The story of how Hiram and his son Larry Millison took part in the transformation of the small village known as Jarboesville into what became Lexington Park.
By Kenneth C. Rossignol
LEXINGTON PARK (June 1990) — Failing to fold up its tents and steal away into the night as a group of camel herders, Lexington Park has become one of Southern Maryland’s most vibrant and important communities.
The dire predictors of the base closing that were forecast by jealous folks in Leonardtown worried about their loss of control of life in St. Mary’s County, never came to fruition.
Over the past forty years since Lexington Park was written about in the old Washington Star, the orderly boom town described in 1950 has perhaps become a little disorderly in ways but has certainly continued to boom.
The housing area described has become one of the area’s lowest-cost housing while expansive and expensive residential developments from condos to luxurious million-dollar waterfront homes provide shelter for a much larger collection of people. From aircraft mechanics to school teachers, test pilots to convenience, over 35,000 people now reside within 15 minutes of the main gate of Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
The remote Southern Maryland town that in 1950 was known for its trailer homes is amazingly enough now becoming a bedroom community for the Washington, D.C. area.
When folks were hollering for a four-lane highway to be built from Pax River to Washington, perhaps they never realized that people would use it to commute to work while sleeping in St. Marys.
Along with the expansion of residential areas have come the construction of four major shopping centers in the Lexington Park area, which now includes California.
The former bump in the road known as California used to consist of Millison’s Store and Post Office, Norris’s Store, and Dexter’s. Now, the area boasts a four-lane highway, Larry Millison’s new showpiece, Sans Souci Plaza, the Wildewood Shopping Center, and several smaller strip centers such as Laurel Glen, Hickory Hills, and the now aging Esperanza Shopping Center.
The Naval Air Station has expanded with all manner of testing of aircraft and weaponry systems. The Naval air patrol of the mid-Atlantic region remains a station purpose and the Test Pilot School is a major tenant on the base. Other groups such as the Naval Air Logistics Command and the Naval Mess School bring great diversity to this area.
With the expansion of the testing duties has come the growth of Defense Contractors. Especially in the 1980s, the large buildup of the Reagan Administration made massive changes to the landscape.
For the first time, off-base office space became a significant factor in the local economy. Massive buildings have sprouted up, some on the town’s main drags of Great Mills Rd. and Rt. 235, and some tucked away to spots like Wildewood and at the South Gate of the base.
The first really fine apartment complex in town was built in the ’60s. Queen Anne Apartments by Harry Waller and since then numerous projects have gone up that cater to the decidedly upwardly mobile middle class that holds down the military, civil service, and contractor jobs.
Five elementary schools, two middle schools, and a high school serve the Lexington Park area in addition to the private and parochial schools.
The first shopkeeper of Lexington Park was Hiram Millison. He was booted off the base as the navy rushed to construct the Naval Air Station when World War II broke out. Millison ran a general store in the community of Pearson and while he may have been out of a store he was not out of foresight. He acquired the land located at the main gate.
Hiram Millison worked day and night alongside his workmen to construct a restaurant, bus station, and eventually, shops that would have a grocery, drug store, and countless services that catered to the needs first of the workmen constructing the base and then the military personnel that staffed it.
Being hardworking and understanding what his customers wanted ran in Hiram Millison’s family. His father Israel Millison, known everywhere as “Jake,” came to America shortly before the turn of the century from Lithuania. A great part of this nation left Europe in those days to escape the endless wars and to seek the freedom and prosperity of the United States. Jake Millison spent two years on a doggedly determined quest winding his way through Europe to arrive at a seaport and make passage to Baltimore.
Jake managed to buy out a peddler that worked as a type of traveling branch of the Epstein Department Store in Baltimore and that’s how he landed in St. Mary’s County. He found his sweetheart from Lithuania in Baltimore and he and Sarah settled in St. Mary’s County.
Jake’s son Hiram built up a typical general store and the rest is history. Hiram Millison became an important part of the St. Mary’s Community. St. Mary’s has an unusually high number of businesspeople that take an active role in the affairs of the community and the Millison’s are no exception.
When one enters the St. Mary’s County Circuit Courthouse, one sees Hiram Millison’s name on the dedication plaque as a member of the building committee and in the Leonard Hall Governmental Center, Larry Millison’s name is listed on that plaque.
Slot machines have been gone for over 20 years from St. Mary’s County but a curious change has occurred. The State government has started running both numbers and a lottery, every day and perfectly legal! It seems when talking to many local people that the day of slots will be seen again.
While there have been many people central to the development of Lexington Park since 1950, Maryland Bank & Trust President Jack Daugherty and Developer Larry Millison have been the key players.
Millison says of Daugherty, “No one has helped people get the money they need for a car, a home or to start their business as Jack has.” Of Millison, Daugherty said, “Larry Millison invests not only his money in his hometown, but he has put his heart in it as well.”
Larry Millison served one term on the Board of Education and three terms as a County Commissioner. Expressing a conservative/populist political philosophy, Millison has gained support from wide segments of the County’s population. Independent and determined, Millison has always cherished the late St. Mary’s County Circuit Court Judge Phillip B. Dorsey and the legendary and still active Senator Paul Bailey.
Even today Millison is considered a possible candidate for St. Mary’s County Commissioner President and remains as unpredictable as ever. Many folks that supported Larry over the years have found him on the side of the taxpayer and the infamous ‘little people’.
To imagine a stooped over small man named Jake carrying a 300-pound pouch on his back, trudging up a dusty road from the steamboat wharf, then you understand what Larry Millison remembers and knows his roots.
In another forty years, it will be the pleasure of another writer to update the history of this small town, and while it may not be small, it will most likely have an entrepreneur named Millison planning a structure and renting to people with the aspiration of achieving the never-ending American Dream.
(Since the publication of this article in 1990, St. Mary’s County has continued to boom; Larry Millison died in 1998 and Jack Daugherty in 2000. Millison Development continues to be operated by Rachelle Millison who continues to operate retail and build office complexes.)