The History of
Pictured: The Ritchie Boys
Visitors of Fort Ritchie often note the resort-like atmosphere this former mountain Army Post has to offer; some may also ask why the United States Army initially selected Cascade, Maryland. The answer, like many elements in history, comes back to geography. In 1889, the Buena Vista Ice Company selected the site because of its high elevation which would prevent their ice from melting quickly. From there, ice was transported to large cities like Baltimore and Washington. The manmade Lake Royer was one of the southernmost ice-producing lakes in the United States. Unfortunately, soot from steam engines continuously contaminated the ice which caused Buena Vista to utilize the Lake Wastler, an upper lake near Royer. Both lakes are still used for recreational purposes to this day. When natural cut ice lost its appeal, the Ice Company went out of business, and in 1926 the Ritchie was selected and bought by the Maryland National Guard for $60,000 because of its proximity to Washington and the existing rail and telegraph line put in place by the Western Maryland Railroad and Buena Vista. Its name came from the sitting Governor of Maryland at the time – Albert Ritchie.
Robert Barrick was a Promising World War I Officer, who eventually rose to the rank of Colonel, Barrick was chosen solely on the skill seen in him by Major General Milton Reckord. Barrick had no engineering knowledge whatsoever and only possessed a seventh-grade education, but his self-taught skills have stood the test of time. All stone buildings located at Fort Ritchie today were designed by Barrick and were constructed with local stones from Cascade in an effort to make the cost of creating the reserve more attractive to the State of Maryland. For sixteen years, the National Guard used Ritchie to organize its domestic protectors.
Pictured: Robert Barrick
As Europe fell deeper into turmoil, the threatening writing on the wall became evident; Jewish families began sending their children, often their eldest sons, to the United States to live with relatives or sponsors however possible. While the situation in their home countries worsened, these new immigrants grew up in the proverbial land of dreams, adapting to their new country, and seeking out ways to maintain their religion, language, and culture. As they grew older, a good number of these Jewish Immigrants, not yet American citizens, enlisted in various branches of the military including the United States Army.
The December 7, 1941 attack of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese effectively ended Roosevelt’s 1940 campaign promise of staying out of foreign wars. Thus, Ritchie was upgraded from a National Guard Reserve to an official Army Post, which not only specialized in top-secret military intelligence training but took in thousands of Jewish refugees whose linguistic and geographic knowledge would be the lynchpin allowing them to best serve their country and obtain US citizenship.
The United States Army rapidly recognized they had thousands of special assets on their hands in the form of soldiers who understood the language of the enemy as well as an intimate understanding of the geography, people, and culture of Europe. Many of these privates were transferred without any knowledge of their destination. They arrived at the gates of Camp Ritchie in Cascade, Maryland to find they were assigned to the Military Intelligence Training Center and were in for some of the most intense training of their lives. These men trained at Ritchie’s Military Intelligence Training Center training from learning Morse code, analyzing aerial photography, psychological warfare, and close combat training. Perhaps more than anything, language was at the forefront of their training. These men fought in every major battle in Europe during the Second World War and it is estimated that more than 60% of all intelligence gathered during the war was secured by a Ritchie Boy; a feat which no doubt ended the war rapidly and saved an uncounted number of lives.
The Ritchie Boy story has, in recent years, become of growing importance to the United States and Global history. Additionally, Ritchie produced some highly notable soldiers who went on to have large impacts on American culture including Archibald Roosevelt – the Son of President Theodore Roosevelt, David Rockefeller - Executive Director of Chase and son of Mogul John D. Rockefeller, J.D. Salinger - the author of 'Catcher and the Rye', John Chafee - Former Governor of Rhode Island, John Kluge - The Wealthiest Man in the United States in 1990, Ralph H. Baer - Credited with inventing home video game consoles, Richard Schifter - Assistant Secretary of State under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and many others too lengthy to include.
Following World War II, Camp Ritchie was upgraded to the more permanent status of Fort Ritchie and actively trained soldiers to protect the United States through a variety of training and ultimately sent soldiers to every conflict from Korea to the Gulf War. Fort Ritchie, in particular, was a very important military location in the 1990's because its Network Operations Center (NOC) was used for AI detection of any potential technological hacks, and was able to isolate any intrusions of national security. In 1998, Fort Ritchie was closed by the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) which set out to save federal funds. While Fort Ritchie has fallen on hard times since its closure, Ritchie Revival is taking very calculated and specific steps to ensure that the Fort comes back better than ever. Perhaps more than anything, community and local involvement is at the heart of its revitalization. A museum and educational center are in the process of being established to ensure that the history of Ritchie is never forgotten and that all those who have a connection to the Fort will have a place they can always fondly come back to and be able to recollect on the positive memories and experiences they had on the mountain.
Written By Landon Grove