Historian lecture opens APG Centennial exhibit at Harford Community College

Command Historian Jeffrey K. Smart of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command discusses features of the Aberdeen Proving Ground cantonment area during the opening of the “APG As Catalyst” Centennial exhibit in the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College Feb. 7, 2017. | U.S. Army photo by Yvonne Johnson, APG News

BEL AIR, Md. — Harford County began its celebration of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Centennial with the opening of its “APG as Catalyst: Harford County’s Changing Landscape” exhibit at the historic Hays-Heighe House on the Harford Community College campus Feb. 7.

The event focused on the full century of APG contributions to national defense as well as the growth and change it brought to Harford County.

According to Carol Allen, HCC Library director, the exhibit seeks to offer a scholarly and humanistic exploration of how APG has shaped the lives, histories, economy and culture of Harford County residents.

“The overall exhibit theme is [the installation’s] impact on Harford County through the years,” she said, noting that displays on the second floor center on developments during World War II and the consequences of a female work force and continues up to the current relationship between HCC and the school.

Command Historian Jeffrey K. Smart of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command takes questions from the audience during the opening of the “APG As Catalyst” Centennial exhibit in the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College Feb. 7, 2017. | U.S. Army photo by Yvonne Johnson, APG News

Prior to the exhibit opening HCC President Dr. Dianna Philips hosted a luncheon for APG and community leaders at the school’s Chesapeake Center, where she detailed HCC’s role in the community as a STEM and cyber security center, as well as other training initiatives and ongoing partnerships with APG, the county and other schools.

The event included the lecture, “APG: Historical Highlights” by Jeff Smart, command historian of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

Smart covered the installation’s raw beginnings from its Sandy Hook, New Jersey location in 1847 to the establishment of the proving ground in 1917. He touched on early leaders like Col. Colden Ruggles, the installation’s first commander, and the first test round fired, Jan. 2, 1918; and the renaming of the Gunpowder Neck to Edgewood Arsenal and its first commander, Col. William H. Walker.

The presentation included an array of aerial maps that emphasized priorities during different eras. The wartime chemical program, for example, was evident in Edgewood which at one time simultaneously operated Mustard, Chlorine, Phosgene and Chloropicrin plants. Smart covered significant events of each decade.

The 1920s and 1930s, for example, launched the testing of tracked vehicles, Ordnance training, and the establishment of the Munson Test Area on main post and Fort Hoyle in Edgewood. Along with World War II, the 1940s brought peak construction, a new bomb disposal school, rocket testing, the world’s first supersonic wind tunnel in the Ballistic Research Laboratory as well as a changing workforce.

Smart said that, like so many other things about APG, the Women Ordnance Workers, known as WOWs, supported operations after the men went off to war and were indispensable.

“The Edgewood Water Treatment Plant was the first plant of its kind run entirely by women,” he said.

The lecture took listeners through the ensuing decades that brought the Korean and Vietnam wars along with the establishment of chemical munitions disposal efforts, environmental studies and remediation; Desert Storm; 9/11 and base realignment and closure.

“My overall objective was to show that APG has provided 100 years of innovative solutions to make sure the Army has the best equipment and weapons in the world,” Smart said of the lecture. “Supporting the warfighter was No. 1 in 1917 and is still No. 1 today.”

Attendee Tim McNamara, former APG Garrison deputy and a member of the APG Centennial Celebration Association, agreed, adding that this is a special time for APG and its neighbors.

“I think it’s exciting for the community,” he said. “You only get one chance to celebrate a centennial. It’s not just APG celebrating, there’s so many participants and pieces to this celebration. It’s going to be a lot of people coming together. It’ll be nice to look back and enjoy this.”

Suzanne Milchling, technical director of the U.S. Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, attended the luncheon and stayed for the Hays-Heighe House lecture. She said the luncheon was a great way to connect, discuss ongoing partnerships and explore opportunities and she called the Hays-Heighe House tour and Jeff Smart lecture “enlightening.”

“Most of the information was new to me,” she said, adding that AMSAA celebrates its 50th year in 2018.

Future exhibit programs

  • How Imminent is Eminent Domain, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 21
  • I Remember When: Uprooting and Relocating, 12:30 to 2 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 28

For more information, call 443-412-2539 or go to the Hays-Heighe House website at www.harford.edu/hays-heighe-house. APG As Catalyst exhibit hours are 1 to 3 p.m., Tuesday; 3 to 5 p.m., Thursday; and 10 a.m. to noon, on Friday and on the first Saturday. The Hayes-Heighe House exhibit is closed the Week of March 26 to April 2.

By Yvonne Johnson, APG News