Humans have occupied the land surrounding BWI Airport for more than 12,000 years. Early hunters and gatherers relied on the area's forests and creeks for food and drinking water. To date, archeologists have identified more than 100 archeological sites within 5 miles of BWI Airport.

 

Prehistory. The earliest evidence of human habitation near BWI Airport comes from the Paleoindian period (10,000 to 8,000 B.C). Paleoindians hunted large game, many species of which are extinct today. Distinctive fluted points, such as those found at the Higgins site characterize this period (shown below). Archeologists from the Maryland State Highway Administration excavated one of Maryland's few recorded Paleondian sites near BWI Airport in the early 1990's. The site contained the tools and remains of rock hearths used by Paleoindians. Archeologists from the MHT determined that the site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

 

During the Archaic period (6,500 to 1,000 B.C), Native American populations living in the region were less transient and relied on a broader base of plant and animal food materials. They cultivated foods such as corn, beans, and squash, and hunted deer and other game animals. The efficient use of plant, animal, and aquatic resources allowed for the development of increasingly sedentary settlements. By the Woodland period (1,000 B.C. to European contact), Native Americans began to manufacture and use pottery. The tropical agriculture based on corn, beans, and squash was known early, but did not really become important until the Late Woodland, just before the arrival of Europeans. Another important site discovered near BWI Airport contained arrowheads and other stone tools and ceramics from the Archaic and Woodland periods.

 

The early years of European contact brought disease and epidemics, which reduced the size of Native American populations and caused many to move from the region. By the time European settlers moved into the area near BWI Airport, Native American populations were substantially reduced.

 

History. Historic settlement of Anne Arundel County began in 1649, but settlement in the vicinity of BWI Airport was sparse until the late 18th century. Most of the early settlers established tobacco plantations between the mid-to-late 18th century. Yate Plummer, an early Quaker settler, moved into the area with his seven sons in 1764 and began to grow tobacco on 484 acres. This area, formerly known as Plummer's Pasture, includes the Basil Smith Site and a portion of BWI Airport. When soil became depleted from tobacco production in the 19th century, area tobacco growers turned to the cultivation of grains, fruits, and vegetables for their livelihoods.

 

 

Transportation and Farming. Northwestern Anne Arundel County prospered during the 19th century, primarily due to its proximity to the growing Baltimore market. As the city grew, the demand for produce in the Baltimore market also increased. Construction of the B & O Railroad in 1830 and the completion of the Annapolis and Elkridge Railroad in 1840 linked farmers in northwestern Anne Arundel County with fast and reliable transportation to three urban markets: Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, D.C. The completion of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad in the 1870's further enhanced opportunities for local producers.

 

 

 

Truck Farming. Agricultural diversification was important to the continued success of agriculture in northern Anne Arundel County during the 19th century. The area's sandy soils were ideally suited for a farmer to grow a variety of different crops, such as root crops, ground fruits, and vegetables at different times within the growing season. The farmer could transport the crops to markets himself using a cart or the railroad.

 

The term "truck farm" is derived from the French word troquer, which refers to small items or produce carried to market. Truck farming was different from the older plantation system because it allowed farmers to diversify their crops and carry perishable goods to nearby markets periodically. Under the older system, farmers were dependent upon a single crop, and goods were shipped to distant markets using more expensive forms of transportation, such as water routes or ocean-going vessels.

 

Some truck farms employed "pickers," who were often eastern Eurpoean immigrants living in Baltimore City or African-Americans. The pickers lived in dormitory-style sheds on the farms during the growing season and earned their wages in the form of picker's checks. Made of aluminum or brass, the picker's check, or token, was unique to each farm and carried an imprint identifying the farm and a numberequaling the number of pints, quarts, or bushels that were picked. The picker's checks were exchanged with the landlord or farm owner in return for supplies, or produce to feed the picker and the picker's family. On rare occasions, the picker's checks could be exchanged for cash.

 

Summary

The land that now comprises BWI Airport property included many farmsteads, which would have included log, frame, brick, or stone houses; wells; gardens; and picker, tenant, or slave housing. The Benson Hammond House, which was constructed in the 1830's, is the only standing structure representing this period on BWI Airport property. The Benson Hammond House is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and MAA leases it to the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society for its headquarters and museum.

 

The City of Baltimore selected the property upon which BWI resides because of its general domed shape, slight elevation, and location near the city. Former farming structures and residences were razed to make way for airport construction at that time. In short, the location among three urban markets that contributed to the area's agricultural success has also contributed to the success of BWI Airport.

 
Before BWI / An Unexpected Discovery / Clues From the Past / More Information