MOS began its sanctuary system in 1956 when Mr. E. John Besson gave a gift of $500 in memory of his sister for the purpose of starting a sanctuary fund. At the time MOS did not have any sanctuaries, but the gift stimulated a desire to establish some. Subsequently, the By-Laws were revised to include a Sanctuary Committee and each Chapter was charged to look for potential sites in its area. This resulted in the creation of four sanctuaries during the 1960's, one by lease and three by purchase.|
The Harford Chapter was the first to find a site: Rock Run Wildlife Sanctuary. Opened in August 1960, this first sanctuary was a 57-acre parcel with an old four-story stone house and was located in Harford County near the Susquehanna River. It was leased from Mr. J. Gilman Paul for $10 a month. It was embraced by enthusiastic MOS members who eagerly came out and put in hours of work to improve the house and grounds, construct trails and start bird banding.
In 1962, the Allegany Chapter identified property in Garrett County. The Bernard A. Minick farm, with 52.3 acres and a two-story wood frame house, had been vacant for four years. Two streams ran through the property, Hefner Run and Carey Run. The purchase price for the farm was $4,000. Carey Run Sanctuary became MOS's second sanctuary and the first by purchase.
The third sanctuary to be established was brought forward by the Talbot Chapter in 1964. They had located 107.6 acres of rolling woodlands about one mile south of Wye Mills. The purchase price of $8,100 was raised primarily by the Talbot Chapter. The sanctuary was named Mill Creek, after the stream that runs through the property. The following year 47.5 more acres were donated or purchased, and another 1.3 acres were added in 1971, bringing the total acreage to 156. In 1966-67, the Talbot Chapter built a shelter on the sanctuary south of the road and established trails throughout.
The biggest and most ambitious MOS project was the 1968 purchase of 1,410 acres of mostly tidal marshland with some woodland and cultivated fields in Somerset County. The property had a complex of buildings including an old two-story furnished farmhouse, a barn, and several sheds. The $80,000 purchase price was raised by donations from individuals and chapters. The new sanctuary was called Irish Grove after a 300-year-old land grant that had been made on part of the property. From 1968 to 1983, Gladys Cole headed up an extensive bird-banding operation. During this time she also provided numerous educational experiences for young people who came to visit on field trips. During her tenure there, Gladys and her crew banded about 18,030 birds of 127 species , including some that are no longer found there, such as 4 Loggerhead Shrikes and a Henslow's Sparrow, and others that are now rare, such as Evening Grosbeak, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, and Red Crossbill. During this time she also banded 7,588 Myrtle Warblers, 1308 Song Sparrow, and 1303 Gray Catbirds.
In the 1970's, a series of five property donations was received. The first was Adventure, a 14-acre parcel, which was bequeathed in a three-way trust to MOS, Hood College, and the Maryland National Capital Parks & Planning Commission (Montgomery County). In 1972, a 60-acre parcel in Caroline County was purchased and named Myrtle Simon Pelot Sanctuary, after the benefactor who bequeathed the funds. In 1975, an eight-acre marsh on a tributary of the Severn River in Anne Arundel County was donated by Col. William G. Bodenstein and became Mandares Creek Sanctuary. In 1976, Dr. Caroline tum Suden left MOS her residence on one-and-one-half acres in Harford County, forming the tum Suden Sanctuary. In 1978 The Nature Conservancy transferred to MOS fourteen acres in Frederick County, which had been left to them by Seymour B. Cooper, and after whom the sanctuary was named.
MOS made two purchases in 1972 with funds raised by the membership. Both purchases were additions to existing sanctuaries. Twelve acres were added to Irish Grove and 110 acres were added to Carey Run.
After a ten-year gap, three more parcels of land were donated and one more bequest was received. In 1988, The Nature Conservancy transferred to MOS 85.8 acres of woodlands in Garrett County which it had received from Robert L. Wilson, and which became the Carolyn W. Wilson Sanctuary. In 1990, a 50-acre woodlands in Talbot County, subsequently named the Marengo Woods Sanctuary, was donated by 15 local land owners. In 1993, the Eastern Shore Land Trust transferred to MOS 148 acres adjacent to Irish Grove, the gift of Mrs. Virginia Simmons. In 1990, John Wanuga left a bequest of over $100,000 to MOS which was turned over to the Wildfowl Trust of North America to help purchase property adjoining their Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (at the time known as Horsehead Wetlands Center).
That is how the sanctuary system grew. Later, two sanctuaries were closed, both unfortunately in Harford County. The first to go was the first sanctuary, Rock Run. In 1973, after thirteen years of successful programs and projects, the property changed hands and became part of Susquehanna State Park. MOS was allowed to continue renting the house and one acre; however, three years later a fire made the house unusable. After receiving the bequest for tum Suden Sanctuary, the Harford Chapter moved their operations there and established a good working relationship with Harford Glen, an adjacent 245-acre outdoor education center owned by the Harford County Board of Education.. In 1983, the MOS Board of Directors decided to use tum Suden to house the Atlas coordinator who occupied it until 1994 at which time, by recommendation of the Harford Chapter, the property was turned over to Harford Glen.