Long past days as swanky resort, Glymont survives

Local historian chronicles rich history of small town

Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009

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Staff photo by EMILY BARNES
Shirley Johnson Sellner holds the Glymont collage map at her home. Sellner was the historian for the map and Jane Bush was the artist.

During the late 1800s, Glymont was the place to be.

At least that's the story local historian Shirley Johnson Sellner, 72, tells.

Glymont's rich history has mostly gone unnoticed until now.

"There's so much to tell that's been forgotten," Sellner said. "It's heartbreaking."

Sellner has spent 20 years compiling information for her book on Glymont. The book will date from 1636 to 1940, she said.

Present day Glymont is located just outside of the town of Indian Head.

In the 1600s there was no Indian Head, Sellner said. The areas of Glymont, Potomac Heights and Indian Head were considered one area known as Mattawoman Neck.

In 1654, second Lord Baltimore Cecilius Calvert granted 5,000 acres to his friend, Capt. Thomas Cornwallis of St. Mary's County. After 1654, the area was known both as Mattawoman Neck and Cornwallis Neck.

Cornwallis died in the late 1670s and the land was willed to his wife. Penelope, Sellner said, adding that she sold the 5,000 acres to Capt. Edward Pye in 1688.

Eventually, the property landed in the hands of Edward Pye's grandson, John H. Pye in 1696.

When John H. Pye died in 1772, he divided the land among his wife and children.

One of his sons, Charles Pye, sold a two-acre plot of land to Father Montdesir in 1800 for the construction of the St. Charles Church. When the church began to fall apart, it was replaced by a new structure in 1913 before being torn down in 1970. The cemetery still exists.

In 1850, the Washington Fruit Growers Association named the area Glymont.

According to "Indian Head Before 1890" by Joseph Rowe, "It was part of a promotional scheme to attract Washington residents to take summer excursions there."

The area became known as a resort for citizens of Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Va., and Georgetown in the District.

Pye's Wharf paired with Leonard Marbury's Wharf made the largest river port in Charles County.

The two piers were the core of Charles County water transportation for more than 80 years, according to a history documented by the Charles County Bicentennial Committee. "‘Glymont' appears on more newspaper advertisements for scheduled steamer travel than any other landing on the river."

Not to mention, there was the Glymont Hotel, Sellner said. The Charles County Bicentennial Committee reported that "the hotel had a mirrored ballroom encircled by spectator's balconies."

Also near the water was a small amusement park consisting of three rides — a carousel, choo-choo train and swings. "All gas ran," Sellner said.

The area didn't have electricity until 1920. "It was put in for [Maryland] Gov. [Albert C.] Ritchie," she said. "They had one line [for both Indian Head and Glymont] and it wasn't open to the public until 1926."

"U.S. President [Herbert] Hoover and Ritchie came down in the '20s and went fishing in Glymont," Sellner said.

However, Glymont was not simply a resort community. There were also numerous stores, a post office, two one-room schoolhouses — a white school and a black school — Smoot's lighthouse located at the mouth of Mattawoman Creek and many farms and fisheries.

The white school held classes for first through eighth grade and "Mrs. Genevieve Gardiner was the principal," Sellner said. The school burnt down and a new two-room schoolhouse was built in 1922.

Indian Head students attended the Glymont school until 1904. According to an article in the Maryland Independent from September 1981, the students rode to school in an old Navy ambulance.

The Glymont black school is believed to date back to the 1860s and stood where George's Rib Shack is today. "Mary Matthews was the principal," Sellner said. In 1890, the Naval Proving Grounds was moved to the area and the town of Indian Head was incorporated in 1920. Glymont was left to itself.

Looking at Glymont today one would never know what existed years ago.