LETTER: Where is the Historic St. Mary's Commission in the Battle for Preservation?


Kidnapping in St. Mary's County! Missing are renowned historians Richard Moe, Chair and Martin Sullivan Executive Director of the Historic St. Mary's Commission (HSMC). All points bulletin!

As you know, the Citizens for the Preservation of Historic St. Mary's City (CPHSMC) are very concerned about the gobbling up of historically significant property by St. Mary's College of Maryland. Lately it has been the erection of a boat shed with even larger structures on the way located on what is Maryland's equivalent of Plymouth Rock.

We citizen-pilgrims and many hundreds more within the county and beyond have suffered the axes of the College and its Board of Trustees in many ways. Some from the College have attempted to portray the citizens opposed to the boat shed and who have the temerity to want an equal say with the Board of Trustees and the College president in the boat shed's disposition and the impending massive building program as anti St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM).

Through their well paid and powerful public affairs machine, they are quick to publicize and showcase all the "good" things about the college in an argument which seems to say to citizens the College does so much that is good how could we possibly do anything bad? They miss the point.

The CPHSMC organization loves the college and is proud of its national status as an outstanding liberal arts institution. What it does not love and is not proud of is SMCM's building program in which citizens have not had and still do not have equal status with the College and the Board of Trustees in what happens in that building program.

We citizens do not think it too much for the Maryland legislature to agree to relinquish a little of the college's considerable power and welcome those citizens who want to be equal partners when it comes to its building programs. And, these citizens want the boat house moved because, founded as it is now on the rocky shores of distrust, it seems to flaunt the College management's disrespect for the people of this county and this state.

These citizen-pilgrims have taken the lead and gathered by the hundreds to protest the loss of views and the desecration of property clearly of high significance to the history of this country, this state, and this county. Many hundreds more have signed a petition of concern. They have authored many letters appearing in a variety of publications, and they have obtained the support of the St. Mary's Commissioners in proposing legislation for Annapolis to approve providing equal status to the citizens.

And of course, we all greatly appreciate the fact that Senator Dyson has time and again held fast to the will of the citizens and wants to evoke a change in the way business is done at SMCM. We all support him. We ask the College and the Board to embrace Senator Dyson's efforts instead of publicly arguing with him because he, like many other citizens, wants to preserve the historic areas and to get that shed moved.

Thus far, in all our efforts to protect the same property that we think the HSMC Commission would want to protect as well, CPHSMC has not heard one word of support from Drs. Moe and Sullivan. We fear they have been kidnapped by the College. The Commission's functions, according to its web site is to preserve, develop and maintain Historic St. Mary's City as, "…an outdoor museum and archeological park on the site of Maryland's original settlement. "It is, after all, the site of the fourth permanent settlement in British North America. It is Maryland's very first settlement. For 61 years it was Maryland's first capital. In many ways, representative government and the bicameral process started here. Their web site further says, "With emphasis on the 17th century, the Commission studies the history of St. Mary's City, interprets that history for the public and preserves its archaeological evidence, and the website uses words like "care" "maintenance" "proper use" and "responsibility."

We are alarmed that we have received phone calls from individuals who say many people from the College and the HSMC agree with our preservation objectives but are afraid to publicly say they support us. There is, apparently, some fear of retaliation. Based on what we know of the College's management's various strategies to undermine the efforts of the citizens' group and others similarly interested in efforts to preserve the historic authenticity of this location, we fully understand these fears. Apparently what we have here is the Act of Toleration put in reverse - 21st century style.

We are told that the location of the current building activity may be the most likely spot where the Ark and the Dove first landed! Surely this must be part of the "outdoor" museum where the Commission ought to want to "…preserve (the) archaeological evidence." Certainly, any easy tour around the campus and the rest of the historic city and observing the high cliffs and difficult climb from the shore would make the spot where the new wooden shed is erected seem to be the most likely place for such a landing. And it would have been the logical spot from which to embark and disembark, and for those ships which followed, to load and unload their goods there. It appears it would be a heck of a lot easier rolling barrels and carrying goods from that location rather than hoisting them from the base of the cliffs with some sort of boom arrangement or carrying the goods manually up a very steep embankment.

Indeed, our speculation is backed up by good, but suppressed, authority that the area where the shed now covers the ground and blocks the view was the most likely location where Lord Calvert's dramatic experiment really began with the arrival of the Ark and Dove. Could it have been that very spot? Imagine its tranquil beauty with no Route 5, no buildings and no people except perhaps some Native Americans greeting the first ships. The imagination could easily envision that arrival, that glorious new beginnings before the new roofs began to cover our 'outdoor museum' and some of the wonderful trees fell to the chainsaws. It would look much like the historical painting at the nearby Brome Howard. Many hundreds of us here in Southern Maryland and likely thousands in this state, respect and revere the historic significance of the City including what was likely begun where a wooden shed now sits and more building is rapidly underway.

Why hasn't the Commission joined the CPHSMC in publicly protesting the boat shed and related objectionable appurtenances to come? Is it because of a sort of interlocking directorate wherein officials from the Commission have status on the College's Board of Trustees or perhaps is it because the missing HSMC leadership regards the construction program at that location as the"…proper use…" and "…care…" of "…its property?" Is the Commission indifferent, as well, to the transformational effects of the coming piers and river walks and amphitheaters and bridges and road and monument relocations to name just a few of the mega projects that are also planned? To take a little liberty with the question Mr. Jarboe asked recently in his letter to the Enterprise, where are they going to put the hot dog stands and the outdoor johns? What comes next? Do you care?

Once the protesting citizens have been shown the strong willed intransigence of the College and its Board of Trustees to stopping the paving and roofing over of the historical areas, one can only wonder what they will do next. Will the whole harbor area then be covered in an all weather Plexiglas bubble and a contract with Disney entered into for the newest 'Disney World at the Historic City?'

Or, since it has been demonstrated that they will have no problem with the Critical Area Commission (which apparently can be rolled over by just about anyone at the College) will they perhaps fill the shore line on the West side of Route 5 and construct some perfectly elegant cantilevered condos, an exclusive hotel (with slots of course) and a couple of first class restaurants and shops?

How about a "Lord Calvert's River Ride" with entry to be conveniently obtained from both the new pier and river walk? The Lord Calvert River Ride will provide a thrilling high speed roller coaster ride dipping and curving, arching and diving from in front of the Taylor's house all the way across the river to Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee's historic estate fronting the St. Mary's River and then racing back across the river behind the site of the first capitol doing a spectacular aerial wheelie around the moored Ark and Dove, and then around to the river walk/pier areas.

A Capitol ride indeed! Finally, there is some there there! The pilings supporting this roller coaster project will be well marked to avoid collisions with the boats venturing into the harbor—this being the sole contribution of the Corps of Engineers and the various 'regulatory' agencies such as the Maryland Board of Public Works. Picture if you will the beauty of the sailing team practicing amid the piers, pilings and walks. Danged if this idea isn't really appealing!

Perhaps some additional ear marked federal funding could be found to match those millions of already earmarked funds now coming to the College and the Commission? Are you listening Steny?

This may sound a tad speculative to some, but then hundreds of citizens feel misled, have openly stated there has been a serious breach of trust and simply did not believe the College and Board of Trustees would violate their implicit responsibilities to safeguard the property which they have now so de-consecrated. Need more proof - then check out the SMCM website under "Waterfront Improvement Project." With College and Board authorities such as these, it just takes a little imagination and one can see such a future dead ahead.

If Drs. Moe and Sullivan can be found we would like to send them a message as it may have been phrased by colonial Marylanders, 'we beseech thee, oh brethren of the common objective and invite thee, the Historic St. Mary's City Commission, to join thy fellows known as the Citizens for the Preservation of St. Mary's City in our common endeavor to preserve and protect the City we jointly loveth.'

Arlie Bryan Siebert
Scotland, Maryland

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