When Bob Skaggs moved to Savage in southeastern Howard County in 1978, he bought a two-story brick and frame house built just before the War of 1812.
"The house was what got me started on the history of Savage," said Skaggs, who is generally regarded as the unofficial historian of this tiny, unincorporated community of about 1,000 households, located halfway between Washington and Baltimore.
This June residents will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the issuance of the land grant that Skaggs says marked the beginning of modern-day Savage.
"We don't know how we will celebrate yet, but we will do something," said Shane Pendergrass, president of the Savage Community Association, an organization of about 75 dues-paying members.
Meantime, Skaggs, who gives his age as "somewhere in the 60s," is working on a book about Savage, which once was a manufacturing center with its own cotton mill and railroad station. During the 1800s, the mill operated by the Savage Manufacturing Co. used the water power from the falls of the Little Patuxent River to make cotton fabric.
"It was of the type used to make sails for the ships that came into Baltimore Harbor," Skaggs said.
In 1887, a spur of the B&O Railroad was laid to the Savage factory, and in 1889 a Bollman Truss all-iron railroad bridge was moved to the site. That bridge today is the world's sole surviving example of the approximately 100 truss bridges built between 1852 and 1873, according to Robert M. Vogel, curator of civil engineering for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. The bridge and mill are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Savage Mill Limited Partnership, a group of developers, is working to turn the old red brick mill buildings into a retail center of specialty shops, antiques and crafts. Some shops are operating and some parts of the buildings have been restored and are being used for offices.
The partnership envisions the mill complex as a "living museum" that eventually will boast a restaurant, historical museum, arts and crafts studios, a festival complex, scenic walks overlooking the river and a nearby park.
The 400-acre Savage community began with that 1686 land grant, according to Skaggs, who with his gray whiskers and brown suspenders seems perfectly cast as community historian.
To find out about his house, set back from the road behind locked iron gates on seven acres of land, Skaggs began researching records and talking to longtime residents. Before he knew it, he was an expert on the town and its development.
One of the most important people in Savage's past, according to Skaggs, was Commodore Joshua Barney. Barney, Skaggs said, was a distinguished Navy officer of the American Revolution "and a trusted servant of the government who plied the oceans with the papers concerning the Treaty of Paris."
In 1809, Barney married Harriet Coale, the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Col. Henry Ridgely. Ridgely, who had received the 1686 land patent for what is now Savage, came to Maryland in 1659 from Devonshire, England.
After marrying Coale, Barney built a brick farmhouse about a mile northwest of the present center of Savage. This house, completed in 1811, is where Skaggs lives today.
While the house was under construction, Barney received a land patent for a small piece of land along the Little and Middle Patuxent rivers. Skaggs has traced the Savage Manufacturing Co., founded in January 1822, to Barney and his 1811 patent on the Patuxent River land.
Skaggs said the connection works this way: Caroline Barney (Joshua Barney's daughter from a previous marriage) married a lawyer named Nathaniel Williams, who took over Barney's legal affairs. Around 1821, Williams and three of his brothers, Amos, Cumberland and George, formed a cotton manufacturing company to operate on Barney's Patuxent River property.
"The brother George had a friend by the name of John Savage, who was a banker in Philadelphia," Skaggs said. "Savage loaned the brothers $20,000 to aid in the venture." And that is how Savage Manufacturing Co. and the community of Savage came by their names.
The banker Savage never set foot in the community Savage or visited the mill Savage, Skaggs said.
By the time the company was sold in about 1860 to William H. Baldwin Jr., it had grown from a cotton textile mill to include flour and grist mills, a store, a large farm, a blast furnace and foundry and a private railroad that connected with the Washington branch of the B&O, Skaggs said.
He said the Savage mill continued operating until 1948, by which time the community had about 200 homes, many built by the company for the mill workers.
In 1948, the land and its buildings were sold to Harry Heim, who began converting the town into a year-round Christmas village, Skaggs said. He said the mill buildings were used for manufacturing and storing Christmas ornaments.
But, Skaggs said, Heim went out of business in 1950, and the property was sold in two parts: the Winer brothers purchased the mill buildings, and the Storch family bought homes and the undeveloped land.
Today, about half of Savage's 1,000 households are town houses and apartments built within the last 10 years -- many by the Storch family interests -- and the old-timers are waiting to see what the latest mill redevelopment will bring.
"When we moved here in 1978, it was all country," Skaggs said. "But it's not country anymore."