Untamed Indian Creek

Many people commented on a set of photos of Berwyn Heights from the 1960s we published here, and reposted on the BHHC facebook page. They helped us identify the first photo on the left as the untamed Indian Creek prior to 1972. Mike Hayden and Angelo Ohwell, who grew up in Berwyn Heights during this period, said this is what Indian Creek looked like from Berwyn Road bridge when facing Greenbelt Road.

Ohwell said “Indian Creek would change [its course] as it flooded so much, leaving it to meander around a lot.” The photo does appear to show signs of a recent flood, with sand and flattened grass on the banks.

Mike Hayden said the buildings on the right belonged to the Peacock and/ or the Smith families who lived there until 1972. They sold their properties to the Maryland National Park & Planning Commission (M-NCPPC)i which then built a paddle tennis court in that location, and further north a T-ball field and playground.

But first the Army Corps of Engineers set to work widening and straightening Indian Creek to control flooding starting in April 1973. The channelization project was made a priority after Hurricane Agnes struck the Mid-Atlantic region in June 1972 and caused severe flooding throughout Maryland and in Berwyn Heights. In the aftermath of Agnes, the Town assisted flood victims by providing pumps, jacks, clean-up trucks and maintenance personnel. The fire department, women’s auxiliary, and police pitched in, while the Corps of Enineers dredged and cleaned the creek.ii

Other readers, including Fred Flaherty and Debbie Pitts, shared memories about fishing in the creek, which apparently continued after the widening. Note the boy with his rod in the lower right of the second photo. Mary Lou Milstead and Bettie Prosise in a BHHC oral history recording confirm that anglers often caught catfish and that the river valley served as a great playground.

In the second photo, Greenbelt Road can be seen in the distance and behind it a gravel mountain of the Alfred H. Smith gravel mine. Many old time residents were none too happy with Al Smith because his gravel washing operation ruined Indian Creek, filling it with waste water and silt. Ruth (Sauer) Ellsworth, who grew up in Berwyn Heights during the 1940s, recalls that the creek once was so deep it looked dark green and bottomless from the bridge above.iii

Former Town Commissioner Charles Worden, in one of a series of Bulletin articles about Berwyn Heights in the 1920s and 1930s, said that the pool at the bridge was perhaps 10′ deep and quite suitable for swimming. People then caught bass and pickerel in the creek and trapped muskrat, too.iv


i PGC Land Records: Deed 1972May12 Clay & Exie Peacock, lots 18-19 block 3, Book 4072-521; and Deed 1972Aug 2, Willard & Rita Smith to M-NCPPC, lots 20-21 block 3, Book 4116-873

ii Berwyn Heights Bulletins, 1972-1973.

iii Sauer Ellsworth, Ruth. Ruatan Street. Crimson Atlelier, Inc, New Hope, PA, 2005.

iv Worden, Charles. Berwyn Heights Bulletin, September 1972, p.7.

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