July 16, 1927
Defense Highway — coursing through Maryland from the Washington, D.C., area in Prince George’s County to the state capital of Annapolis in Anne Arundel County — was formally opened to great fanfare. This route was built between Bladensburg and Annapolis, and followed the trajectory of a narrow, unpaved road that had been in place as far back as the 18th century.
Construction on a wider and fully paved road started in 1918 while World War I was being waged. The very name of Defense Highway reflected the military priorities behind that new and improved route, one which would facilitate the movement of troops and their equipment and also provide a more direct means of travel between the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) and the nation’s capital. The ever-increasing use of automobiles in the region further underscored the need for a more modern highway able to better accommodate that mode of transportation.
The Washington Post reported that the new highway marked “the enlargement of the radius within which Washingtonians may live and play.” This newspaper further noted, “Residents of the Capital have long needed a shorter and more convenient outlet to the Chesapeake Bay country. The Defense Highway accomplishes this purpose by providing a road between Washington and Annapolis more than ten miles shorter than the one previously used.”
The dedication ceremonies for Defense Highway were held at Priests Bridge along the new road, at the juncture where it intersected with Crain Highway (a route linking Baltimore with Southern Maryland). The ceremonies specifically took place there in what the Baltimore Sun characterized as “a grove of tall pine and oak trees.”
Hundreds of people attended the event, which went on as planned despite a heavy downpour of rain at one point. “Detachments of marines, sailors and soldiers were sent by the Navy and War Departments to assist in the celebration,” stated the Baltimore Sun. “They stood in a circle in front of the speakers stand.”
The master of ceremonies for the event was Hampton Magruder, a resident of the city of Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County. His father Caleb C. Magruder, who died four years earlier at the age of 84, had served as clerk of the Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis and distinguished himself as a longtime and tireless champion for the construction of what became Defense Highway. John N. Mackall, chairman of the Maryland State Roads Commission (and a future president of AASHO), took time during his remarks at the ceremonies to commend the elder Magruder for his key role in making the highway a reality.
Other speakers at the event included former Maryland Governor Emerson C. Harrington. Back in 1916, he signed into law the measure authorizing creation of the highway. While addressing the crowd at the ceremonies, Harrington stressed not only the basis purpose of the new road but also its larger economic benefits. He proclaimed, “This highway is dedicated to public service, and not only is it a direct road to Washington and Annapolis, but it brings the tidewater counties of the Maryland Eastern Shore closer, with its many advantages of seashore and agriculture.”
Later that Saturday, the celebration of the new highway continued in Annapolis with a band concert at the USNA. This was followed by a banquet at Carvel Hall, a hotel in Maryland’s capital city. “At nightfall a fireworks display was held in the harbor,” reported the Baltimore Sun. “The ceremonies were brought to a close with a ball at St. John’s College.”
Defense Highway is now officially a major part of Maryland Route 450 (MD 450). The above image features a stretch of MD 450 in Anne Arundel County that remains designated as Defense Highway.
Photo Credit: Famartin (licensed under Creative Commons)
For more information on Defense Highway (part of present-day Maryland Route 450), please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland_Route_450