The state took possession of one of its richest historical treasures today, and among hundreds of people who gathered to applaud was the farm tenant whose chance discovery of an ancient Indian ax head started the whole thing rolling.

Her find and the two-year scenario that followed was so unlikely it left Mike Smolek, regional director for the Maryland Historic Trust, shaking his head after the deed-signing. "This kind of thing just doesn't happen to us," he said.

For the record, the state now owns Point Farm, an immaculate 512-acre working farm with 2 1/2 miles of shoreline bordering the Patuxent River and St. Leonard's Creek.

The $2 million farm was donated by Mary Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, an heir to the B.F. Goodrich fortune, in honor of her late husband, Jefferson Patterson, career diplomat and heir to the National Cash Register fortune. Patterson founded the farm in 1932.

Mrs. Patterson signed over the deed in sun-splashed ceremonies attended by Gov. Harry Hughes, Comptroller Louis Goldstein and a host of local dignitaries and representatives of the scientific and historical communities.

Hughes said it was the largest gift of its kind ever made to the state. The Historic Trust will oversee development of a Jefferson Patterson Historical Park and Museum on the farm, on which artifacts have turned up chronicling some 10,000 years of human habitation.

No one knew of the treasures that lay in the ground and on the beaches until Lana Brown moved three years ago from Florida to a tenant house on the farm and took a walk on the beach with her husband, Ken.

They found the ax head the first day out. Later she found arrowheads and shards of pottery, which she took to Smolek for analysis.

The historian was impressed enough to call a few friends to make a brief tour of part of the farm, and they all were astounded at the wealth of artifacts. When Lana Brown learned Mrs. Patterson was thinking of giving the farm to a charity, she called the historians again and the wheels began to turn.

The Patterson Park and Museum promises also to become a linchpin in a planned consortium of scientific groups studying the Patuxent estuary. The Philadelphia Academy of Sciences will open a lab on the farm and the nearby Calvert Marine Museum and Chesapeake Biological Laboratories will share facilities.

The park is expected to open to the public on a limited basis late next summer with exhibits on Indian life and on the site's key role in battles of the War of 1812.

For their part, Ken and Lana Brown have been assured they can stay on in the tenant house as long as they want.