Westover’s Camp Somerset

Camp Somerset still exists, perhaps not in name, but as a continuing historical legacy.  If you look to the right as you drive north along Route 13, just south of the exit towards Crisfield, you will see the remnants of a larger migrant camp.  There may have been changes in buildings and operations (and I do not know those changes), but it still exists, continuing a tradition of migratory labor. There is a lot of history to this place, much of it I do not know.  Once about 7 or 8 years ago, my father was visiting and I drove him to the camp.  It is largely a camp of hispanic migrant workers, from what I was guessing.  But my father had become fluent in spanish and loved to get to know people.  So I sat in my car, watching my father go up to a group of people assembled outside and talk.  Then I saw him walk about the place.  I often remember this.  And I also vaguely remember my father decades ago mentioning the migrant camps, how he and others took musical instruments into the camps.  I wish I had paid more attention to his stories.

According to the website Delmar DustPan, at http://delmardustpan.blogspot.com/2007/07/camp-somerset.html Camp Somerset began as a Civilian Conservation Corp camp in 1935.

The following description of Camp Somerset is taken from “Migrant Workers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” a June 1983 report of the Maryland Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, describing conditions of different migrant camps throughout the state at that time.

Westover Labor Camp located in Somerset County south of Princess Anne Maryland, is one of the largest of the migrant camps in operation on the East Coast…. Westover is a sprawling complex of two dozen barracks-type buildings, separated by stretches of grass and dirt roads. Families live in single-room units without running water. Most units have refrigerators and small gas plates for cooking; sometimes doors, sometimes not. The single window is sometimes screened, sometimes not. Latrines offer stools without stalls, gang showers with no privacy, grime-crusted lavatories.

Just as prisons, Ghettos, and sin strips have their own notoriety, the complex of long, gray weather-beaten buildings along the highway … has achieved a special renown. Past the cree where people fill their jugs with drinking water, up the dusty road past the signs that warn visitors away, around the ditches filled with stagnant water and the gaping bins of garbage, this is the Westover farm labor camp.

The Westover camp, once a World War II holding pen for German prisoners, has acquired such notoriety that migrants from as far away as Texas refuse to stay there.

It is the biggest and most infamous among dozens of rundown caps amid the fecund vegetable fields on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Maryland’s Commission on Migratory and Seasonal Farm Labor is so exercised about Westover that it wants Governor Harry Hughes to close the place.

Today it is much likely a lot different from the days of the Civilian Conservation Corp, its time as a prisoner of war camp, and the earlier days of migrant labor.  The image shown below is a 2009 photograph of the camp, from an internet website called “The Devils Den” which is a fascinating pictorial, by the way: http://www.danamueller.net/#/works/the-devils-den/2009-present/camp-somerset72

— Linda Duyer

internet photo camp somerset







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