Saturday, February 04, 2012

Book Review: The Forgotten Corner, A History of Oakland Mill

I bought this book at the Carroll County Historical Society back in December. It's a short little book, about 140 pages. My wife freaked out when she picked it up and saw the $22 price tag on it. 'But it supports a local writer and a local business!' I told her.

The Forgotten Corner, A History of Oakland Mill was written by Diana Mills Scott. The book details, as the title states, Oakland Mill, a town that is no longer on the map. It was swallowed by the waters of the Liberty Reservoir. And though I know I just lost about 85% of the readers of this blog post, I found the history to be fascinating.

The book starts from the 1700's with early settlement in the area. A mill was built to take advantage of the flowing waters of the Patapsco River. The town was located in the valley surrounded by the high hills dividing Baltimore and Carroll County.

Some of the interesting facts the book detailed are that during the Civil War the mill got in trouble for producing grey wool. Because Maryland was in the occupied North, they should only have been producing dark blue wool. However, there were many Southern-sympathizers in the area.

In 1931, the Maryland General Assembly and Governor Albert C. Ritchie (namesake of Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie, hon) signed the Legislative Act of the Patapsco Water Basin, basically giving the right of Baltimore City to seize all property, including houses and businesses within a defined area. A dam would be built and the valley would be flooded in order to provide additional water for the free-loading citizens of Baltimore City. Baltimore City offered the property owners money for their property, but if the owners did not accept the offer, it was going to be seized and they would get nothing.

I thought about this process and wondered what it would be like in the 2010's. The law and the watershed project began over 80 years ago. I think there is a greater respect for property laws today, though former Baltimore County Executive and current Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger proved a few years ago that property rights mean very little to politicians when he tried to seize waterfront property in Middle River and Essex from lower income people and businesses and give it to rich developers.

Would Baltimore City get away with condemning land in Howard County or Harford County in 2012 and destroying hundreds of homes in order to build a new dam and reservoir? I sure hope not.

The construction of the dam began in the early 1950's along with the deforestation, the removal of houses, and the construction of bridges, including the North Branch Bridge, which is the longer of the two bridges of Liberty Road crossing the reservoir, the Snowden Bridge, which is the shorter of the two bridges, and also bridges for Route 140, Route 32, and Deer Park Road.

I find it interesting that the date stamp on the Route 26 bridges show 1980. I can only assume that the bridges were re-decked at this time and new dates stamped into the concrete. (Note that State Highway is planning to have 4-lanes for Liberty Road all the way to Randallstown sometime in the future. That will require the construction of twin spans.) The writer also notes that at times when there is a severe drought, the remains of the old Oakland Mill building can be seen.

I recall in 2002 when we had a severe drought, the bridge over Morgan Run (the Snowden bridge) crossed a field rather than a branch of water. The water receded well under the bridge. There is a nice photo montage of the drought showing the water levels at Pretty Boy and Liberty Reservoirs. Check out photo DSCN0353. The old Liberty Road can still be seen, which is normally under water.

So if you're interested in local history, this is a great book. I've seen it at The Little Professor in Eldersburg in addition to the book section at the Carroll County Historical Society in Westminster. Check it out!

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