Sandy Point State Park is a public recreation area located on Chesapeake Bay in Edgemere, Baltimore County, Maryland. The state park occupies the site of the former Fort Albion and has facilities for swimming, picnicking, bicycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, and nature study. It is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Rangers at the park provide historical interpretation about life in the fort and opportunities to learn how humans have lived alongside wildlife for thousands of years.
Visitors can explore three distinct ecological environments represented by different vegetation zones: forest, wetland, and estuary. Each environment contains many species of plants and animals not typically found together, illustrating the complex web of relationships between human beings and the natural world. Ranger programs focus on explaining the history and ecology of these unique habitats as well as introducing visitors to some of the native plant and animal species. Interpretive displays, signs, and kiosks augment lectures and workshops presented by rangers throughout the year.
Volunteers in Parks works closely with park staff to improve the park by maintaining trails, renewing habitat, and enhancing educational programs. Every fall, park rangers lead guided tours of the fort grounds, offering insight into life inside the old seacoast defense tower. Park facilities include picnic tables and shelters, playground areas, boat ramps, fishing piers, and interpretive center. Nature trailhead parking lots accommodate half of the park’s annual visitation. Additional parking is available along Route 24, with access to the park entrance via Exit 91 on I-95.
The park offers bike routes to and from the Capital Beltway, serving as a link to the Shady Grove Road corridor. Bicycle traffic flows freely across all roadways, including main roads and rural lanes, and there are separate bicycle routes to and from the highway. The park provides canoe rentals for exploring the lower Chesapeake Bay or visiting the Patapsco River. Canoes may be taken out onto the bay for hours at a time, but must be brought back to the dock overnight. Boat docks are located at Willard Beach, Highland Beach, and Rosaryville. The park has seven miles (11km) of multiuse trails open for walking, biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing.
In 1608, English colonists built Fort Albion to guard against attacks by Spanish adventurers who had colonized nearby Virginia. A stone fort with a stockade, it was one of several such installations constructed along the mid-Atlantic coast during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as part of an effort to defend British interests in North America. After the English relinquished the fort to Spain in 1677, they continued to use it as a coastal stronghold until their evacuation from the region in 1681. When the Spanish regained control of the area in 1692, they strengthened its defenses but soon found itself blockaded by Dutch forces under the command of William Penn, governor of colonial Pennsylvania.
To break the siege, the Spaniards surrendered Fort Albion to the English, who then turned it into a prison for those involved in piracy. An “infirmary” was also established there to care for sick seamen. This became known as the Hospital of the Sickly Sea. Although pirates still used the facility, the hospital’s primary purpose changed over time to that of providing relief for those afflicted with smallpox and other diseases which devastated the European population at this time. During the 1770s, the hospital closed due to lack of patients. At the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, Fort Albion again served as a naval station when it came under the command of Rear Admiral George Cockburn. He set up his flagship, HMS Erebus, in what later became known as Long Island Sound. From here he led raids on New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and even raided Washington D.C. before returning home victorious after the Battle of Chesapeake Bay.
Following the British surrender at the end of the war, ownership of the land where Fort Albion stood was disputed among various parties including Massachusetts, which claimed it as part of its territory; Pennsylvania, which controlled the adjacent Delaware River and Canal Area; and Maryland, which purchased the property in 1815. As a result, no federal legislation could be passed to officially condemn the structure, although President Thomas Jefferson called for its demolition. Its legal status remained undetermined until the 1850s, when a federal court ordered that the entire site be sold back to the original owners, who were able to purchase it once more through the help of Richard B. Mason, a prominent attorney and civil engineer.
However, financial difficulties forced them to sell it to the government, who made little attempt to preserve the historic buildings. They were given to the city of Baltimore to serve as a local museum, with plans to build an appropriate memorial to mark the spot. That never happened, and the buildings deteriorated until only the powder magazine survived, crumbling and falling apart until nothing remained except its bricks. Fort Albion was included within the boundaries of the newly created Harford County, which organized in 1870, two years after the countyhood bill creating it was signed into law. Two years later, however, Harford County disbanded, with its members divided between new counties formed in neighboring parts. Thus, Fort Albion lost its county seat to Ellicott City, which grew around the remnants of the fort.
Local citizens petitioned the legislature to create a new county named Sandy Point County, and in 1880, the General Assembly acted. However, since there was already another Sandy Point County in northern California, the residents agreed upon a compromise. There would be no change in name, but rather a merger of the two counties. Legislation merging the two counties took effect in 1886. The following year, 1888, saw the creation of the town of Bel Air, named after the family estate of Senator James W. Patterson. The towns merged in 1896 to form the town of Catonsville. Then, in 1910, the state assembly chartered the county as a municipal corporation, changing its name to Elkton. However, the people voted to revert to the original name, Sandy Point, in 1934.
By this time, most traces of Fort Albion had disappeared, with just a foundation and walls remaining. These were excavated in 1958 by archaeologist Louis P. Simpson, whose team discovered the fort’s huge guns, shot and shell, matchlocks and muskets, as well as hundreds of artifacts like pottery shards and glass trade beads. On December 5, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated the site of the fort as a National Historic Landmark. The state began acquiring land near the site to establish a state park in 1964, receiving full title in 1969. The park opened to the public in June 1974.
- cross-country skiing
- nature study
Among the wildlife of the park are:
- river otter trappers
Birds observed include
- bald eagles
- blue herons
- black skimmers
- wild turkeys
- marsh hawks
- barred owls
- pileated woodpeckers
- red-headed woodpeckers
- northern flickers
- Carolina chickadees
- downy woodpeckers
- hairy woodpeckers
- red-bellied woodpeckers
- turkey vultures
- common ravens