‘Our national history’: Descendants of former Meade property owners honored in ceremony

GroupAbout 100 residents, garrison leaders and service members enjoy a catered picnic during the two-hour event. (Photos by Phil Grout)

Sitting in the historic Epiphany Episcopal Church, the country’s only remaining World War I chapel, Penrhyn Watts recalled how his family’s property in Severn eventually became part of Fort Meade.

The land was needed for the construction of Camp Meade, an Army training camp during World War I.

But his family’s connection to the installation didn’t end there. In the decades that followed, both Watts and his father worked at Fort Meade’s post office.

“My father worked there during World War I and I worked there from 1950 to 1984,” the 85-year-old said.

Rev. Phebe McPherson of Epiphany Episcopal Church in Odenton holds an original blue-star flag hung by a World War I family when a loved one was sent away to war. If the Soldier was killed, the family replaced the blue star with a gold star.

To celebrate Fort Meade’s 100th anniversary, the Community Covenant Council honored Watts along with five other descendants of the farmers who originally owned property that became Fort Meade.

About 100 residents of the installation, along with garrison leaders and service members, gathered Saturday for the Descendants and Friends Picnic at the historic Odenton church.

The event featured a 30-minute ceremony honoring the descendants and a cake-cutting followed by a tour of the church, a picnic lunch and a performance by the Philadelphia Brigade Band.

“There are many commanders that have come before me who have done tremendous things with the land that was so gratefully received by the U.S. government,” Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard said in his welcome.

The two-hour event was hosted by retired Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, a former garrison commander who is senior director of the Division of Cyber and Aerospace at the Maryland Department of Commerce, and Linda Greene of the Community Covenant Council. The council is composed of civic and regional business and government leaders who support the installation and region.

During the ceremony, McCreedy — a historian who chairs the council’s centennial committee — introduced each descendant and spoke about Fort Meade’s history.

Since its establishment in 1917, Fort Meade has evolved into the nation’s cyber center.

“Your land has become a home to the nation’s platform for information, intelligence and cyber operations,” Rickard said to the descendants. “Fort Meade is now home to 56,000 people. ….

“Most of us at Fort Meade, probably more than half are DoD civilians, are working every day to make America wonderful.”

The challenge in organizing the event, said Greene, was compiling a list of descendants to honor.

“We thought there was a list of descendants somewhere, but there was no list,” Greene said. “So, we went to find people whose land became Fort Meade. Just being able to honor them today was a success.”

The 100-year-old Epiphany Episcopal Church, led by Rev. Phebe McPherson, includes a World War I social history museum on the second floor and a Chaplain’s Peace Garden.

“Doughboy” Patrick Fuller reads the historical marker of the 100-year-old Epiphany Episcopal Church, the nation’s only remaining World War I chapel.

Among the museum displays are bunk beds that had been used by Soldiers, an old typewriter, portraits of past U.S. presidents and books from World War I.

After the ceremony, participants gathered for the cutting of the 100th anniversary cake by descendant Doreen Disney Downs, whose grandfather Richard Downs owned a farm that became part of Camp Meade.

After the tour, everyone went outside for the picnic catered by The Hideaway and Grottos Pizza. Over brisket, pepperoni pizza and apple cider, the Philadelphia Brigade Band — dressed in historic military uniforms — played patriotic songs.

Mingling with other attendees, Carl Rieve, 76, whose father and grandfather owned 172 acres in the early 1900s, was excited to be at the event. Rieve said that on Jan. 20, 1941, his family sold their land to the government and also worked in constructing buildings on post.

“My family cut a lot of wood and helped build a lot of wooden buildings on Fort Meade,” he said.

In the early years of World War I, the federal government forced many farmers off of their land for the establishment of Camp Meade in 1917.

At the time, Watts’ family were truck farmers, raising vegetables and tobacco.

“When the police came, they took most of the area,” Watts said. “You didn’t have much choice but to leave. It was an upheaval for most of the families because it was a pretty nice area.”

In his remarks, Rickard acknowledged their sacrifice and how Fort Meade is part of a long chain of U.S. history and vital to the nation’s defense and security.

“It was worth the sacrifice,” Rickard said. “Since your ancestors gave up that land, we’ve done much with it. We have grown successfully over the years. …

“Please know that your land has become an important part of our national history and it’s part of our national future.”

Editor’s note: The next signing of the Community Covenant will be held Nov. 20 at the Odenton library.

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