Since the first English settlers arrived at St. Clements Island in March of 1634, St. Mary’s County has accumulated a wealth of fascinating American history. From its earliest years to present day, this deceptively quiet, rural county has hosted an eclectic array of statesmen, celebrities, and adventurers.
While the usual history of St. Clements Island, St. Mary’s City, and Point Lookout is taught in classrooms – there’s also a lot "unusual" and very interesting history in St. Mary’s County.
At Cecil’s Country Store, you will find a delightful collection of books filled with little known facts and anecdotes about our historical landmarks, lighthouses, families, hotels, schools, churches, theatres, and Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
One of the more unusual sources of local entertainment in the early 20th century came from traveling floating theatres. A showboat built in 1913 by vaudeville trouper James Adams, traveled the Chesapeake Bay bringing arts to local residents. A photo of the James Adams Floating Theatre moored at the Leonardtown wharf can be found in Karen L. Grubber’s book, “Postcard History Series/St. Mary’s County” available at Cecil’s Country Store. The James Adams theatre inspired Edna Ferber’s novel “Show Boat” (which later became a Broadway show and movie).
The connection between St. Mary’s County and Hollywood includes Academy Award-winning writer Dashiell Hammett who scripted famous movies like “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man”. Hammett was born in 1894 at his family home, Hopewell and Aim located just off Great Mills Road in Lexington Park.
Helen Hayes, known as the “First Lady of American Theatre” was a frequent visitor to St. Mary’s County in the 30’s and 40’s, and her father is believed to be the last person buried at the St. Nicholas Church before the Navy took over the property in 1942. Her adopted son, actor James MacArthur (known for his role in the Disney movie “Swiss Family Robinson” and as the character Danny “Danno” Williams in the original Hawaii Five-0 TV series) spent his childhood summers on the family estate near Cedar Point.
Did you know that in 1961 Sylvester Stallone was enrolled at the Charlotte Hall Military Academy as a freshman? According to the school’s attending physician, Dr. J. Roy Guyther, Sly “didn’t seem to enjoy his time at Charlotte Hall as he was frequently on sick call”.
The Patuxent River Naval Air Station provided background and inspiration for Tom Clancy's novels, and in 1998, actor Harrison Ford spent time at PAX River NAS filming scenes for his movie, “Random Hearts”.
When the Navy purchased the land surrounding Cedar Point for their new base during World War II, a new legacy of naval aviation began.
“Images of Aviation/Naval Air Station Patuxent River” by Mark A. Chambers details the history of PAX River NAS from its birth in 1942 to present day with pictures and fascinating information about the base, the vast variety of planes tested at PAX River, and some of the famous graduates of the Test Pilot School.
America’s first astronauts were graduates of the Navy’s Test Pilot School (TPS) at PAX River NAS. Many people think that the first American in space was TPS alumni, John Glenn. And while John Glenn was the first to orbit the earth, it was actually another TPS graduate, Alan B. Shepard who was the first American in space in 1961. A decade later Alan Shepard would visit the moon as the Apollo 14 mission commander where he famously chipped golf balls with a makeshift club.
More recently, TPS graduate Capt. Mark E. Kelly served as pilot aboard the 2006 mission of the Space Shuttle “Discovery”.
The Naval Test Pilot School is critical to fulfilling the mission of PAX River NAS, the Navy’s premier center for the flight testing and evaluation of naval aircraft and weapons systems. Many unusual planes and aerial vehicles have been tested at PAX River including one known as “The Truculent Turtle”. The “Turtle” was a Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune anti-submarine warfare (ASW) patrol bomber. In September, 1946 the “Turtle” set a new long distance record for non-stop flying without refueling – flying from Perth, Australia to Columbus, Ohio - quite a record for the time!
PAX River tests both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. Some of the more unusual named aircraft tested at PAX River included the “Flying Banana” (Piasecki HRP-1 helicopter) and the “SkyRay” - a tailless jet fleet defender, the first in its class to break the sound barrier.
To learn more about the fascinating history of St. Mary’s County, check out our unique collection of books during your next visit to Cecil’s Country Store.