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Learn About Our Area's History

The History of the Middle Patuxent Area and the Robinson Family

At the Robinson Foundation, we recognize the importance of understanding the history of the landscape around Columbia, Maryland, from both natural and human perspectives, as we strive to protect it. To better understand the land around the Robinson Nature Center and the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area, the Foundation sponsors archaeological studies of the interactions between local Native Americans, early settlers, and natural resources. The river, soils, trees, wild animals, and humans have long been part of an interdependent community.

The Life of the Robinson Family

That interdependence also shaped the Robinsons' life by the Middle Patuxent River and throughout their lives. To gain clues to James's and Anne's outdoor interests and values, we have funded research into their family backgrounds and personal histories. We hope that their various connections to southern Maryland's tobacco culture, Baltimore's parks, Howard County charities, and other places and people will lead to more relationships that help us understand and protect their land by Cedar Lane and beyond.

Throughout their lives, James and Anne Robinson felt deep connections to nature and their community. Both came from families with long histories in Maryland. Ancestors of James Robinson settled in Colonial times on a peninsula between the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers that became St. Mary's County and raised tobacco there for generations. Anne Short Robinson's mother, Sarah Eyler, lived near the Monocacy River in Frederick County, where her family had farmed since before the American Revolution.

A Love for the Outdoors

Though James and Anne both grew up in cities, their childhoods were shaped by parks and outdoor experiences. Young James, born in 1909, lived just blocks from Baltimore's Easterwood Park. The multi-purpose green space was designed by famed landscape architecture firm, the Olmsted Brothers. McDonogh School in the 1920s offered James and other "poor boys of good character" a disciplined education, experience working on the school farm, and plenty of room to skate, swim, sled, and roam.

Anne Short, born in 1915 and called Eileen by her family, grew up near Watsessing Park in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Another Olmsted-designed landscape, Watsessing drew children like Eileen and her sister to play ball and skate, winter and summer. The girls' mother also shared a love of gardening as she tended her flowers and fruit trees.

As adults, their community ties broadened. James raised a family with his first wife, Nora, and began a nearly 50-year career with the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. Yet he found time to serve the state and country in Maryland's National Guard and in the U.S. Army during World War II. Anne moved to Baltimore, where her grandfather was a firefighter — a hero in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Anne pursued a clerical career, working for over two decades at W.R. Grace, and volunteered at St. Louis Catholic Church. A talented organizer, she ran the church's white elephant sale at the annual Clarksville picnic and created an antiques corner at the Christian Women's Thrift Shop. Few things made Annie happier than raising money for her favorite charities.

In 1957, land the newly-married couple bought on Cedar Lane became another way to connect with family and friends. But their favorite way to share the land was with each other. They might sip coffee on the porch, admiring Annie's flowers, or walk down to the millrace and watch the river. As Anne wrote near the end of her life, "I have become part of the Property, and the Property has become part of me."