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July 24, 2013

Celebrating Liberty Dam and Reservoir

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The still waters of Liberty Reservoir run deep in history. This Saturday, July 27, Baltimore's Department of Public Works will hold the first Liberty Reservoir Day at Liberty Dam which rises between Baltimore and Carroll County.


If you are not familiar with the lake formed by this Dam and the 9,200-acre tract of land owned by the City of Baltimore, you should not pass-up this opportunity to visit this event for a day of history, education and nature activities. Click here for a map of the reservoir property.


Whether you are a nature and wildlife lover, a bird or waterfowl watcher; or you like hiking, fishing, photography, or canoeing, Liberty Reservoir has something for everyone.


According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the watershed protection area that surrounds the reservoir is a “habitat for upland and forest wildlife species, primarily white-tailed deer, wild turkey, rabbit, squirrel, and songbirds… Throughout the year, this area is open to hiking, bird watching, and nature photography… The area is open to archery hunting for all game species (except waterfowl) during the regulated hunting season established by the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service…”


Ever since I was a child growing-up in Westminster, the “new” reservoir has always attracted my attention and been the subject of many family dinner conversations.


On the surface, before you even begin to fathom the depths of the history of the area; Liberty Reservoir captures my keen-interest in the engineering of public works projects, and the intricacies of municipal infrastructure and water works.


Moreover, deliciously added to this banquet of engineering feats, personalities, water rights, history and politics is the added measure that the story of the reservoir is so deeply-intertwined with Maryland state politics and the byzantine intrigue inherent in the historic relationships between mercantile and business interests, the city of Baltimore, the governor’s office and the Maryland General Assembly.


For starters, that area of Carroll County is rich with history that dates back many years before even the earliest days of Maryland. It is easily argued that the history of Liberty Reservoir dates back as far as the founding of Baltimore City itself in 1729. Another branch of history leads historians back to 1804 when the mayor and city council of the newly incorporated Baltimore City, 1787, began the construction of a water system.


It was 60-years ago this summer that Baltimore City began plans to fill what we now know as Liberty reservoir.


According to local historian Diana Mills Scott, filling the reservoir with water actually began in October 1953. Construction of the dam across the North Branch of the Patapsco River had begun on August 20, 1951, and was completed in September 1953.


Ms. Scott wrote her Master’s thesis at McDaniel College on the history of the Oakland Mill, which was once located where the reservoir now exists, on the Carroll County side of the border with Baltimore County.


My father often talked about his childhood days spent in the village of Oakland Mill – the area now submerged deep below the still waters of Liberty Reservoir.


Ms. Scott subsequently published a 157 page book, “The Forgotten Corner,” on the history of Oakland Mill, which was released in 2005.


For anyone interested in an authoritative and comprehensive historical study of this area of Carroll County, her book is a must addition to your library. Copies of the book are available at the Shop at Cockey's, 216 East Main Street in Westminster or shop on-line at


In a November 29, 2011, Baltimore Sun article written by Bob Allen, Jim Slater, who along with Ms. Scott are considered to be two of the foremost authorities on Liberty Reservoir, said its history really began back around 1804, “when Baltimore launched efforts to develop a central water system.”


Mr. Slater, the water resources program manager for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, and the former director of environmental services for Carroll County, gave a presentation on the hydrogeological complexities and history of Liberty Reservoir on November 17, 2011, at the meeting of the Finksburg Planning and Community Council at the Finksburg Library.


“In 1807, Jones Falls Waterworks was constructed,” according to Mr. Slater, “and in 1810 officials began buying springs and fountains within the city limits. In 1875, the first dam was built across Gunpowder Falls, and in 1912 work began on Loch Raven Reservoir.”


After decades of discussions and complex negotiations, on April 10, 1931, Gov. Albert Ritchie, Maryland’s longest serving governor, 1920-1935, signed into law the “Legislative Act of the Patapsco River Basin,” which allowed Baltimore City to eventually build Liberty Reservoir.


According to an article, “History Flows through Liberty Reservoir,” by local historian Mary Ann Ashcraft, “Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro, Jr., dedicated Liberty Dam on September 21, 1954, and when water finally flowed over its top in February 1956, the 3,100 acre reservoir was full….”


On July 1, Public Works Director, Alfred H. Foxx, announced that the Baltimore City Department of Public Works will hold the first Liberty Reservoir Day on Saturday, July 27, 2013, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Liberty Dam, Liberty Dam Rd., 21104.


The event will celebrate and educate attendees about Liberty Dam and Reservoir, one of Baltimore's three raw drinking-water reservoirs. Active and former military members with identification will receive discounts on food purchases.


Attendees of all ages can visit the Dam’s observation deck which will be open only for this special day; and learn about Baltimore's drinking water system, resource issues and conservation efforts.


Among the local Carroll organizations that will participate in the event include: Gamber & Community Fire Company, Sykesville Freedom District Fire Department, Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, and the Carroll County Department of Land Use, Planning and Development.


The event and parking are free. For more information about Liberty Reservoir Day call 410-545-6541.


… I’m just saying


Follow Mr. Dayhoff on Twitter: @kevindayhoff


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