Boy Scouts from around the Baltimore area gathered in Annapolis last week to witness a historic event involving the state's transfer of ownership to part of the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation in northern Harford County.
At a Board of Public Works meeting in the Governor's Reception Room in the State House, under a portrait of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an actual sheepskin land patent, granting 19.014 acres of previously state-owned land at Broad Creek to the Baltimore Area Council, Boy Scouts of America.
"Lord Calvert, eat your heart out!" O'Malley joked, as he signed not only the presentational huge patent but also two smaller vellum ones, which turned over to the scouts a parcel that is critical to the function of the Broad Creek camp near Whiteford.
The Boy Scouts had discovered, with the help of Frank S. Richardson, a land surveyor, that a 19-acre parcel in the midst of the Broad Creek camp could not be traced back to any land patent from the state, even though the scouts had used the land for well over two decades and had assumed it was theirs. The parcel in particular, although only 19 acres out of the 1,700-acre camp, provides access to the camp for scouts who are physically challenged.
In 1632 King Charles I of Great Britain granted to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore (son of the first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, who had tried to found a colony in Virginia), a charter to the land that is now the State of Maryland. Beginning in 1634 with Cecil's younger brother, Leonard, the first governor of Maryland, the Calverts could and did grant land "from this charter" to private individuals through land patents. According to historians, lawyers and title experts, this process was the only way a private individual could acquire land in Maryland, and every property owner today, to have "clear title" to a piece of real estate, must be able to trace its title back to a land patent granted by the first Lord Baltimore or one of his successors and assigns.
Since this particular 19 acres at Broad Creek had never been granted to a private individual by the Calverts, the family that founded the colony of Maryland, it was therefore the property of the state of Maryland, which had confiscated all the remaining property of the last member of the Calvert family, Henry Harford, in 1781. Henry Harford, for whom Harford County is named, attempted to recover his property or receive compensation for its loss but was unsuccessful, even though he was represented before the Maryland General Assembly by Charles Carroll of Carrollton.
To acquire ownership of the 19 acres, the Boy Scouts had to apply to the Maryland Land Patent Office for a land patent, by which the state would convey the 19 acres to the Boy Scouts for the land's fair market value.
To provide legal representation and advocacy in this process, the Bel Air law firm of Brown, Brown & Young was retained by the Baltimore Area Council Boy Scouts of America.
Attorney Philip J. Kotschenreuther of Brown, Brown & Young coordinated the legal efforts to discover the necessary facts and documents needed to sustain the burden of proof that the Boy Scouts would have to meet, to convince the state's commissioner of land patents that no patent had ever been issued for this 19 acres. These legal efforts included work done by Phil Kilby, a title attorney in Bel Air who performed the needed title examinations, and Richardson, the surveyor who performed the necessary surveys.
Kotschenreuther filed all of the necessary documents needed to satisfy the statutory requirements of the land patent application process, including filing the specific land patent application on April 5, 2011. He also coordinated the collection of photos and lay witnesses from the Boy Scouts, met with and prepared the lay witnesses and met with and prepared expert witnesses Kilby and Richardson.
At a hearing on March 28 of this year, Kotschenreuther, through the testimony of expert and lay witnesses, used numerous land patents, deeds, land surveys and court documents to place the necessary facts before Maryland Land Commissioner and Head Archivist Dr. Edward Papenfuse, asking him to make an official finding that there had never been a land patent issued for the 19 acres, and that the actual size of the parcel was 19.014 acres.
In a 10-page opinion issued on May 9, Papenfuse found in favor of the Scouts, stating that "the land embraced by the application is vacant land . . . and that a patent may properly issue." Papenfuse then accepted payment of $36,811.09, the fair market value of the land, and placed the formal acceptance and presentation of the land patent on the Board of Public Works agenda for June 20.
Before the governor, the comptroller and state treasurer, who comprise the board, and assembled dignitaries and guests, Papenfuse introduced the measure, saying, "Private property is at the heart of the American dream …people have the right and the opportunity to acquire private property… the idea is that you have to clarify title and make sure that the property is truly vacant."
According to the recording of the last week's board of public works meeting, Papenfuse described the process, and noted that "The proceeds from this particular land patent will be put toward further education, internship programs and such, so that people can continue to understand the value and wealth of Maryland's history!"