PORT DEPOSIT — Nestled deep within the sprawling Bainbridge property, on a bluff overlooking the Susquehanna River, is the site of former Tome School for Boys — a prep school with a list of distinguished graduates that includes R.J. Reyolds, Jr., son of the cigarette mogul, and members of Mellon and Carnegie families.
The school, which became part of the Bainbridge Naval Center, now lays fallow.
But even so, the dilapidated granite buildings dotting what was once a thriving campus still, somehow, appear stately, reflecting the bold design of William A. Boring and Edwin L. Tilton, the same architects whose long list of projects includes the U.S. Immigration Station on Ellis Island.
“You can’t see this from the road. It’s hidden,” said Toni Lozzi, project coordinator for the Bainbridge Development Corporation, referring to the magnificent buildings, which are included in the historical registry.
The future of those buildings remains a question mark, with a long list of stumbling blocks, including environmental concerns, standing in the way of possible restoration and repurposing someday.
On Saturday, a huge crew of hard-working volunteers, including 60 members of the Perryville High School varsity and junior varsity lacrosse teams, were able to see the grand structures up close while tackling a cleanup project as part of the 14th annual River Sweep.
Specifically, they focused on another noteworthy section of the erstwhile campus — the Italian Garden, envisioned and created by Frederick Law Olmstead, Sr., the same landscape designer whose credits include Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City.
“It’s a part of history and its around us,” said 15-year-old Shaun Vines, a freshman member of the PHS varsity lacrosse team. “This is hard work, but the outcome will be worth it.”
Several of Shaun’s teammates also marveled at the grandeur surrounding them as they raked and bagged leaves and hauled brush to the bed of a truck.
“I’m really proud of them for having an understanding of giving back to the community and for having an appreciation of the history here. There is a lot of history here,” said their lacrosse coach, Brandon Townsend.
This marks the first year that Tome School was a designated site among the River Sweep projects, according to Mary Ann Lisanti, executive director of Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, which has hosted River Sweep every year since 2000.
“Bainbridge is within our heritage area and there’s actually a creek that goes through the property. Rock Run eventually ends up in the river,” Lisanti explained earlier this month, adding, “Water sees no boundaries. If you clean up the creeks and the streams, eventually you’ll have a clean river.”
In addition to the Tome School, cleanups occurred at several other Cecil County locations including parks in Perryville and Port Deposit, Octoraro Creek in Conowingo, the Perryville boat launch and Garrett Island. The cleaning of trash and debris also took place at Tydings Park in Havre de Grace.
Counting the 250 that turned out Friday to clean Principio Creek, a total of more than 650 volunteers worked at those sites, and they hauled away more than 110 cubic yards of debris — with each cubic yard translating to a Dumpster load, according to Lisanti. About 40 cubic yards, equating to two tons of debris, came from the Perryville sites, she reported. The list of collected debris included a refrigerator, at least 10 compressed air tanks and nearly a dozen tires, Lisanti noted.
“It was a big day. We had great support from the community, and I’m really grateful for their environmental stewardship,” Lisanti said.
Lozzi also is grateful that the old Tome School reaped the benefits of volunteers wanting to do their parts to protect the environment.
“The Tome School came into the mix this year because there is an understanding that protecting the river goes outside of the river itself. If we really want to protect the river we need to also focus on the areas around it. Everything around the river can travel down and enter the water after time and with weather conditions,” Lozzi noted.
By midday Saturday, volunteers at the Tome School site had filled 34 bright yellow, 45-gallon plastic garbage bags with leaves and debris after several hours of raking and collecting. They also heaped brush, including bulky pieces of trees, onto a dump truck, which hauled away four loads throughout the day.
“Nothing was thrown away,” Lozzi said, explaining that organic stuff, such as leaves and brush, will be redistributed to other parts of the property to serve other purposes, such as natural habitats for critters.
Lozzi expressed her appreciation for the youth that participated.
“The Perryville lacrosse team was a huge help. Without them, a lot of the larger work could not have gotten done. The team and their coaches worked extremely hard and were a joy to be around. We are so grateful for their participation,” Lozzi said.
It’s Lozzi’s hope that they return for future cleanups, she said.
Moreover, she added, it is her hope that other Cecil County students and athletes will turn out for future cleanups to compile some mandatory community service hours, which is what the PHS lacrosse players gained from Saturday’s endeavor.
There were other reasons that volunteers participated in the Tome School cleanup on Saturday.
“It’s the right thing to do, helping out the community,” said Mary Smith, of Rising Sun, a three-year River Sweep veteran who, since 2012, has been bringing her son, Nathaniel, now 5, to the annual event. “I want to instill in him a sense of volunteerism.”
Cecil County Councilwoman Diana Broomell and her husband, Mark, also chipped in on the Tome School cleanup, citing a personal nostalgia as one of her reasons for taking part. It was a homecoming of sorts for Broomell.
“We were one of the last families to move out of Bainbridge,” she said, referring to the property that once served as a U.S. naval training center until it closed in 1974.
She, too, cited the historic significance of the old Tome School and its surrounding property, reverently list names like Mellon, Carnegie, Olmstead and Boring and Tilton when she spoke about the place.
“We want to bring recognition to the history here,” Broomell said, explaining that an increase in public awareness could result in grants and campaigns to restore the granite buildings and to find viable uses for them.
It’s her fear that, without community involvement, what once stood as immaculate buildings at the old Tome School site could someday crumble or be razed.
“This could be demolition by neglect,” Broomell said.
But for now, with the major cleanup accomplished at the old Tome School on Saturday, steps are heading in the right direction.
“This is a beautiful location, and it got some much needed tender loving care today,” Lozzi said, referring to the still stunning, ensconced former Tome School and then adding, “I feel the doors to this place have been opened a little more today.”