Local history buffs will know that Fort Ritchie was initially owned by the Buena Vista Ice company, which built Lakes Royer and Wastler in 1815 to establish the southernmost ice plant in the United States. Most of the historic buildings were built between 1926 and 1935, using fieldstone collected locally, after the Maryland National Guard purchased the property. This site later went from a National Guard facility to an Army intelligence training center, then to a secure communications post until the base closure in 1998.
Overall protection of the Historic District within Fort Ritchie is an important priority. Preservation and restoration of the 64 historic buildings is a priority to the local community and the men and women who served here over the years.
Fort Ritchie Through the Decades
1815: The Buena Vista Ice Company was formed at the site, and two man-made lakes were constructed. The company harvested tens of thousands of tons of ice from the lakes and shipped it to Philadelphia, Washington, and points south via local railroad.
Late 1800s: The property was a booming summer resort town. Railroads brought residents of Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh to bucolic Cascade, Maryland, for a refreshing respite from the summer heat.
1926: The Maryland National Guard selected the site now known as Fort Ritchie as a new training site for the Guard. The Guard invested $63,000 for infrastructure, houses, a target range and warehouses, and named Fort Ritchie for Maryland Governor Albert C. Ritchie (1920-1935).
1941: During World War II, Fort Ritchie became the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Training Center, the first time in the history of the U.S. military that it had a facility for this type of centralized intelligence training. The Army found the site appealing for intelligence training because of its proximity to Washington, DC, its remote location, and because the physical features of the camp and surrounding terrain were conducive to training. Once soldiers arrived, they were told not to identify themselves as “military intelligence” to anyone, not even their families. Thousands lived and worked at Fort Ritchie during World War II. The Army conducted signal intelligence training, instruction regarding interrogation techniques and close-combat training (in a mock German village constructed at the site) throughout the war. More than 10,000 students graduated from the Army’s intelligence program at Fort Ritchie by the end of the war.
1947: At the end of World War II, the Army returned Fort Ritchie to the State of Maryland, and the administration decided to make the former Army installation a hospital to treat chronic diseases. In June of 1951, Maryland sold Fort Ritchie to the federal government for $2.35 million.
1950: President Truman approved Fort Ritchie as a support site for a national military command center.
1960-1980: Fort Ritchie continued to provide communications-electronics functions for various Army commands.
1998: Fort Ritchie was closed as a result of the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure program, or BRAC – the congressionally authorized process the U.S. Department of Defense uses to reorganize its base structure to more efficiently and effectively support its military forces, increase operational readiness and facilitate new ways of doing business.
2006: Ownership of Fort Ritchie transfers from the US Army to PenMar Development Corporation (PMDC) and then to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT).
2007: COPT begins construction of the first new building, a community center with facilities for Fort Ritchie and surrounding area residents.
2012: Fort Ritchie returns to the hands of PenMar Development Corporation
“The Ritchie Boys” Documentary
Fort Ritchie is the subject of a 2004 documentary, “The Ritchie Boys,” by German filmmaker Christian Bauer. The Oscar-nominated film tells the story of a group of German Jewish men who fled the Nazis and volunteered with the U.S. military to return to Europe and fight the Nazis. The soldiers were trained in intelligence and interrogation at Fort Ritchie, which was then known as Camp Ritchie. More information about the film can be found at RitchieBoys.com