From the Baltimore Sun
James Clark, his farm endure
At 87, ex-state senator, longtime civic leader worries about crops and
By Sandy Alexander
July 16, 2006
Sitting in the living room of his stone farmhouse, which is surrounded
by fields of shoulder-high corn and pastures dotted with cattle and
sheep, James Clark talked about his health at the age of 87 with the
perspective of someone who has been farming most of his life.
"You cannot overcome the forces of nature," he said. "It's
In recent weeks, Clark has been directing activities on his Ellicott
City farm, but leaving the heavy chores and the midsummer heat to his
part-time staff and family members. He is recovering after a recent
hospital stay brought on by several ailments, including cancer and
congestive heart failure.
But over nearly nine decades in Howard County, Clark, a war veteran,
former state senator and longtime civic leader, has proven to be an
Amid relentless development, his 540-acre farm bordered by Route 108
and Centennial Lane still produces vegetables, field corn, flowers,
beef and lambs. His well-known produce stand on Route 108 opened this
summer for the 37th year, offering corn, cantaloupes, tomatoes and
other items. A petting farm run by his daughter down the road from the
farm stand is thriving.
The farmland preservation and Program Open Space legislation Clark
championed in the Senate have ensured that green spaces and
agricultural operations will continue to survive in the state.
Locally, institutions including the Howard County Conservancy, the
Howard County Fair and the fledgling Farm Heritage Museum count Clark
among their founders.
And wherever he has been, friends, colleagues and neighbors attest to
Clark's standing as a respected elder statesman and well-liked
"He is kind of the ultimate Howard Countian," said Charles M. Coles
Jr., chief judge of the county Orphans' Court and a lifelong friend of
the senator. "He's very civic-minded, very involved in his community,
very concerned about his community."
Coles added: "He and that farm have kind of stood the test of time.
They have adapted and changed over the years, especially in that area
[of the county] where most people would have had to fold. He found a
way to keep it, and he's passing it on to his children."
Clark pauses often as he speaks and says his hearing is not very good,
but there is nothing wrong with his memory as he recounts his
agricultural and political careers, and his observations are sharp
about the area that has been home to eight generations of his family.
"You've got too many cars, too many people too fast," he said. "When I
came home from the war, we had about 20,000 people, a few more than
Now the U.S. Census estimates more than 269,000 residents, a population
he calls "unbelievable."
Clark recalled that there were about 200 dairy farms in Howard County
before World War II, including his, which shipped milk for 30 years
before he and his son moved the herd to Georgia and produced milk for
another two decades.
"There are only four or five [dairy farms] left now," Clark said. "Lots
of people just gave up and quit. It was almost a necessity in the old
days. You had to have some money coming in each month, and dairy was a
pretty good way to do that. ... Hard work though."
Clark was born in 1918 on a farm called Keewydin that his family owned
in Ellicott City. According to his memoir, Jim Clark: Solider, Farmer,
Legislator, Clark's father, James Clark, was a circuit court judge who
traced his roots in the area to 1797.
His mother, Alda Hopkins Clark, was a direct descendant of the
Ellicotts who settled the mill town that became Ellicott City.
[Originally part of Anne Arundel County, the area became Howard County
Clark attended school in Ellicott City and earned a bachelor of science
degree in animal husbandry from Iowa State College in 1941.
He served as a glider pilot in World War II, flying troops and
equipment across German lines . When he returned, he married the former
Lillian Hawkins in 1946 and took up farming.
In 1958, he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. Four years
later, he was elected to the Senate, where he served for 24 years,
including as Senate president from 1979 to 1983.
He said the political landscape was also different back then.
"I didn't have a bit of trouble getting elected," he said. "I didn't
have to raise any money. I never asked anybody for a contribution
because I didn't need it. I always won very handily."
During his legislative career, he was a proponent of civil rights,
fiscal responsibility and a national balanced budget amendment.
Today, he said, he would like to see the county, state and federal
governments rein-in their finances.
"I'm not too happy with any level of government," he said. "They are
all spending more money than they should. People never intended the
government to do so many things."
But, he said, there is hope for the future.
"I have faith in the people. The trouble is [elected leaders] don't
listen to the people a lot of times, and that's bad. People have got
more sense than the government a lot of times. You just have to find
out what they are thinking."
As Clark looked back on his civic life, he said there are a number of
accomplishments that he is proud will outlast him.
"I guess I'm a born environmentalist," he said. "I did a lot of that in
the legislature and outside of the legislature."
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who served as speaker of the House of
Delegates while Clark was Senate president, said the senator was "the
primary reason why Maryland took a very progressive stand at preserving
farmland with the easement program. He was the prime architect of that
Cardin said Clark was also easy to work with and easy to become friends
"He is a warm individual who you can't help but really respect and
admire once you get to know him," Cardin said. "I think he is a person
of unquestionable integrity."
Clark also helped found the Howard County Conservancy, a land trust
that holds easements on preserved land in the county and runs an
environmental education center at Mount Pleasant Farm in Woodstock.
When a group of citizens wanted to start the conservancy in 1990, "the
first thing we did was to go enlist Senator Clark," said James Eacker,
a board member and former president of the organization. " ... There
simply wasn't anybody in Howard County that knows land preservation the
way Jim Clark does. Plus, he had all of the contacts in the world."
Another project Clark is excited about is the Howard County Living Farm
Heritage Museum, which the Howard County Antique Farm Machinery Club
plans to open in the fall in West Friendship on county parkland.
Clark, a founding member of the club, has been involved in the group's
education programs for many years and helped lobby the county
government for permission to use the land.
He said the museum is important because "it documents and preserves
agriculture, which was the main industry for over 200 years. ... You
can't do the history of the county without understanding the impact
agriculture had on it."
John Frank, president of the Antique Farm Machinery Club, said that
working with Clark to get the museum running gave him a chance to see
some of the senator's personal qualities.
"I personally have never met anyone in local or state government who
didn't have the highest regard and respect for Jim Clark," Frank said.
"Folks just react to him as a statesman, and his integrity."
Frank added: "He is a very genteel and kind-speaking person. He's a
very intelligent person, someone who understands, certainly, the
government workings, but who has a common-sense approach that ... puts
him in a little different category."
Clark, whose wife died in 2001, is close to his three children, each of
whom have families of their own. His son Jamie lives in another house
on the Ellicott City farm while son Mark lives in Florida. Martha, his
daughter, lives nearby, on Centennial Lane. Clark also speaks with
pride of his six grandchildren, whose photographs decorate a table in
his living room.
As he sat beside a window in that room recently, Clark talked to one of
his workers about the quality of the corn and the readiness of the
produce stand, but he was not able to walk to the road himself.
He said it is difficult to have to slow the pace of his life. But he
also said he looks back with no regrets.
"I've been able to do what I like all my life," he said. "A lot of
people can't do that. They have to work for someone else. I like the
government, and I like farming. They are my two loves."
He added: "Of course, I didn't think I was going to live this long. You
never can gauge that. But I've had a good life. Nobody could have a
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun