducted at Fort Monroe in Virginia, until 1874. At that time, the Army established Sandy Hook Proving Ground in New Jersey, and operated until 1917. Then it was apparent that it needed to be removed to a less congested area than New York Harbor.

The commander of Sandy Hook, Col. Ruggles, was given the job of finding a new site for the Ordnance Proving Ground. Harford's land around Bush River and Gunpowder Necks seemed to be the answer with its climate, roads and railroads and access to Washington, D.C. There would be sufficient area for large overland and over water ranges, and no major communities would be disturbed.

Of course, this just happened to be some of Harford's prime farmland. Some of the finest corn was grown on those fields. But arrangements were made for the farmers to move, and prices paid averaged $100 an acre, which was considered high at that time.

The government took possession of APG on Oct. 12, 1917, and the move from Sandy Hook began. In three short months, there were enough facilities to begin operations. The historic first shot was fired on Jan. 2, 1918. Col. Ruggles became the first commander.

During 1918, more than 400,000 rounds of ammunition were fired, exceeding the 7,000 rounds fired each year at Sandy Hook. Operations began with just 45 military and 23 civilians. Then 300 more workers from Sandy Hook moved to Aberdeen. A number of residents in Aberdeen are descendants of those workers.

During World War I, the number of employees grew to 5,000 military and 3,400 civilians at APG. It was designated a permanent military post on Jan. 9, 1919, with more than 35,000 land acres and 34,000 underwater acres. The boundaries of more than 75,000 acres are the joining of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay on the north, and the Gunpowder River to the south.

That original APG didn't resemble what APG has become today. Luckily, the Aberdeen Room Archives and Museum at 18 Howard St. in Aberdeen has a collection of post cards from those early day. In its files are many early publications, thanks to early Aberdeen Room volunteers who had retired from APG and donated them.

One of the most important parts of the APG exhibit at the Aberdeen Room is the 11-foot map of the land that was purchased in 1917 to establish APG. It tells the acreage of each parcel, the quaint names and owners. A wealth of information.

We will continue to share some of the information shown on this valuable map in future columns. It shows the land acquisition in Edgewood area on the left, to the Michaelsville area, all the way to the Spesutie Narrows and island.

Come see us, at 18 Howard St., and see yourself. You might even find familiar family names!

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