Military past and present came together Friday morning on a patch of farmland that played a key role in the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812.

Armed with the weapons of landscaping, 55 sailors and Marines in town for the Star-Spangled Sailabration reclaimed the ground around Todd's Inheritance Historic Site from years of neglect.

"Does everyone know their assignment?" asked Larry Leone, an officer on the historic site's board.

"Destroy bushes," barked Marines.

In just three hours, massive boxwoods gave ground, hostile wasps beat a retreat and tree-strangling vines and poison ivy were neutralized.

"The house has to be presented as someplace you'd like to visit as opposed to being just a beaten-up old house," said Leone, a retired Army officer who worked the deal to get the free muscle power. "Without their help, we'd have to contract this out, and we just don't have the money."

The Marines and sailors, many of whom came to town Wednesday aboard the USS San Antonio, called the landscaping work a pleasant diversion.

"I grew up on a farm — getting off the ship and out here is nice," said Marine Lance Cpl. Keith Smith of Munith, Mich.

Leone gave the present-day American troops a small history lesson about the homestead before they dug in.

The Todds and their property figured significantly in the Battle of North Point and the defense of Baltimore in 1814. Thomas and Bernard Todd served in the militia, Thomas as a surgeon and Bernard as a cavalryman. The attic of their house, with its view of the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco River, was a military outpost used by sentries watching for the British.

On Sept. 12, a force of 4,000 troops landed at North Point with the intention of taking Baltimore, only to be stalled by Maryland militiamen, who killed the British general. Two days later, retreating British troops burned Todd House in retribution, Leone said.

The Todd family rebuilt and remained there until 1975. The state bought the property, which dates to 1664, about 20 years ago. During a $750,000 renovation of the exterior, workers found charred stone from the fire in the foundation.

"So this house and this property have a direct link to history," Leone said. "And with this project, you do, too."

Bryan Sheppard, an assistant to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said Todd's Inheritance is just one stop along the planned four-mile North Point historic trail that the county hopes can be improved before the War of 1812 commemoration wraps up in September 2014.

"For everything we do now, there's a list of 10 other things we want to do," Kamenetz said. "There's no jealousy over the attention Fort McHenry is getting. We just want to do what we can to promote our significance in the war this year and beyond."

Navy Lt. Jay Weatherwax said the project was one of several being carried out before the fleet leaves Tuesday morning. Others include working at the Maryland Food Bank and assisting homeless veterans at Baltimore Station.

"They're in the military because they love to serve and this is just an example of that," Weatherwax said. "But the other side of community service is that the public gets to see us and know us and learn what we do."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

Saturday's Sailabration highlights:

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Aircraft display and festival, Martin State Airport.

11 a.m.: Sailabration festival villages open at the Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry and Fells Point.

11 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Ships open for free tours, Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

1 p.m.: Navy warfare demonstration off Fort McHenry.

1 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Air show over waters south of Fort McHenry.

4:30 p.m.: Blue Angels autograph session, Martin State Airport.

6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.: Celebration of the American flag with fireworks, Fort McHenry.

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