Discovering Eaglehead, Part 2

April 2nd, 2014 No Comments

JWB: Coming of Age

by Charissa Roberson

It was summer, and I was six years old.

The thunder of the water over the dam echoed in my ears as I clambered up the side of a large rock, my hands and feet finding the familiar holds. I hauled myself up to the top with a grunt of exertion, and settled into the nook that formed a perfect seat. The lake lay beneath me, the surface rippling and dancing, and all around blew the sweet summer air. With a child’s inability to sit still, I soon slipped my legs over the edge of the rock and slid down to the ground again. I ran my hand over the carven letters, deep grooves in the grey stone. I liked the feeling of the words under my hand; I had seen them many times, and neither knew nor cared what they said. In my eyes the rock was merely a perch, a rocky foundation from which to look out over the lakes and trees—my home—from a new perspective. It was my favorite spot to sit…and see.

Dedicated to the memory of our father, J. William Brosius, who fostered in us – through his imagination, professional building ability, sense of responsibility and self-reliance – the spirit which infuses Lake Linganore at Eaglehead.

J. William Brosius L. J. Brosius

October 26, 1972

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Visit the Rock Memorial at the Brosius Dam. Head south on Eaglehead Drive (towards Woodridge Village), then park at the dam and walk a short distance down the Lake Trail, to the edge of the main lake.

These are the words engraved on a huge piece of granite that marks your arrival at the Brosius Dam. I had never really thought about the words. The monument was a piece of my childhood, a climbing rock, a seat. I had seen it so many times that it tended to blend into the background. Isn’t that what often happens? You see something enough and you cease to wonder about it—where it came from, why it’s there, what its purpose might be. That is what I don’t want to happen to the words on the Brosius rock, and the history that is all around us here in Lake Linganore.

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From Left: Louise Brosius and toddler Billy, c.1921. Barn at the Thurston Road farm, c.1928.

The story begins almost a century ago, in Frederick County, on a farm near the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain. It was November 5th, 1919, and a baby boy was born to John William Brosius (Willie) and his wife, Louise. They named their firstborn son John William Brosius, Jr. (Bill).

For the first two years of his life, Bill grew up in a little farmhouse on Thurston Road across the street from the farm where his mother had been born and raised. Willie and Louise worked hard to make their farm successful, but the soil on their property continued to prove unproductive. Eventually Bill’s father moved the family off the farm and took a job as the superintendent of construction for M . J . Grove Lime Company. Not long afterward, the family moved to Adamstown to provide care for Louise’s father, following the death of her mother. It was there, in his grandparents’ home, that Bill spent the rest of his childhood, joined on August 27, 1922, by his brother and lifelong partner, Louie Jarboe Brosius. The Brosius homestead was a happy place. Bill fondly remembers his parents’ sweet marital relationship, and writes that his “most remembered view of them together was standing with arms entwined in a big hug.”

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From Left: Adamstown house, c.1935. Billy Brosius in a tree, c.1922. Brosius and Davis siblings atop Sugarloaf Mountain, c.1910.

Though without a farm of their own, farming remained an integral part of Bill’s and Lou’s lives. The two brothers would visit their uncles’ farms whenever they could, working alongside their cousins to make hay, harvest wheat, and thin corn, often for no pay. On Sundays and holidays, the Brosius kin would frequently gather at a family farm for dinners and fellowship, opportunities which gave Bill and Lou time to become fast friends with their 35 cousins. Bill’s favorite memories of playing on the farms included running barefoot, riding horses, and sitting high on the shoulders of the field-workers—as well as building little “dams” of twigs on the creek, which he writes as possibly being “a premonition of later acts.”

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Family Reunion of the Brosius side of family, c.1930. Bill is the young blond boy left of center, a couple of rows behind the man at center with crossed legs. See Bill in between a woman in a white hat (to his left), and a woman in a black hat (to his right).

Bill greatly enjoyed taking care of his own little “farm”—the family garden, which took up most of their home’s backyard. He was in charge of planting and tending the vegetables, and could often be found digging in the soil when other boys would be off playing ball.

Bill also loved reading. His favorite book as a child was Swiss Family Robinson, a tale of adventure, survival and ingenuity. He was constantly caught reading in his classroom—when he got bored, “which was most of the time”—for which he was repeatedly admonished. “Billy, put that book away!” his teacher would scold.

From age eight, Bill “went to work” with his father on non-school days, which meant getting up at 5 or 6 am and tagging along to wherever he might be working that day. When Bill was fourteen he started official summer work for his father’s company as a water-boy, and in subsequent summers moved up to timekeeper, and then on to helping with bridge construction jobs, where he “learned a lot about construction.” He wrote that this work was “always fun. I loved doing it.” Because of these opportunities to work alongside his father and observe his work ethic, Bill came to be greatly influenced by his father’s skill and sense of responsibility.

During his years at Frederick High School, Bill specialized in vocational agriculture and joined Future Farmers of America, becoming a state champion poultry judge, as well as a champion judge of horses and dairy cows. He also regularly attended all the “big dances” at school, having received dance instruction—along with his brother—from a talented relative. He graduated from high school with honors at the age of 16 and a half in 1936.

Bill’s dream was to become a farmer. He desired to pursue a college education in Agricultural Economics, but was unable to acquire the money necessary. Fortunately, the Brosius’s family doctor took note of Bill’s capability and provided him with scholarship funds to attend the University of Maryland. Bill’s budding potential flourished, and he graduated from the university at age twenty with a Bachelor of Science degree. He was a Phi Kappa Phi scholar—the top student in the College of Agriculture.

In the spring of his senior year, Bill and a group of six from the College of Agriculture applied for job interviews at the head office of Southern States Cooperative (SSC), located in Richmond, Virginia. All of the students received job offers—except for Bill. Undeterred, he called the Personnel Manager and “with an air of protest asked, why?” The company had thought him too young for a job leading to a management position; but apparently Bill’s argument was convincing, because SSC gave him a job paying $125 a month. This was at a time when engineers graduating the same year were getting a maximum of $90 a month. Bill joined the ranks of SSC and quickly progressed to District Manager, overseeing operations across seven counties at 21 years old. Despite his success with SSC, Bill eventually began expressing his interest in having a farm of his own. Whenever he mentioned the possibility of a career change, however, his SSC employers would swiftly offer him a higher position, desperately wanting him to stay on.

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From left: Bill, Louise, Willie and Lou. At Bill’s graduation from University of Maryland. Bill in New Guinea, c.1944.

Then came an event that changed history—the history of Bill Brosius, and of the world. On December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Bill, now 22 years old, was a prime pick for the draft. But because he was serving in the agricultural industry, which was vital to the success of the war effort, he was eligible for a deferment, which his employer asked him to seek. Bill could stay out of the war and continue working for SSC. Or he could volunteer. After a long talk with his parents over the Christmas holidays, he volunteered for service in the Army Air Corps and on January 16th, 1942, Bill’s military service began. His brother, Lou, also joined later, serving in Marine Aviation.

Bill had wanted to be a pilot. But hay-fever and positive reactions to 37 allergy tests resulted in his being assigned to Statistical Control. After intensive training at Harvard Business School, where he received the equivalent of a master’s degree, Bill became a Statistical Officer with the 22nd Bomb Group, stationed in Australia and later in New Guinea.

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Merle in her Red Cross Uniform, in a park when Bill first met her. This photo was taken in 1943, when acquiring film was very difficult. Note the interesting stamp on the back of Merle’s photos (see at left). This is the censor’s stamp of approval for the photo to be taken out of the war zone to the United States.

In 1943, while Bill was on R&R in Sydney, Australia, a young woman working for the Red Cross caught his eye: Merle Fair. She was known locally as a “knock-out”—an American military plane had been named the “Fair Merle” after her! Bill asked her out; she declined. This cycle repeated several times before Merle finally agreed to go to dinner with Bill—after one of her girlfriends told her that he was a nice man and also a very good dancer. On their first dinner date, a friend asked to be introduced to Bill, and Merle was suddenly unable to recall her date’s name. Bill supplied her with the mnemonic “Captain Ferocious,” which Merle quickly passed on to her friend. (This humorous incident remained a favorite memory of Bill and Merle’s.)

Shortly after the night of dinner and dancing, Bill’s R&R in Sydney ended, and he returned to New Guinea. But Merle had worked her charm on him, and Bill knew he would have to see her again. So he approached his commanding officer with the idea of compiling a book called The Marauder, a memoir of the 22nd Bomb Group. The Colonel was all for it. Bill wrote, edited and designed The Marauder, and when the book was finished, he was given a Temporary Duty Order to get it published at the nearest printer—in Sydney! As plotted, he was able to meet up with Merle again. But at this point, Bill’s carefully laid plans took an unforeseen turn. He had arrived just before Merle was set to leave for New Caledonia on a new assignment with the Red Cross. After just a few days, Merle was gone, leaving Bill alone with several weeks of leave all to himself. While they were separated, Bill and Merle began a correspondence relationship which they maintained for the rest of the war. Merle was impressed by his writing, noting that he seemed to be a very honest and intelligent fellow and to have so much more “on the ball that others didn’t have.”

In October, 1944, Bill received orders to attend Princeton University to receive instruction in Civil Affairs Training for the Far East, in anticipation of the occupational government in Japan. Merle thought she would never hear from Bill again. But after completing the required master’s level coursework, Bill asked Merle to meet him in San Francisco, where he was awaiting his departure for Japan. Unbeknownst to him, Merle agreed, figuring that—if nothing more—it would be a good opportunity to visit America. By way of much resourcefulness and determination, Merle made it to America, arriving in port as a guest (along with two other ladies) aboard a U.S. Navy ship transporting approximately 2000 returning troops.

Though Merle had no contact information for Bill, she was able to connect with one of his military friends, and they conspired to arrange a surprise meeting with Bill. While Bill was enjoying dinner with the friend, Merle walked through the door. Bill was astonished; he thought Merle had forgotten all about him. They shared their first kiss then, got engaged, and ten days later were married on September 6th, 1945, at the Del Monte Chapel in Monterey, California. Despite the short notice, Bill’s mother was able to travel from Maryland to attend the wedding, although unaccompanied by her beloved husband, Willie. Just two and a half months earlier, Willie had been involved in a construction accident, and tragically, the ambulance carrying him to the hospital had crashed en route. Willie passed away two days later on June 17th, 1945, with Louise by his side. Willie and Louise had been happily married for 35 years.

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Bill and Merle’s wedding in Carmel, California on September 6, 1945.

Due to Bill’s scheduled deployment, Bill and Merle had expected to begin their marriage separated from one another. However, in the midst of their wedding preparations, Bill discovered that a friend had secretly removed his name from the list of servicemen being shipped out to Japan. Subsequently, with the war coming to an end and fewer officers required, Bill decided to resign from active duty and settle down with his new wife.

The first morning of Bill and Merle’s honeymoon, Bill began to talk about his plans for their future—namely, acquiring the farm his father had picked out for him and starting on his lifelong dream of being a farmer. Merle—beautiful, classy, and elegant—was shocked. Living on a farm? Unbelievable! And she said so—she could not be a farmer’s wife. Bill, in turn, was taken aback. Not be a farmer? He had never imagined anything else! But Merle came first. The next thing Bill knew, he was entirely re-thinking his life plans.

After officially resigning his commission in mid-January, 1946, Bill and Merle moved to downtown Frederick and rented an apartment on Market Street. Bill picked up a job selling Safe-T-Seal auto ignition sealant. This was a hum-drum existence for such an ambitious character, and when sales dropped, he dropped the job. Now Bill had to ask himself—what else, besides farming, did he enjoy doing? He thought back to the construction jobs with his father, the “fun work” he had loved. Perhaps, like his father, he could succeed in a construction career.

At that time, United Clay Products was marketing army Quonset huts as effective and affordable buildings for farmers. Bill’s interest was sparked. He obtained a dealership with the company and began marketing the packaged structures. Bill soon realized that in order to sell the structures, he had to offer the service of erecting them. In partnership with his brother, Lou, who had recently been discharged from the military, Bill organized and managed a crew that would assemble the purchased huts for their customers.

“And so,” writes Bill, “I became a builder.”

It was then, with a new purpose and a new plan, that Bill Brosius set his course on the road that would eventually lead him to the development of Lake Linganore at Eaglehead.

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