On April 28, 2002, the wind howled outside the homes and businesses of the residents of La Plata. The storm, an F4 tornado, ripped a 24 mile-long swatch through Charles County, and much of its wrath was centered on La Plata.
The catastrophic storm changed the face of La Plata. Buildings, homes, and infrastructure was destroyed. The town’s business and operations were hampered. Four people died because of the storm. But residents of La Plata will tell you that that is only half of the story. The rebuilding – both of the physical town and its community ties – showed that the town was stronger than any storm.
In fact, the storm led to a redesigned downtown and Southern Maryland’s first LEED-certified building, the La Plata Town Hall. And when you visit La Plata today, you’ll find a busy center of town full of local businesses and government offices. In recent years, new retail centers have opened along U.S. Route 301, the main highway that runs through La Plata.
And, 2002 wasn’t the first time a tornado cut through La Plata. In November 1926, an F3 storm hit the town, killing 16 people. Most of those killed were at the La Plata Elementary School, which was destroyed.
Incorporated in 1888, La Plata became the Charles County seat after the courthouse in Port Tobacco was damaged by fire. River silting had lessened Port Tobacco’s status as a port, and a new railroad station in La Plata along the Pennsylvania Railroad made the town an attractive place to center county business. Besides the county offices, La Plata is also home to the county’s hospital, University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center; the main campus of the College of Southern Maryland; and many small and locally owned businesses.
La Plata is thought to take its name from the La Plata River in Argentina. Col. Samuel Chapman, whose family once owned the 6,000 acres that included what is now La Plata and Port Tobacco, traveled with his son to Central and South America in search of a treatment for his son’s tuberculosis. Chapman was so impressed with the Argentinian river that he named a portion of his property La Plata. In Spanish, “la plata” means “silver.”
Today, the town is mostly residential, with a population of 8.753 people, according to the 2010 Census. Most people in La Plata work in town or commute to local military bases; Washington, DC; or Baltimore. The town hosts events throughout the year on the Town Hall lawn, including holiday events, a summer concert series, and an annual arts festival.
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