- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

You wouldn’t be able to purchase and live in a 17th-century home if you chose to settle in St. Mary’s City, but you’d be steeped in history regardless.

Residents of this city near the tip of the Maryland peninsula live in proximity to St. Mary’s College of Maryland, founded in 1840 and home to a student body of more than 1,800, and to the outdoor history museum of Historic St. Mary’s City, the founding place of Maryland and site of the first state capital.

“I’d say the relationship [between residents and the museum] is very good for the most part,” says Susan Wilkinson, director of marketing and communications for Historic St. Mary’s City. “We try to keep them informed about things that are happening here that might impact them.”

With 50,000 visitors per year, the museum isn’t so big that tourists and schoolchildren “are falling into people’s back yards.”

For those who have long dreamed of living in a rural area rich with history, local Realtors say that hundreds of homes — many of them on the water — are available in St. Mary’s City, perhaps an hour and a quarter from the District without traffic.

Terry Roth says he has plenty of clients who live and work in Washington but long to relocate to St. Mary’s City. Mr. Roth is a real estate agent with Durkin Realty, an agency that has been around since the late 1980s and has offices in Lexington Park and Great Mills.

Some residents commute to Washington; others work close to home.

“If it wasn’t for [Patuxent Naval Air Station], this would be a ghost town,” Mr. Roth says, referring to one of the county’s largest employers. A constellation of federal contractors such as Raytheon supports Patuxent, the county and the region with more jobs, he adds.

The ideals of Maryland’s first settlers — including their commitment to religious freedom — are never far from the minds of those who work to keep alive the state’s origins for generations of Marylanders to come.

“A lot of interesting things that happened here in the 17th century make [Historic St. Mary’s City] a site of national significance,” says Ms. Wilkinson, including the first practice of religious tolerance in Colonial America and the first attempt to separate church and state. George Calvert, the founder of Maryland, also known as Lord Baltimore, sought a safe haven in the New World for Catholics persecuted for their beliefs at home in England.

When Annapolis was designated the capital in 1695, “all the city buildings here were left to crumble,” Ms. Wilkinson says. Some of the buildings that stand at Historic St. Mary’s City were built upon the original foundations, however.

“When we started the museum in 1966, we had only two acres. It took a long time to acquire enough land to do anything,” says Lois Green Carr, the historian for Historic St. Mary’s City, who earned her doctorate in history from Harvard.

The museum covers about 840 acres, which include a 1933 reconstruction of the original 1676 Statehouse, built to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Maryland; the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation, in which interpreters assume 17th-century personas and speak to visitors in the first person about daily life on the farm; and the Woodland Indian Hamlet, which describes the early interactions between Colonial settlers and Indians.

Visitors also can climb aboard the Maryland Dove, a replica of a mid-17th-century trading vessel. Come spring, they also can inspect the Print House and its printing press, a new addition to the town center.

Mrs. Carr says work at the museum’s archaeological sites has guided the interpretation of all of its exhibits, including the Print House. “My work has been to try to put together [information] from the history records that could help us interpret the site,” she says.

Though at one time the museum’s research team “had grand ambitions” to interpret events well into the 20th century, the educational mandate from the state caps interpretation at the end of the 17th century, Mrs. Carr says.

In addition to its historical significance in terms of the founding of Maryland, the rest of St. Mary’s County — which tallied 86,211 residents in the 2000 census — offers proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and Point Lookout State Park. The area boasts great fishing and an Amish population known for top-quality handmade furniture and food.

“There’s the farmers market on the weekends in Mechanicsville,” where Amish residents sell produce and other goods, Mr. Roth says. “You’ll see horses and buggies on the side of the road here, which is really kind of nice.”

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