St. Helena Island, Maryland
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|St. Helena Island, Maryland|
|Elevation||121 ft (37 m)|
|Time zone||Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
Situated at the center of Little Round Bay in the Severn River (Maryland), St. Helena Island is just 5 miles (8.0 km) upstream from Annapolis, Maryland and 24 miles (39 km) south of Baltimore, Maryland.
Shards, clay pottery shards, stone chips, and grooved axes are evidence of the Woodland period peoples and later Native Americans who have occupied the island. It is thought that St. Helena and other small islands were used to hide from raiding Susquehannocks.
A preliminary search of Anne Arundel County, Maryland records in the Annapolis Land Office identifies the first traces of the island in 1843 when it was part of the estate of the late Annapolitan Major Richard I. Jones. An article from the Washington Post mentions “Uncle Tom” and the Chesapeake Fishing Club spending time on the island during the summer months of 1895, but it is not until nearly 40 years later that there is regular activity on St. Helena Island.
Paul Burnett, a Baltimore city attorney and insurance executive, purchased the island in the late 1920s. It has been said that he named the island St. Helena as a tribute to his former law partner, a great-great nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, but an 1846 map labels the island "St. Helena."
Between 1929-1931, Burnett built a Federal Period mansion, part of the early-twentieth-century classical revival movement, modeled after the Homewood Museum on the Johns Hopkins University campus in Baltimore. He commissioned large skipjacks to carry the tons of bricks necessary to build it. The mansion, built on a Palladian style five-part plan, occupies the crest of the island and is the centerpiece of St. Helena. There are six fireplaces, each in a different type of marble imported from Europe: many of the floors on the main level are marble checkerboards. Other flooring is made from inch-thick mahogany which dented the tools of electricians and telephone mechanics who attempted to string new wiring in the 1950s. There are also several safes built into the masonry, scattered throughout the house, including a walk-in size safe in the den. Several other homes on the island served as housing for patients and counselors of the Burnett Hospital for Crippled Children, which operated from 1936-1943. There is also a conical roofed and a circular brick water tower with an observation deck on the northern point of the island. There are 22 structures total scattered through the island.
Following Burnett's death in 1944, the island was sold to Eugene Raney, a beer distributor and operator of several bowling alleys in Maryland. Raney leased several buildings, one of which would become a restaurant, to John Emory, well known for his Four Corners' restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland. During this period, St. Helena was recognized for its swanky island club, boasting a casino and regularly hosting members of Congress, judges, and other prominent citizens, including Governor W. Preston Lane, Jr. The club was also home to several slot machines. In 1951 five nickel and two quarter slot machines, as well as two nickel “bandits” were seized in a police raid. Both Raney and Emory were taken into custody and later convicted of slot-machine violations. The owner of the machines, Nick Andrews of Glen Burnie, Maryland, was also convicted for illegal operation of slot machines on the island.
St. Helena made interesting news in 1955 when a pickle jar was found on Sunrise Beach containing a note reading, “Help. Am on St. Helena Island, Severn River. Am being chased by crazy occupant who eats people alive. Get police and come back. Arthur Smite.” Policed combed the island and reported that it was unoccupied. Another report around the same time mentions that St. Helena ought to be bought by the State as a site of an institution for the criminally insane. This suggestion was made by then County Manager Edward R. Lonergan who described his proposal as "a sort of Alcatraz Island of Maryland."
Never becoming an institution for the criminally insane, the island was subdivided and sold in 1956, passing through several owners. Emmitt Brandt, president of Annapolis Utilities; Robert Merrick, chairman of the board of Equitable Trust; and James McDevitt of the U.S. Department occupied the several of the homes on the island. Judge Stedman Prescott Jr. of Maryland's Court of Appeals purchased Paul Burnett's mansion. In September 1961 Judge Prescott nearly lost his island mansion to a fire started by malfunctioning electrical equipment. The fire was brought under control by nearly 100 fireman rushed to the island by private boats from the Herald Harbor, Maryland.
In the late 1990s, controversy surrounded Little Round Bay and St. Helena when Keith Osborne of Fantasy Island Management Inc. purchased Prescott's mansion. Osborne promoted the 6-acre (24,000 m2) estate as a wedding and event center. After a great deal opposition from neighbors, the Severn River Association voted to oppose all commercial activity on the island in November 1999. Osborne stirred up more controversy in 2001, when he sold his portion of the island to the Hartman family and later that year, attempted to sue his former St. Helena neighbors Mary-Anne and Walter D. Pinkard Jr. and his brothers, Robert and Gregory Pinkard. The case was dropped and in 2002 Osborne was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for tax evasion.
The Hartman and the Pinkard families still occupy the island today.
St. Helena Island is surrounded by the Little Round Bay to the north, Maynadier Creek and Hopkins Creek to the southwest, and Brewers Pond to the south. Little Round Bay is part the rare two-mile (3 km)-wide Round Bay in the straight and narrow Severn River. Little Round Bay might have been a meander during a time when sea level was lower and the Severn was a freshwater river.
Vertical buffs on the western, northern, and northeastern portions of the island range from 30 to 50 feet (15 m) in height. A 10–15 foot beach can be found on the western side of St. Helena. Maximum elevation on the island is 52 feet (16 m). St. Helena has only lost about 2 of its 21.5 acres (87,000 m2) in the last 150 years.
St. Helena is home to a variety of ducks, geese, Great Blue Herons, kingfishers, ospreys and other birds. Snakes and turtles also occupy the island which was formerly the setting for a terrapin pit and deer park.
Anne Arundel Police Record Called 'Poor'. (1951, July 19). The Washington Post, pg. 1
A Note on St. Helena Island, Maryland. (1953 February 10). The Sun
Area Men and Slot Machines Seized in Raid on Island Club. (1951, July 24). The Washington Post, pg. 1
Burke, Scott. (2001, December). Judge Trims Island Lawsuit – Ex-owner of St. Helena Island can't sue neighbors in assault case. Capital-Gazette
Cronin, W. B. (2005). The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press in association with the Calvert Marine Museum, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Mariner's Museum, and the Maryland Historical Society.
Davison, A. T., & Rucker, C. B. (1988). Gems of the Severn. [Annapolis]: Severn River Commission, City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County.
Developer admits false tax returns. (2002, April 12). Capital-Gazette
Farquhar, Roger B. (1951, September 8). 2 Montgomery Men Convicted In 'Slots' Case. The Washington Post, pg. 1
Graves, Aubrey. (1961, July 18). Yachtsmen Find 'Banishment' To St. Helena Most Enjoyable. The Washington Post, pg. A16
Illegal Use for Island? - County considers suing Fantasy Island owner. (1998, September 14). Capital-Gazette
Lane Brings Happiness to Boy Who Likes to Look at Notables. (1949, September 5). The Washington Post, pg. 4
Searchers Comb Island in Severn for 'Man-Eater'. (1955, May 10). The Washington Post, pg. 26
St. Helena Island. (1958, August 17). The Baltimore News American
The Judge's Severn Island. (1965, February 5). The Baltimore News American
Third Man at St. Helena Is Fined $500. (1951, September 9). The Washington Post, pg. M10
'Too Many Democrats' Says Johns. (1948, August 25). The Washington Post, pg. B1
Water-borne Firefighters Save Home. (1961, September 12). The Washington Post, pg. B1