For my rubber sheeting assignment in History and Cartography (see previous post) I chose to look at Lexington Park, MD. I spend two days a week in this little community in St. Mary’s Country, Maryland as it’s the home of the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, which I’m currently the Acting Director of. I hated going the Pax at first…I haven’t spent a large amount of time in “the country” since I left home to go to school (I grew up on a farm outside of Philly) and I wasn’t eager to return to the quieter life. I’ve wanted to be the Director of a Navy Museum for years though, and if Pax was my only chance, I knew I’d have to put up with the fact it was in “the sticks.”
One of the things that struck me right away when I arrived at the Museum on my first day was how intertwined it is with the base it sits next to, Naval Air Station Pax River. NAS Pax is home several large commands, but more significantly, it houses one of the oldest test pilot schools in the country and is currently the only naval aviation test facility on the eastern seaboard. Everyone (well practically everyone) that lives in St. Mary’s County is connect to the base. Either they or their spouses are in the military and stationed there, or they, or a spouse, is a civilian attached to one of the commands. 90% of the people I talk to in Lexington Park have had a relative or friend work at the base. Everyone knows about the Museum as it is entirely about the history of NAS Pax River and the people that work there.
As I spend more and more time in Pax, I’ve become more interested in how military bases effect the communities around them. I learn a new piece of history about the area every week I spend there, and it seems all the major events that have occurred in the past in this area of St. Mary’s County hinge on something that happened at the base. There was such an influx of military folks to the area in the later 1940’s that a railroad line was finally extended into the region to service the growing population. The country finally had to expand the main highway in the county about 8 years ago to account for the growing number of families moving into the area as the base expanded. This is all fascinating to me, probably because I didn’t grow up in a military community, or because none of the folks working at or stationed at the Washington Navy Yard (where I spend the other three days of my week) care all that much about the historic qualities of their workplace.
Through this week’s assignment I saw the way a tool like natural scene designer can give a new historical context to geographic area. I didn’t do anything too tricky for the assignment, I was mostly interested in grasping the fundamentals of the program, but now that I have there is no stopping the different aspects of history I can address by recreating a map. If I can find a GOTOPO from the 1940’s to use as an overlay, I’d be able to see how the expansion of the base has effected the area around it up to today. Comparing the different overlays provide a new way to look at the cause and effect relationship between the base and the town.