Our Heritage

The Town of Indian Head occupies land that was once part of the territory of the Algonquin Indians.  These Native-Americans who lived along the lower Potomac River had a complex society of kin-based bands, which in turn were loosely organized into confederations at the time of European settlement.  Scholars believe that by 1608, the Native American groups north of the Potomac were divided into about ten petty chiefdoms.  Of these groups, the Piscataway, Anacostan, Mattawoman, Nanjemoy, and Portobaco were further organized into a paramount chiefdom headed by the Piscataway.  The paramount chief of this group was known as the Tayac.

Today the Town of Indian Head, the Naval Support Facility - Indian Head, Potomac Heights and a portion of Chapmans Landing occupy the land that was originally set aside as part of a land grant from the second Lord Baltimore, Celilius Calvert to his friend Thomas Cornwallis.  The grant, approved in 1654, included 5000 acres as shown in the Charles County Land Records, Liber A, B and H, Folio 401.  Current maps still label the peninsula of land where Indian Head sits as Cornwallis Neck.

In 1666, 12 Native American groups and the Maryland colonists signed the Articles of Peace and Amity, which allowed the Native Americans to remain on the lands that they then occupied.  Two years later the Articles were clarified and some of the land between the heads of Mattawoman and Piscataway Creeks was specifically allotted to the Native Americans, with English settlement forbidden there.

By the early 1700's encroachment of the English settlers forced the Native Americans in the region to abandon the area.  Most of the Piscataway moved away, across the river to Virginia and north to Pennsylvania.

The origin of the name Indian Head is not specifically known but most likely is a corruption of the term "Indian Headlands", as the entire lower end of the peninsula was occupied by Native Americans and was an Indian Reservation.

In 1814, the British marched on Washington, D.C., and burned the city during the War of 1812.  As the British navy withdrew they had to face the gun batteries set up by the American navy along the Potomac River by Commodore Oliver Perry.  One of the positions was a battery on the high bank above the Potomac at Indian Head.  (This may be the first time the words "Indian Head" were used in an official way.)

As Southern Maryland developed in the 18th century, tobacco became the principal crop.  However, by the mid 19th century the land was worn-out and fishing became the main livelihood of those who still lived in the area.  People came from all over Southern Maryland to Indian Head (as it was beginning to be called) to buy fish.

The original 5000 acre land grant to Thomas Cornwallis was divided into several large tracts in 1772, which then changed hands several times before the Navy purchased some of the land at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Naval Station at Indian Head was established in 1890 when Ensign Dashiele came from the Annapolis area searching for a new location to build a proving ground for the testing of guns, munitions, and armor plate for Navy ships.  In 1897 the Indian Head facility expanded its mission with the addition of a smokeless powder factory.  Between 1904 and 1907, nitric acid and sulfuric acid plants were constructed for the large-scale production of powder.  During World War I & II the naval facilities were expanded to increase powder production and the Indian Head facility was one of two military bases equipped to produce explosives.

In 1966, as emphasis shifted from production to research and development of propellants, chemicals, and explosives, the station underwent a name change becoming the Naval Ordnance Station.  Further during the military realignment process that occurred in 1994 the station was renamed again and became theIndian Head Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center.  The mission of the Indian Head Division is to provide for the combat readiness of the war fighters through their role as the National Center for Energetics.

The area immediately outside of the Naval Base began to grow as the fortunes of the base began to increase.  Commercial activities that supported military and civilian workers located in the area and soon formed the core of the town as it exists today.  In 1920 the town was incorporated and became one of six incorporated municipalities in Southern Maryland.

By 1947 the town had 140 homes, 5 churches, and 22 other commercial and public buildings.  However the town has since tripled in size and has a current population of slightly over 3426 which places the total number of the Peninsula's inhabitants in the neighborhood of 7,000 people when the Naval base is fully housed.  Today there are more than 1200 homes and 50 plus businesses.

As the Town of Indian Head enters the 21st Century the Town Council, in concert with a recently adopted Master Plan, has set about implementing a very ambitious community and economic redevelopment and revitalization program.  The Town's goals include enhancing business opportunities, providing greater public access to the Potomac River and Mattawoman Creek, and fostering tourism activities and events to encourage a broader visitation base.