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The peninsula, a “head” of land overlooking the Potomac River, had been long occupied by various cultures indigenous peoples. The historic Algonquian-speaking American Indian tribe was the Mattawoman (likely a band of the Piscataway) encountered by the first English settlers; the latter called the land “Indian Head.  Meaning “Indian Peninsula.”

Footbridge to plant

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, Union Brigadier General Joseph Hooker commanded the Third Brigade near Budd’s Ferry in August 1861. The site was a gathering spot for volunteers, including the 5th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry under Colonel Samuel H. Starr. The Union Army Balloon Corps also used the site for reconnaissance of troop movements across the Potomac.


The town of Indian Head was incorporated in 1920. It is located between the Potomac River and Mattawoman Creek on Mattawoman/Cornwallis Neck, named for the 1654 grant of 5,000 acres (20 km2) by the second Lord Baltimore, Cecillius Calvert, to Capt. Thomas Cornwallis of St. Mary’s County. This land grant included the 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) Cornwallis Manor on the Potomac, presumably the Indian Head site, with St. Elizabeth’s Manor of 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) “nearby but detached.” The Town of Indian Head occupies land that was once part of the territory of the Algonquin Indians. The name Indian Head originates from the term “Indian Headlands,” as the entire lower end of the peninsula was occupied by Native Americans and was an Indian Reservation. The name Indian Head first appears in the Census of 1800. In 1850, the Washington Fruit Growers Association purchased a parcel of land, including Indian Head and “Glymont.” Charles Pye offered for sale a tract of land (664 acres) known as Glymont, On December 2, 1834. The same 664 acres was put up for sale again on July 22, 1843, after Charles Pye’s death. The two tracts of land were purchased by The Glymont Improvement Company and recorded on March 20, 1887. B.D owned the land (540 acres). Tubman and known as “Glymont.” The second tract, called “Cornwallis Neck,” and sometimes known as “Pye’s Wharf Estate,” adjoins S. H. Cox and R. A. Chapman’s lands first-mentioned tract and others containing 480 acres of land, more or less. Glymont, with Pye’s Wharf and Leonard Marbury’s Wharf, were the largest river ports in Charles County. The name “Indian Head” applies to the land west of Glymont. The name Indian Head first appears in the 1800 Census and dates to establishing the powder factory.

Indian Head was a thriving small town during World War II and up until the late 1960s. The construction of St. Charles, a giant planned community south of nearby Waldorf, brought with it retail chains and big-box stores. These attracted Indian Head’s shopping dollars and started the demise of local businesses.

Today, Indian Head is rich in history but is lacking many essential retail and service businesses. Many remedies for this situation have been attempted, but the desired growth has been slow in coming. Indian Head is bisected by Maryland Route 210, generally known as Indian Head Highway. It goes directly into the middle of town at the entrance to the Indian Head Naval Support Facility. Because of this, the town cannot benefit from through-traffic but must be a destination in its own right.

Private plans to build a massive “Chapman’s Landing” housing development a few miles to the north were thwarted in the 1990s when the state government purchased the land to preserve it as green space under its “smart growth” program. The preserved land includes an old-growth Shell-Marl Ravine Forest ecosystem.

The town recently opened a Black Box Stage Theater, the Head Center for the Arts, a new community center building, new ball fields, and other efforts to revitalize the town. A section of the railroad to the naval facility, built-in 1918, was converted to a paved hiking/biking trail in 2008. A year-round swimming pool is at the nearby entry E. Lackey High School.

December 2004 arson

Indian Head has two theaters listed – The Glymont Theatre and Recreation Hall. Recreation Hall was used from 1931 to 1945, seating 200.

Origin: Charles County was created in 1658 by an Order in Council. The County was named for Charles Calvert (1637-1715), 3rd Lord Baltimore. Calvert lived in Maryland from 1661 until he returned to England in 1684. He was Proprietor of the Maryland colony from 1675 to 1689, when he lost his right to govern. From 1692 until Calvert died in 1715, Maryland was ruled as a royal colony.

Boundaries: Bounded north by Prince George’s County; east by St. Mary’s County; south & west by Potomac River.


HISTORY OF INDIAN HEAD PART –  III                                                          PREVIOUS POST