Celebrate La Plata marked the 10 year anniversary of the tornado that devastated La Plata on April 28, 2002.  The community came together for its annual Spring Festival with food, fun, art, and family entertainment and recognized its decade of development that has made this Southern Maryland town a closer and stronger community…


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La Plata was founded approximately 1895 after the river flowing into the previous County seat, nearby Port Tobacco, silted up, ending that town’s utility as a port on the Potomac River.

When the Pennsylvania Railroad was planning the extension of its line through Charles County in 1869, it established a stop in the middle of an oak forest to serve several prosperous farms. The eastern side of the right-of-way in that area had been donated by the Chapman family from its property called La Plata Farm; the western side was sliced from the Stonestreet family farm. On its route map, the railroad chose to label the stop “La Plata Station.” The station built there in 1888 is still in existence.

The community that developed on Chapman-donated land on the east side of the railroad tracks naturally became known as La Plata. A post office was established there in 1873—the same year that the railroad began its service to the farm hamlet.

As La Plata grew and prospered, a political battle developed at Port Tobacco, county seat of Charles County.  Should the county seat be moved to La Plata, 3 miles inland to the east and boasting a railroad siding, telegraph station, and buoyant economy?  A special election in May of 1892 maintained the status quo.  Port Tobacco won easily.

Three months later, the courthouse at Port Tobacco burned to the ground—but, strangely enough, the records had been carefully removed beforehand.  Apparently an incendiary act had been perpetrated.  But no one was prosecuted, and no one ever admitted to knowledge of the deed.  Feelings ran so high that it was impractical to consider rebuilding the courthouse at Port Tobacco.  The situation dragged on until another special election was held in 1895 to determine whether to move the county seat to either La Plata or Chapel Point.  This time, La Plata prevailed, mainly because of its location on the railroad.

Without delay, a new courthouse was built of red brick in an imposing Victorian style.  It still stands today, with several additions and embellishments.

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Next to the courthouse, on Charles Street, stands another structure of historical significance—Christ Church of Port Tobacco Parish.  The church was dismantled stone by stone at Port Tobacco and then rebuilt in La Plata and is one of the 30 original Church of England parishes created in the Province of Maryland by an act of the Assembly in 1692.

On April 28, 2002 my husband and I were in the parish house of  Christ Church when a powerful tornado struck.  A group of us were meeting to plan a trip to St. Paul’s Chapel  to serve in the recovery and clean up effort at Ground Zero.  Tornado warnings were in the forecast, and Beverly Stone was in touch by cell phone with her husband who was watching the local news channel.   Bev’s phone rang and she alerted us  that the storm had changed direction and a “hook” was forming and coming our way.

Joe Plemons, a member of our group, scouted out the basement as a place where we could all move to safety and we continued with our planning.   Suddenly the skies became quite ominous and I got up  and glanced out the window, only to see the spirals of two funnel formations at the edge of  the dark supercell coming right toward us  across the valley.  Following Joe’s direction, we quickly headed downstairs, breathless as we moved.  My husband shut the basement door as the windows were shattering behind him.

We clung and huddled together in the dark basement and chanted the 23rd Psalm as the freight train like sound became louder and louder around us.  The force of the tornado was so strong that the stone building was being pulled ever so slightly off of its foundation and we could see light rays shining between the stone layers and  feel the piercing sand on our skin in the darkness.   Before we had repeated the Psalm a second time through, all became quiet again.  Eerily quiet.

We cautiously walked out of  the parish house into a no man’s land.  We found that the water tower had collapsed, electric poles and lines were down, and our cars were destroyed.  Many of the town’s historic buildings were leveled and our church now had a gaping hole in its timbered ancient roof.   A piece of straw was later found impaled deeply into the stucco aggregate of the church’s exterior surface.    Wind speeds had been greater than 250 mph at our town’s center.

church in background with holes in roof

The tornado had damaged a large portion of La Plata’s beautiful, historic homes and  75% of its downtown businesses were either damaged or destroyed.  Five people died.  The storm measured an F4 on the Fujita Scale.

Within hours, strangers from near and far were sending relief or coming to help our recovery.

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church members standing in front of parish house May 4, 2002

path of tornado through town center
path of tornado through town center

Eventually–through plucky and unfailing efforts of many local residents and  community leaders La Plata has rebounded and been revitalized.

Ten Years Later

La Plata’s growing business center now boasts a new Town Hall and many other beautiful colonial buildings, infrastructure and roads.  The City’s downtown area remains accessible and continues to reflect its historical roots.

The  Blue Crabs  stadium was built nearby and  boasts high citizen participation and summer evenings of exciting baseball and fireworks!

blue crabs baseball
blue crabs baseball
local road
piney church road
local farm
local farm
tobacco barns
tobacco barns
port tobacco river marsh
port tobacco river marsh
                                                         
                                                  
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