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Jumping to Conclusions

Digging up the origin of Jumpers Hole Road led to a few facts and plenty of fiction

Part of our What’s With That series has been a challenge to you, dear reader. We invite you to write in your queries, with the promise of an upcoming solution in our pages. 

Turns out, this was a foolish assertion. 

Pat Nesbit of Arnold wrote seeking the origin of the name Jumpers Hole Road. After a day of research, I got a bad feeling that I was about to be stumped.

I was. 

The simple answer is this: There is no definite, provable origin to Jumpers Hole Road. But I sure had fun stumping local historians. 

What I can report accurately is this: Jumpers Hole Road stretches from Pasadena to Severna Park, originally ending at a ferry landing by the Severn River.

“I know a little about Jumpers Hole but I don’t know where the name came from,” says Anne Arundel County archeologist and Lost Towns project director Dr. Al Luckenbach. “It was the predecessor of Ritchie Highway. There was a ferry, and the road actually continued onto the other side of the Severn River.” 

Perhaps the name refers to jumping the Severn River via ferry. But then why not name the road Jumpers River?

“I also asked Donna Ware,” county historic sites planner, offers Luckenbach. “She didn’t know either.”

Join the club. It’s got a pretty long and distinguished members list.

In 1983, Jack Melon, who wrote The Capital column Anne Arundel Vignettes, reported finding an 1802 Maryland legislative document that mentioned Jumpers Hole Road in connection with a ferry at the head of the Severn River.

A good bit of research, but no origin story. 

The Maryland Historical Society couldn’t find the document that Melon had referenced, directing me to my local research standby The Ann Arrundell Historical Society. 

Mark Schatz, a researcher at the Kuethe Library and editor of the Ann Arrundell Historical Society’s History Notes newsletter, commiserated on my failure. 

“The answer is,” Schatz recalled, “that no one knows how it got that name.”

How does Schatz know that? His associate editor at History Notes, Fred Fetrow, made the same search in 1989. What Fetrow found was that while everyone had a story, no one could provide a fact. 

The common explanation, which seems to be neighborhood lore, relates back to the ferry. The story goes that merchants relied on the ferry to transport casks of tobacco across the Severn River. Instead of attempting to lead a horse and cart down the notoriously potholed road, the merchants rolled the casks to the ferry landing. On their journey, the casks jumped every pothole on the road. 

It’s a great story, but not provable fact. Fetrow also sited some more outlandish explanations: The road was named Jumpers because a large rabbit population lived in the woods. Some contend it was a healthy frog populous that earned the Jumpers moniker. Maybe it was horses from a farm nearby. Fetrow’s article admits defeat.

This colorful ambiguity is fantastic for a county folklorist but frustrating for a historian who longs for a bit of fact with fiction. It’s even more maddening for a reporter who knows that Pat Nesbit is waiting for an answer. 

Here’s what Schatz offered in the way of fact:

In January 12, 1805, the General Assembly of Maryland appointed Charles Waters, Zachariah Duvall Jr., Henry Duvall, Oliver Cromwell and Abner Linthicum as the commissioners of a survey for the construction of a road. 

“Not exceeding 30-feet in width, in the most convenient direction from a landing on the north side of Severn River, called and known by the name Jumper’s Hole, along through the neighbourhood of the widow Mary Johnson’s, and thence the most convenient route to a landing known by the name of Ashpaw’s Landing on the east side fork of Curtis’s Creek, called Marley Creek.”

Do you have the answer? Or a What’s with That query? Email diana@bayweekly.com.