Camp Ritchie, Maryland – Development of the Intelligence Training Center

The 400 acres that was to become the Camp Ritchie Intelligence Training Center, began life in 1889 as the property of the Buena Vista Ice Company. They created two manmade lakes where winter allowed natural ice to form which could be shipped via the nearby railroad spur to Washington, DC.  The lakes also served as a recreation destination in the summer tourist season. 
        Recently, I was contacted by the former Post Historian for Fort Ritchie and she agreed to write the following guest blog about the development of Camp Ritchie after it was sold to the Maryland National Guard. 
      Camp Ritchie was founded in 1926 as a training place for Maryland National Guard Troops.
        At that time, Captain Robert F. Barrick was approached by the Adjutant General of Maryland National Guard, Milton A. Reckord, to build a camp to be named after Governor Albert Cabell Ritchie. The land was bought by the State of  Maryland eleven houses, five barns, two remaining ice houses, both lakes and the railroad siding. At the time the site was no more than fields and stony outcroppings which took several years to completely clear.
       Local men were hired and brought in by horse and wagon for the first three years. Laborers were paid with what was known as the ‘bean ticket’ – the Depression’s equivalent of food stamps. The first three weeks were spent clearing the site, surveying, and making plans.
The first site plans drawn up were never changed. Barrick recommended to General Reckord that native stone and local labor would keep expenses within the budget. So, rather than build with wood, the initial idea, stone was the answer for the buildings. The same stone buildings still stand.
       Men used picks and shovels and dump-carts to haul the dirt and to build the embankment to shore up and reinforce the banks of the upper lake. A mobile sawmill was brought in to cut timber right there on the land. This was initially located in the area of the first firing range. After the first year of using the range, the saw mill had to be moved to another location. Too many saw blades were broken on trees riddled with bullets!
      Horse teams were used to carry construction materials. Bulldozers, carryalls, graders, front-end loaders and back hoes hadn’t been invented when they started. They did have dynamite, and used lots of it, as well as picks, shovels and sledges.
       The work of the first fifteen months consisted of constructing one Regimental area and the Brigade area. Nineteen stone kitchens were built with fireplaces in each. A man who recalled those kitchens said, “I remember those fireplaces! They smoked like the dickens!”
Tents covered the hillsides but there were no mess halls until the second year.
       From the  brigade Officers’ Mess there are two tunnels – one ran under the hill to a building at the top and the other under the parade grounds to the engineer buildings. The first tunnel was merely a passageway, not a secret tunnel. The second was a utility tunnel for access to wiring and pipes. “It was a dandy place to stash items the Inspector General wasn’t supposed to see on his rounds.”
       The stream from the mountainside was diverted underground to feed the upper lake. During an interview when he was 91, General Reckord told the story of the last family to sell their property to the State. They lived in a little farmhouse with a few tall trees and a pleasant stream running close by and didn’t want to leave. They finally gave up and sold because the firing range was to be in their front yard!
        On July 9th, 1927, only a little over one year after ground was broken, the first troops arrived – the “Dandy Fifth” Regiment from Baltimore and the 1st Maryland Infantry with the 29th Division staff.  However, there was still much to do at Camp Ritchie. The progress this far was a fine indication of the prospects envisioned for the National Guard camp. Barrick stated in his journal “The period 1928-29 was slow in comparison to the beehive activity of the previous year.” Camp Ritchie served the Maryland National Guard until 1942.
        With World War II, Camp Ritchie had a new, fascinating and mysterious mission. The U.S. Army leased the post for $5 a year and established The Military Intelligence Training Center. It was here that over 19,000 Ritchie Boys, many of them German-Jewish immigrants from Europe who had joined the U.S. Army, trained to become interpreters, interrogators, and translators. After extensive training, they went either to Europe to aid in the ending of the war in Germany or to Fort Hunt, Virginia, to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war. Nisei soldiers in the US. Army were sometimes stationed there, though there was another similar facility for their training on the West Coast.
         The US Army built extensively during its tenure at Camp Ritchie.  Wood frame buildings sprouted all over the post. The Service Club on the lake became the Officers Club and a number of one story wooden buildings to house officers were constructed. The First Regimental Headquarters Building became the new Lakeview Service Club. On the far side of Lake Royer, a 15 building complex on the Camp Louise side of the lake was built to serve as an installation hospital.  Two story wooden barracks covered the hillside above the stone kitchens on the main street of the post to accommodate the influx of troops. A modern dispensary was built to replace the simple and rustic dispensary of earlier times. A commissary, a Post Exchange, a gymnasium, a Post Office, a chapel, a theater, and a bowling alley were built.
        The Military Intelligence Training Center ( M.I.T.C.) was often derisively referred to by the students as the “Mythical Institution of Total Confusion.”  Mock Japanese cavalry troops on horseback surprised farmers as they tilled the soil. Axis artillery pieces lined the main street of the post. There was a mock-up of a German village to train troops in house to house combat.  Mock Hitler rallies were staged in the post theater. Dogs were trained and there was at one time a graveyard especially for these four-footed warriors on the post. There was a prisoner of war compound to hold both Italian and German prisoners who worked at the camp.
        The Military Intelligence Training Center was closed at the end of World War II and in 1948 the Federal Government bought Camp Ritchie from the State of Maryland for $2,500,000. The Department of Defense renamed it Fort Ritchie. Most of the wooden buildings were torn down, but the stone buildings of the Depression era remained. For a time, the hospital complex built in 1942 served as a hospital for the chronically ill for the entire state of Maryland. Finally most of the hospital complex was razed in 1969 – all but the nurses’ dorm which became officers’ quarters.
former Post Historian at Fort Ritchie
Today Fort Ritchie is owned by the PenMar Development Corporation. They have worked to have Fort Ritchie designated as a “sustainable community” by the State of Maryland.
 “Several alternative uses for the property are being explored which would create a mix of uses that would include residential, commercial, recreational, and some light office/industrial uses. Currently there are some 300 people living on the property in 98 rental units. There is a new Community Center which hosts a Gym, workout room, nautilus equipment, lockers, community room, computer center, and game room. There are a number of small businesses scattered throughout the property and the former Officer’s Club now called Lakeside Hall is rented most weekends for weddings and special events. There is a tradition of fireworks on the Fourth of July which continues, as well as many events, such as 5k runs, fishing competitions on the lakes, cycling races, triathlons, festivals, fundraisers, meetings, and concerts.”


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