Volume 12, Issue 16 ~ April 15-21, 2004
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Between the Covers

St. Leonard: A Maryland Tidewater Community
Written by Sara Ebenreck Leeland
illustrated by Gary Pendleton for the St. Leonard Vision Group.

Reviewed by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Calvert County hurries into the future as it glances over its shoulder this big anniversary at a heritage of 350 organized years — plus many more when time flowed measurelessly. As Maryland’s fastest growing county, Calvert has more than doubled its population every 20 years since 1960, when 15,826 people called the little county Calvert home. Were the pattern to continue to 2010, county population would soar over 100,000.

How you save cultural identity when change comes so fast, bringing so many newcomers, is a big question in Calvert, which stakes its future in its past. Now Calvert’s oldest community, St. Leonard, has answered that question with a readable book delivered in time for April 17, the day a parade and festivities kick off the big anniversary.

“A heritage story,” Sara Ebenreck Leeland calls St. Leonard: A Maryland Tidewater Community. Leeland wrote the book, but — like many a modern pregnancy — it was conceived by group effort.

It’s the brainchild of a group calling themselves the St. Leonard Vision Group, who formed a couple of years ago “to promote a sense of community among residents.”

This book is one means to that end, and from conception to birth, dozens of people were involved. They told and taped memories, dug up old photos, consulted county records, assembled a library of books and reread old newspapers. Marie Andrews coordinated the project, and Fred Dellinger directed hours of research. Chapter by chapter, volunteers read the draft copy to, Andrews says, “make sure it was accurate from many points of view.”

Meanwhile, Gary Pendleton — like Leeland, a Bay Weekly contributor — drew pictures. Finally, taking their work in hand, Mark Folkman designed St. Leonard: A Maryland Tidewater Community.

To fund the project, the Koenig Private Foundation, which also donated Annmarie Garden to the county, made a major grant almost equaled by 55 citizens and the Calvert County Heritage Committee.

“At its best, Leeland explains, “a heritage story opens up a vision of how we and our places are formed by past events and choices. A good story helps us to feel part of a community shaped over time.”

By that standard — and by many others — St. Leonard: A Maryland Tidewater Community is a very good heritage story.

Most importantly, it’s a book you want to read.

Open its bright cover — with a watercolor map on front and a sunlit shore on back — and you find appealing elements on every page. Pendleton’s drawings of flora and fauna, places and people are interspersed with historic paintings, photos and maps to break up long lines of text. Punctuating 11 short chapters are section headings — The Three Sisters: Corn, Beans & Squash or The Annapolis Tea Party — that lead the wandering eye into Leeland’s story.

It’s a big story, sprawling from The Continental Crash 250 million years ago to today’s news. But as promised, Leeland has told history as a story, where events are not facts to memorize but threads that weave a pattern of meaning.

Learning how to grow The Three Sisters, she explains in the chapter “Walkers from the West: The First People Discover Maryland,” gave Chesapeake Woodland people a regular supply of food, which in turn allowed them to “create villages in which they would live all the year.” The villages were laid out in a circle, you then learn, because “the circle itself was an important symbol: the seasons of the year go around in a circle, so do day and night; the sun and moon and visible stars are circular. To create a circle was to be in harmony with the rest of the natural world.”

Leeland has the gift of bringing her story to the reader and the reader to her story. “Next time you pick up a small stone here,” she writes, explaining The Continental Crash, “think of it as a piece of very old ‘bone’ from the mountains to our west!”

The story comes home in other ways, too. Almost every page of the big story highlights a fact that scales it down to reader’s size. While reading about native villages, you learn that “instead of going to a place called ‘school,’ children in the Woodland families learned by watching what adults did. They learned stories by being around storytellers.”

Each chapter ends with activities to bring you into the world — and the world into you. “We all hope that people who read our book will take their thoughts and experiences further: study the places of their nearest creek or spot of forest, their own family history, and examine their own felt connections to place” says Leeland.

Children will enjoy the book, which will surely fall into their hands, as grant funding allows distribution to Calvert County eighth grade Maryland history classes as well as to every student in the St. Leonard and Mutual elementary schools.

An important part of the vision, says Andrew was to “give the children and families of St. Leonard a understanding of the place they live. If children feel they have roots in place they grow up, it is a very positive force in their lives as they mature.”

But St. Leonard: A Maryland Tidewater Community is definitely not just for kids.

Get your copy signed from 10am to 5pm on April 17 at Linden House, up the hill back of the library at Prince Frederick. They’re also on sale at Chesapeake Market Place or Buehler’s Grocery in St. Leonard; at Educate and Celebrate in Prince Frederick; or on-line at www.saintleonardvisiongroup.org: $15 plus tax.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated April 15, 2004 @ 1:12am.