Most of you will probably want to skip the first section and start reading down at the map.
Longtime readers may remember when I went down to Texas for my grandmother’s 100th birthday party. Well, sorrowfully Bernice Sylvester McGaughy passed away a few days ago, at 102 years and in good health physically and mentally until about three weeks ago. We’re sad of course but we take solace in knowing that we should all be so fortunate as to live as well and as long as she did, and then go quietly at the end.
I told my children about the amazing things she’d seen during her lifetime. The Wright Brothers flew their famous airplane barely five years before her birth, and she lived more than forty years after men landed on the moon; things of that nature. Her siblings all lived into their nineties except for one brother who died of influenza during the Great Pandemic of 1919. That’s ancient history to us today. Yet, she survived all the way to 2011, the last of her generation.
It’s an odd confluence of events that will lead to her burial at the Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Maryland. I won’t focus on the details except to note that my grandparents were natives of Texas and had lifelong associations with the Lone Star State. Nonetheless my grandfather found himself in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC when he passed away suddenly in 1958, and my grandmother will now join him there.
I am the only member of the immediate family that lives in the area so I went to the cemetery on Saturday to sign various documents required by the State of Maryland and to confirm the location of the plot. Death and taxes may be the only certainties in this world, but even death can’t stop the perpetual wheels of bureaucracy. Her funeral was in San Antonio, TX last week so I will probably be the only person graveside as well, once I work out those details.
Thus I came to Fort Lincoln Cemetery, a place I’d never seen before, yet so remarkably close to my home by distance. And here I’ll shift away from the person family story to topics of more general interest to the Twelve Mile Circle community. I discovered a place with a greater number of historical sites than practically any other location I’ve seen of comparable size, which I examined after finishing with my personal business.
View Larger Map
It started to sink in when I looked on Google Maps to chart my course that morning. I noticed that the cemetery followed the Maryland side of the border adjacent to the District of Columbia for an extended distance. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Original DC boundary stone, anyone?
I looked online and sure enough the Northeast Stone #7 can be found on the grounds of the Fort Lincoln Cemetery. I spotted it with ease. It’s been a tough winter and I cleared fallen leaves and wind-blown trash away from the stone to get a decent shot. Notice that "Maryland" has been carved into the base. This stone is in pretty rough shape, though. It doesn’t look like the last 200+ years have been as kind to NE7 as compared to some of the other boundary stones I’ve cataloged. I got the feeling that few people ever venture to this stone based on the condition of the rusty wrought iron cage built to protect it and the nasty chain-link fence running behind it.
This hillside served as an attractive location for fortifications, and the photograph captures two distinct historical periods. British forces invaded the United States during the War of 1812. They sought to destroy the new nation’s capital city as they sailed up the Patuxent River and pushed inland towards Bladensburg. They quickly routed American troops assembled in defense except for a force of four hundred marines at the top of this hill (up by the building in the background). The British prevailed after fierce hand-to-hand combat, removing the last opportunity for the American forces to save Washington. British troops marched unopposed into the city that evening and torched the public buildings including the Capitol and the White House.
The mounds in the foreground with the large American flag and the artillery are the remnants of Battery Jameson of Fort Lincoln, part of the ring of Civil War fortifications that formed the Defenses of Washington. Construction began in the summer of 1861 and it was named in honor of the sitting president, Abraham Lincoln upon its completion. President Lincoln rode out to Fort Lincoln several times during the war. I have visited other remnants of these fortifications including Fort C.F. Smith and Fort Reno so it was nice to see a Maryland example too. Post-war development erased most of the visible signs of these earthwork forts as the District and its surrounding areas urbanized and expanded. The remarkable preservation of Fort Lincoln remnants probably owe their survival to their placement within its eponymous cemetery. What’s a Fort Lincoln Cemetery without a Fort Lincoln?
Google Street View has pretty good coverage of this site.
The history of this tract goes back much further, all the way back to the earliest days of colonial Maryland when Lord Baltimore granted it to George Conn. It remained within the Conn family for another two centuries. This structure is called the Old Spring House and it’s one of the oldest buildings in Maryland, designed to cool dairy products using the ambient temperature of fresh spring water. It dates to circa 1683. It is believed that Abraham Lincoln drank from the spring waters at this location during his frequent visits to the fort during the Civil War.
Fort Lincoln is a remarkable cemetery. I take comfort knowing that my grandparents rest amid great history and geography. It’s not Texas but it seems to be the next best thing.