Russian retreat center called good neighbor
CENTREVILLE — The Russian retreat center in Queen Anne’s County was closed by the U.S. State Department on Friday, Dec. 30, ending a 44-year history in the county.
The center has been a peaceful neighbor and hasn’t been a problem over the years, said county officials. Sometimes, the Russians would have campfires outside and sing Russian songs, but it wasn’t an issue, said one official who lives nearby.
As part of the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia for interfering with the election, the State Department closed the center’s facilities and access points to the 45-acre property at Pioneer Point, said a State Department spokesman.
“The State Department will secure and maintain the properties in keeping with our responsibilities,” said the spokesman.
The property is owned by the Government of the Russian Federation, which in 1995 took over the property from the Soviet Union, which had owned it since 1972, according to state property records. Fronting the Corsica River, the site is nestled in a private, upscale community about six miles west of Centreville.
A maze of narrow, private roads in a wooded area lead to the property, which has an address of 115 Town Point Lane, Centreville. The site has a three-story, 25,000-square-foot brick home built in 1900.
On Friday, Dec. 30, many media outlets, which were stationed down the road from the site, said they saw a few trucks and buses go in and out of the property. But otherwise, there wasn’t a lot of activity, they said.
On a road leading to the property, several unmarked cars blocked the entrance. The house couldn’t be seen clearly from the road. A man, who would identify himself only as “with the federal government,” said the site was private property and the media must go to the public land down the road. All comments were being handled by the State Department, he said.
Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann said the center has “never been an issue or concern from a law enforcement perspective.”
Steve Wilson, president of the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners, lives across the Corsica River from the site.
“They have a camp there and keep to themselves. They have always been very private,” he said.
Sometimes people at the center with their kids build campfires and sing Russian songs on the beach, Wilson said. He said he could hear them singing because their voices carry across the water, but he didn’t consider it an issue.
“They were totally nice and benign neighbors,” he said.
Wilson also remembered that John Raskob, who built the Empire State Building, developed the property in the 1930s. After that, there were two other property owners until the Soviet Union bought it in 1972.
The property is valued by the state of Maryland at $7.3 million but is tax exempt, said Jonathan Seeman, director of Budget, Finance, and Information Technology for the Queen Anne’s County government.
County Commissioner Mark Anderson said he remembers a friend of his was considering buying the property in the 1970s before the Soviet Union decided to buy it. Other than that, he doesn’t remember any issues about the site.
“It’s like they aren’t even there,” Anderson said.
Some residents, interviewed on Friday, had mixed reactions.
A propane delivery man from a Centreville business, who wished to remain anonymous, said he “delivered propane out there .... Seemed secretive, really didn’t seem to want us in the house.”
A Centreville woman said she always felt like there was something going on there. She said she didn’t understand why the Russians had to have property there “in the middle of nowhere.” It was something out of a movie, she said.
Cheryl Taylor, who works for a local retail store, said the Russians would come in and spend a lot of money.
“I don’t think it’s fair they don’t have to pay taxes, though,” she said.
She said she observed that the last man and woman to stay at the compound were not very friendly. The man before them was “really very sweet,” she said.
The media was stationed just outside the private community near Centerville where the Russian retreat center is located Friday, Dec. 30. Government officials made the media stay out and set up on public land.