An Abbreviated History
Updated Excerpts from "A Dream Realized"
The Calvert Cliffs rim the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay from Herring Bay to Drum Point, a distance of some 25 miles. In many places, they tower 100 to 130 feet above the level of the Bay. As geologists reckon time, the Cliffs are relatively young. To most others they seem impressively ancient - they contain exposed fossil deposits from the Miocene period 10 to 16 million years old.
In 1935, G. Flippo Gravatt and his wife Annie, both forest pathologists in the Department of Agriculture, were seeking a suitable site for the establishment of a summer colony for scientists and professional people of kindred spirit. On examining the present site of Scientistsʹ Cliffs, Mr. Gravatt was attracted by the natural unspoiled beauty of trees, streams, cliffs and the view across the Bay. There was also the unusual nature of the Cliffs with their fossil remains dating back millions of years.
Mr. and Mrs. Gravatt decided that here they had found what they were seeking. On July 25, 1935, Flippo purchased 238 acres from Marmaduke White. Between 1936 and 1961 Flippo, his wife Annie, and his sister, Margaret Miles, purchased additional land bringing the total to over 752 acres. In the autumn of 1935, a number of colleagues joined the Gravatts for a day of picnicking and congeniality. There were speeches and a dedication. The name ʺScientistsʹ Cliffsʺ was given to the area. Mrs. Gravatt called it ʺFlippoʹs Follyʺ and Mr. Gravatt recalled that ʺthis name stuck for a while.ʺ
Development began at once. The construction of Chestnut Cabin, long the center of Scientistsʹ Cliffs activities, was started that fall and completed in the spring of 1936. Five smaller cabins were built nearby and later several larger ones. The first yearʹs operations were on a day‐visit and rental basis. When the first purchaser came along in 1936 the colony began to grow.
An association of homesite owners was formed in 1937. The association was incorporated as The Scientistsʹ Cliffs Association under the General Incorporation Laws of the State of Maryland on September 4, 1937. A constitution and bylaws were adopted in 1938. Mr. Gravattʹs original idea was that only scientists would be eligible for membership. Later this was broadened to include all college graduates and then extended to those who had achieved recognized status in their profession without college degrees.
In working out the organization of the Association, disagreements arose but none proved insuperable. They were simply talked out. Itʹs done the same way to this day when Association members meet in the spring and fall at the Community Building. Sometimes the debate grows lively, the oratory intense, but in the end decisions are reached. Essentially the atmosphere of a New England town meeting is transferred to the tobacco country of Southern Maryland.
The Association has grown to 437 members by yearend 2008. There are 244 cabins and houses, and 42 families have bought lots with the expectation of building. The membership of the Association is composed of a list of which Cliff dwellers are proud. More than sixty careers are represented within the Association ranging from Accounting to Zoology.
The stated aims of the Association are to promote an interest in the natural sciences, preserve fossil deposits and provide a museum for them, establish a library, preserve wildlife areas and provide lectures and field trips.
Since the beginning of Scientistsʹ Cliffs, the Gravatts had been interested particularly in new members who liked to grow plants and they encouraged such activity in various ways. The roads have even been given the names of plants and trees. All those within Gate A start with the letter A, and this pattern is followed through gates B, C, D and E.
Teenagers at the Cliffs have an organization of their own, the Junior Cliff Dwellers. Organized in 1947, and limited to young people between the ages of 13 and 19, the JCDs not only plan programs for their own amusement but also make substantial contributions to the community. In recognition of the services of youthful residents of the community, the Association amended its Bylaws to make 16‐year‐old sons and daughters of members eligible for associate membership.
In 1943, Henry Allanson became the first year‐round resident of Scientistsʹ Cliffs. Now, about 120 houses are occupied year round. World War II slowed the growth of the community temporarily and created problems for those who already were members. The first was that of gasoline. Anyone who had saved up enough gas for a trip from Washington arrived with a loaded car - loaded not only with supplies but also with less fortunate Cliff dwellers. The Friday evening bus from Washington to Solomons Island was jammed as far as Port Republic, the stop for Scientistsʹ Cliffs.
A number of members rented their cabins to officers stationed at Solomons Island. Throughout the war, some of the scientists among the membership were scattered to far places working on defense assignments. Many others were in the military service. When peace arrived and war‐time shortages ended, Scientistsʹ Cliffs experienced a building boom. During the 1950s, the number of cabins more than doubled.
The Community Building at Scientistsʹ Cliffs was built in memory of ʺUncle Joeʺ, Flippo Gravattʹs uncle and the brother of an equally remarkable person - Inez ʺGranʺ Gravatt, who died at the age of 104 years and 9 months on March 15, 1965. Flippo Gravatt turned to Uncle Joe for help when Scientistsʹ Cliffs began to burgeon with people and problems. Uncle Joe took on the job as beach manager and assistant extra‐ordinary to the Gravatts. Usually Uncle Joe was dressed much as he is in the portrait that hangs in the Community Building.
When Uncle Joe died after 8 seasons at the Cliffs, he was missed so acutely that at once a question arose of how to keep his memory alive. Uncle Joeʹs brother, E. Linwood Flippo, offered the Association $15,000 to help finance a community building in memory of his brother. A tract of land was deeded to the Association by Annie and Flippo Gravatt. The Community Building was dedicated on July 4, 1948. It has become a center for both community business and community pleasure.
Flippo Gravatt died May 19, 1969. After his death, Annie continued to live in Chestnut Cabin until her death on May 18, 1986. Annie willed Chestnut Cabin to the Association. New Chestnut is used for an adult center and meeting place while Old Chestnut is an attractive museum.
When only a handful of people occupied the Cliffs, it was possible to rely on sketchy, improvised facilities and volunteer help. As the community grew, however, it became clear that improvisation would not be enough. The Board of Directors of the Association recommended the creation of a Scientistsʹ Cliffs Service Company.
The Scientistsʹ Cliffs Service Company was incorporated on June 29, 1961 and bought the water system from Mr. Gravatt the same year. The first superintendent began his duties at the Cliffs on March 15, 1962. His duties were to operate the water system, to maintain the community roads, bridges, ravines, jetties and Community House, to provide for trash and garbage collection and to perform such other services as were deemed necessary.
Despite the usefulness of the Service Company, in 1982 the SCA Board of Directors concluded that the reasons underlying its formation as a separate corporate entity within the Scientistsʹ Cliffs community were no longer compelling, and that economies of time would be achieved and duplication of effort eliminated if the Service Company was merged with the SCA. The merger was approved by the memberships of both corporations in the Fall of 1982 and became effective on January 1, 1983.
Later, as the job became more extensive, including the upgrading and replacement of the water system, a Community Administrator was hired. The Community Administrator reports to the Associationʹs Board of Directors and is responsible for the day‐to‐day operations of the community.
For years residents of the Cliffs have cherished the Bay for the view and, of course, for boating, fishing, water‐skiing and swimming. The view remains unimpaired, as does the boating, and much of the time fishing and water‐skiing, but not always the swimming. In midsummer, the sea nettles take over and make swimming impossible. Accordingly, the swimmers of the community had long hoped and worked for a swimming pool. Committee after committee was organized to plan and promote a pool. The advantages and disadvantages were aired, sometimes vehemently. Prospects for a pool seemed very dim for many years. Then two things happened: Annie Gravatt offered land for the pool, and Dr. Jeanne Bateman offered a large sum of money for the swimming pool fund. Their generosity inspired a large majority of the membership to add supplementary contributions. The pool finally became a reality in 1975.
In 1985, the Association bought approximately 150 acres of land from Annie Gravatt for $150,000.00. This purchase consolidated the boundaries of Scientistsʹ Cliffs and resolved questions of the ownership of roads, ravines, parks and beach. The remaining 456 acres of the original farms is now owned by the American Chestnut Land Trust, which completed the purchase in 1988.
In 1987, Scientistsʹ Cliffs Association celebrated its golden anniversary with three days of activities and the publication of a history booklet entitled ʺA Dream Realizedʺ. In 1992, the Association voted to place all the land owned by it, except for the superintendentʹs house, in Open Space, thus preserving the natural habitat forever.