Gordon Strong

In the year 1902, Gordon Strong, a Chicago patent attorney and realtor, saw a lone mountain in Southern Frederick County while vacationing in Washington. When he “discovered” it, Sugarloaf Mountain was far off the beaten track, a wilderness surrounded by lovely farming country and accessible only by rough dirt roads, always dusty when not impassible with mud. This first glimpse of Sugarloaf led to the gradual purchase of more than 2,000 acres for a summer retreat after his retirement. Gradually, the property was improved with roadways, landscaping and buildings, including his own residence. Around 1925, Strong considered developing a site where people could visit for the day to recreate, dine, and commune with nature. He invited eminent architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to pay him a two week visit to help him realize his vision. The famous architect returned with plans for the Automobile Objective that laid out this vision, including a planetarium. However, Strong ultimately rejected the drawing that Wright submitted, believing that it allocated space inefficiently, and it would violate the natural integrity of the mountainside.

Frank Lloyd Wright Automobile Objective for Gordon Strong Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later Harry Truman, tried to secure Sugarloaf as a summer retreat for their cabinet members without success, as Strong remained adamant about his refusal to part with it. The Shan-Ri-La camp was ultimately purchased near Thurmont, which is now known as Camp David. In 1946, Gordon Strong established Stronghold Incorporated, a non-profit corporation to administer the trust. Promoting an appreciation for nature and education were very important to Mr. Strong. So much so, that he built two schools for local children and hired teachers for these schools. At Gordon Strong’s death in 1954, the land was deeded to the corporation. The principal aim of the corporation is to do the thing that Gordon Strong conceived— “the teaching of an appreciation of natural beauty”.

In the words of David Webster, the long serving Executive Secretary of Stronghold: “The basic mission of the nonprofit foundation is to offer to the public for its enjoyment and education, access to such land whether developed or undeveloped; to take such steps as shall appear desirable and compatible toward enjoyment and education in out of door beauty as one of the great sources of human happiness; to promote by example, by precept, and by such further encouragement the development of out of door beauty elsewhere…

Each year, thousands of people flock to Sugarloaf Mountain to recreate and commune with nature. The Trust also rents the Strong Mansion for weddings and other special events. Mr. Strong would be proud.

Article by Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board

Nature note for 5/19/2019