by Mary Bahr, Curator, Elkridge Heritage Society
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The Elk’s Ridge
“T’was times before present,”
says Someone Who Knows,
“when great elk on ridges
chewed grass in repose.
In the Piedmonts, tribes were hunting ‘round.
Susquehannock’s artifacts buried abound.
Then Seneca’s fought a few white hunters
shooting holes in their britches
back in the sixteen hundreds.
By 1701, some lands were surveyed
where Dougreghan Manor stands today.
But the lone steader was a Thomas Browne
When from the East, came more to be found !
Those “colonist farmers”
were Maw in her bustle and Paw in his cap,
migrated to settle all over the map;
to dig up the fields; build cabins of sort.
Then Elk Ridge became known
as a town with a port,
where sot weed was grown.
Slaves pulled its barrels along
over the roads with hills.
Overseers were strong, and
paid in sheaves, not bills.
So slaves toiled with exhausted face,
Rolled to wharves at the Landing
where inspections took place.
From tall ships there berthed foreign goods,
traded or sold — items like whips, foodstuffs and lace,
for those who could afford them in the neighborhoods.
And Elk Ridge had its furnaces too
where ore from mines was smelted through
so their owners and all could afford to strew
their farthings about and buy more land,
more cattle and slaves, and houses more grand,
enough to flip and sell and divide
among their own. But this colonial tide
were waves of wealth on shifting sand.
Despite the law, by man’s own hand,
the river filled by ballasts tossed
and silting over was at the cost
of losing ships and economic health,
‘cept Carroll’s ‘n Dorsey’s vested wealth.
After a while, the Patapsco town,
where Washington crossed and Lafayette too…
Lafayette (belching into the Patapsco): “Yo Dubya, aren’t we there YET? (he asked whining)”
George: “How should I (blankety-blank) know? Quit whining you Frenchman…I’m busy posing for my historical portrait. So what river are we crossing anyhoo?”
…had risen churches, and population grew,
though still a part of AA County
(Elk Ridge was their north district boundary),
Then Revolution was won, king’s taxes were cut.
Later Howard got charted and out of that rut.
But the soil depleted, its nutrients gone
Weed made no mo’ money.
Wheat came East and mills grew strong
and life was fairly sunny.
But then there were some sorrowful matters –
Fires burned the Landing and floods took the latter,
often purging its coast, swiftly along.
That “Ole Man River” was Patapsco’s song.
Yet Elk Ridge kept changing whence the railroads came.
The Viaduct was built, the visitors remained.
In summers spent were the Dobbin crew
And the Judge’s friends proved quite a few.
These lawyers and doctors professionally billed
on the ridge which was named “Lawyers Hill.”
But the link that still chained it to colonial times
was slavery’s face –
the question of economics on the backs of a race.
So then came the War, the boys were gone
as Maryland divided o’er human wrong.
Confederate sympathy seemed the Elk Ridge stand,
Ways of the past passed hand-to-hand.
But the Union fought hard and desperate and long
with no time out for a Jenny Lind song,
‘til Emancipation ‘ere won for plantation’s race,
this freedom as law to correct wrongful disgrace
for states in secession.
But Maryland didn’t secede from the Union.
Then by the 1890’s Main Street was busy
with grocers, barbers and a cop.
Butchers and bakers bought no tin Lizzy,
and most of the salooners called “Pop”
had taverns and bars near Grace’s steeple.
Everyone everywhere tied the knot
and married their neighbor’s people.
Remnants of hardships in Elk Ridge remain.
And since some of our history’s been stained,
let’s not forget from where we’ve driven
and for changes that we’ve now been given.
Jes’ ‘cause 95 with their crews
ploughed up the farms, cutting through
to develop a bunch of ticky-tacky boxes
scaring away deer and little foxes,
doesn’t mean that we are thrilled and
doesn’t mean our voice is stilled.
‘As Lafayette tried when crossing that night,
I heard an elk warn as it trotted from sight –
mumbling further while chewing his gum:
‘Our past doesn’t dictate who we are now,
but let the best of it be a part of who we become.’ *
Happy New Year now, and to y’all a GOOD NIGHT.”
Illustrations and other sources:
“Slaves rolling hogsheads of sot weed” © painting by Leonard M. Bahr, mural for the Workers Project Administration
“Washington crossing the Patapsco” © by Mary Bahr
* Loosely adapted from: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”