History in the making

Resident chronicles Charlestown’s last 35 years in second-edition book

Created date

September 17th, 2018
Earlier this year, Charlestown resident John Strumsky released an expanded version of his book The History of Charlestown. John (right) presented founder John Erickson with the first copy of the book at the community’s 35th anniversary celebration.

Charlestown resident John Strumsky released an expanded version of The History of Charlestown. John (right) presented founder John Erickson with the book at the community’s 35th anniversary celebration.

John Strumsky has a passion for history. He loves learning about it. He loves writing about it. He even hosts a television show called Looking Back: Eyewitness to History, which airs on the in-house TV station at Charlestown, the Catonsville, Md., Erickson Living community he calls home. 

The weekly show covers a variety of historical topics and figures, from the Civil War to the history of Armistice Day, the King Ranch, the history of auctions and women’s history. But the one topic near and dear to John’s heart is the history of Charlestown.

“Charlestown is unique for many reasons, but one is its history,” says John, a former marine. “I did a show on the history of Charlestown, and that turned into a book for Charlestown’s thirtieth anniversary. My intent was to preserve the really rich heritage and culture of the community.”

The 90-page book, simply titled The History of Charlestown, follows the conversion of St. Charles College and Seminary into the area’s most well-known continuing care retirement community.

“I love writing history because it allows me to go on a quest. I love digging around to find the truth, the real truth, what really happened. There is a lot in the book that hasn’t seen the light of day in quite some time,” says John.

Earlier this year, John released an expanded version of the book in honor of the community’s thirty-fifth anniversary. The new 364-page edition includes some of Charlestown’s most notable pioneer residents and their impact on the community, some of the most popular resident-led groups and events, as well as an in-depth look at the life of John Erickson, the man who founded and built Charlestown.

“When I started out, I thought with any kind of luck I might put together an additional 40, 50, or 60 pages. It turns out it was more than double that,” says John, who also designed and published the book. “As I got 60% or 70% of the way through, I couldn’t leave it alone. The closer it got to my deadline, I was working on it all day, all night, and anytime in between,” he says.

Local treasure

Charlestown’s 110-acre campus has been a part of Catonsville’s landscape for over three decades. As a result, the community has its own extensive archives, which hold written documents, newspaper clippings, and photos regarding Charlestown’s rich history.

John also utilized records in the Catonsville library, Baltimore City and Baltimore County courthouse real estate records, the Maryland State Hall of Records, the U. S. Library of Congress, and dozens of personal interviews.

“There have been so many residents and staff here at Charlestown who have interesting backgrounds and talents. I tried to capture as much of that as I could in the book with mini personal biographies,” says John.

Ironically, John, who was initially reluctant to move to Charlestown, is now one of the community’s most enthusiastic fans.

“Originally I didn’t want to move,” says John. “My wife Dawn had to fight me for a long time. I’m glad she did because it didn’t take long for me to discover what a treasure chest and goldmine Charlestown really is. After we moved here, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t have to cut the grass anymore or worry about the roof leaking or the basement flooding, or any of the thousand things that I constantly worried about when we lived in our home.”

Although many things have changed since Charlestown first opened its doors in 1983, John says he can attest one thing has remained the same.

“Charlestown has an impetus that’s all its own,” says John. “There is a collective heart and soul to this place. The values of the community and the morals of the community are the same now as they were when we first came here. It is a wonderful place to live. We’re really lucky and fortunate to be here. There’s no better place we could spend these years of our lives.”

The History of Charlestown is available online at ccicharlestown.org.