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Annapolis Rock: A Hard Place to Resist

By Paul W. Valentine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 6, 1996; Page E01

Time seems to have passed Annapolis Rock, a quiet crossroads hamlet in far western Howard County surrounded by cornfields and woodlands with little to suggest a connection with either Annapolis or a rock.

But there is an explanation for both.

According to local lore, a massive outcropping of white quartz once rose above the tree line, and from it the State House in Annapolis 45 miles away was visible on a clear day.

"Which of course is baloney," local retired real estate dealer Norman Weller said with a wink.

There was an outcropping, one of the finest lodes of pure white quartz in Maryland, but during the first half of this century it was quarried sporadically for decorative wall mosaics and other uses. Now it's only a modest rise in the ground, largely covered with trees and no longer visible as a badge of the community.

Annapolis Rock, however, lives on as a cluster of modest bungalows and two-story houses along rural Maryland Route 94 about 30 miles north of Washington, near the Patuxent River boundary between Howard and Montgomery counties.

Still largely a farming community, much of it now is surrounded by the Patuxent River State Park, created in the 1960s, guaranteeing its protection from the suburban sprawl moving slowly westward in Howard County.

When the state acquired the land along the Patuxent for the watershed park, it left most of the existing homes undisturbed and to some extent isolated.

"They said it would cost too much to buy us out," said Raymond Sirk, 72, a semi-retired farmer who has lived in Annapolis Rock almost half a century in a house built by his brother, Herman, in 1951.

"Yes, it's isolated, . . . but everybody knows each other," Sirk said.

"It's peaceful around here," said Sirk's neighbor, George Washington Halterman, 67, a retired road maintenance employee in Montgomery County, who keeps 10 beef cows and calves on his 3 1/2-acre lot and 29 cows on a nearby farm.

"I love it, being surrounded by woods," said Eric St. Palley, 39, a medical technician, whose property includes the remnants of the quartz outcropping. "The people are all great. They help each other out like when there's snow and ice. Plenty of [snow] blades and four-wheel drives here."

There also are plenty of deer, foxes and rabbits. Deer and squirrel hunting is allowed on parkland upstream from Annapolis Rock but barred in the immediate neighborhood, making it a kind of wildlife sanctuary.

Thousands of hunters, anglers, hikers, canoeists and equestrians use the trails and waters of the park every year, said park manager Pat Heaphy, but the woods are so thick and the area so isolated that Annapolis Rock residents see or hear few of the visitors who come through.

"I can leave the doors unlocked," said Miriam Reed, 65, who lives on a quiet lane just off Route 94. "You're close to Washington and close to Baltimore, and yet you're in the country. I feel blessed."

Reed and three of her sisters -- Helen Jordan, 77, Rose Marie Glenn, 59, and Guinevere Warfield, 73 -- live in side-by-side houses on the lane near where they all grew up on the family farm and attended the local one-room elementary school, now remodeled as a private home.

The sisters at various times moved away but ultimately returned.

"Even in the worst of summer, there's always a breeze," Helen Jordan said. "And with the woods, it just seems a lot cooler."

When the sisters were growing up, the land was used chiefly for raising tobacco and what was known locally as worm weed, a plant containing oils used to purge worms and other parasites from the intestinal tract. Today, corn and soybeans have replaced tobacco and worm weed.

Some of the sisters recall climbing Annapolis Rock in their school days, but by then much of the outcropping had been whittled away by quarrying machines. And there wasn't much of a view, let alone a clear line to Annapolis.

Even Stella Hilton, a 91-year-old native of the area who climbed the rock as a child when little or no quarrying had been done, said the spire of the State House eluded her.

"Of course, I might have seen it with a pair of binoculars," she added.

Stella Hilton's grandson, John Lyons, 54, a budget analyst for the University of Maryland at Baltimore, said as a child on the family farm in Annapolis Rock he found arrowheads and spear points scattered about the quarry site, indicating that Indians had put the outcropping to use long before anyone else.

"I found probably hundreds," he said. "They were beautiful pure white stone points."

But as for the view to Annapolis from far western Howard County, George Halterman said, "Sounds kind of far-fetched to me."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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