During the 1930’s, St. Mary’s Junior College housed around 80 students during the academic year, ensuring that it would be a tight-knit albeit sparse community tucked away from the larger urban areas of Maryland. However, there has been the rare instance when St. Mary’s comes to center stage and the world seems to be nowhere else but on the banks of the St. Mary’s River. Such was the case on the weekend of June 14th in 1934 when a reported 100,000 people converged on the ruins of St. Mary’s City to celebrate the tercentenary of Maryland’s founding.
In anticipation of such an enormous influx of people, massive preparations were undertaken to ready St. Mary’s City, some of which are still notable fixtures on our landscape today. The state of Maryland erected the Freedom of Conscience statue to mark the entrance to Maryland’s original capital and St. Mary’s Junior College, under the guidance of Principle M. Adele France, commissioned the Garden of Remembrance to act as the junior college’s centerpiece for the commemoration of Maryland’s founding. In addition, Route 5 was constructed to accommodate the immense amount of motorists while a 10,000 seat stadium was constructed on the grounds of the newly erected 1676 State House. Over 14,000 gallons of lemonade, 2,500 pounds of hot dogs and 40 half barrels of beer were prepared to satisfy the needs of the expected crowd. And, in an effort to satisfy visiting dignitaries from Great Britain who arrived to pay homage to one of England’s earliest colonial settlements, currency exchange booths were erected to smooth the transition from pound to dollar.
During the weekend, St. Mary’s City regained, if only for a few days, its status as a bustling riverside city, becoming the third largest urban area in the Mid Atlantic due to the influx of festival goers. Hundreds of yachts and ships filled the St. Mary’s River in order to participate in the festivities, including several British and American battleships and replicas of both the Ark and the Dove. Seaplanes landed on the river in regular intervals, carrying visitors and providing joy rides for revelers on the shore of the St. Mary’s River. Calvert Hall, which served as the seat of operations for the celebrations, became known as the “Calvert Hotel,” hosting notables such as Governor Albert Ritchie and providing the only telephone line in all of St. Mary’s City. And, much like today, a plethora of dedicated re-enactors descended upon the St. Mary’s community in an effort to truly bring its history back to life.
The footage below provides a brief glimpse into these tercentenary festivities, showing the immense crowds and river traffic that made the tercentenary part of the very history it sought to commemorate. Most of the scenes look quite familiar, with vintage glimpses of the State House and Trinity Church reminding the modern viewer that while the St. Mary’s community has undergone immense change over the last century, it still remains intimately connected to its history.
Video courtesy of Historic St. Mary’s City.