St. Mary’s County (population 86,211) was the site of the first English settlement of Maryland in 1634. Today, the archeological remains of Maryland’s first capital, St. Mary’s City, are interpreted through reconstructed buildings, stabilized archeological sites, and living history demonstrations.
From the county’s initial settlement, tobacco was its cash crop, resulting in a primarily agricultural landscape with many large plantations such as Sotterley, which is now interpreted to the public. The Civil War brought Union occupation and establishment of the Point Lookout Prisoner of War Camp for captured Confederates. The war also destroyed the county’s economy by ending slavery, which had made large-scale tobacco cultivation profitable.
A more diversified agricultural economy evolved in the late 19th century, followed by expansion of the technical and service sectors after establishment of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station during World War II.
One of the most popular heritage tourism destinations in St. Mary’s County is the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, which tells the story of the Navy’s aviation research, development, testing, and evaluation activities. St. Mary’s County is partnering with the museum, the State, and the U.S. Navy to fund and develop a new building to house the museum’s collections.
To promote visitation to the museum and other heritage assets, St. Mary’s County participates in the Southern Maryland Heritage Area, a State-designated heritage area. The heritage area management plan and the County’s historic preservation plan help to protect the county’s many historic properties. St. Mary’s County has also instituted a preservation tax credit to encourage the compatible rehabilitation of historic properties.
Designated a Preserve America Community in April 2005.