Maryland’s Polling Houses: Vanishing Reminders of Elections Past

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director and State Historic Preservation Officer

On November 8th, Marylanders will cast votes in public places ranging from schools, community centers, and libraries to churches, fire houses, and office buildings. In years past, private homes, stores, and purpose-built polling houses also helped meet this need. Today, the handful of polling houses that survive speak volumes about how local communities have long valued their right and duty to vote on Election Day.

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Nutter’s District Election House. Photo: Wicomico County Historical Society

On the Eastern Shore, the Nutter’s District Election House was built in 1938 as a simple one-room frame structure. Relocated in 1976 by the Wicomico County Historical Society to its current site in Fruitland, it now serves as a museum that houses the Society’s collection of presidential and inauguration memorabilia and political campaign items. In nearby Somerset County, Princess Anne’s Election House was moved to its current location in Manokin River Park in the 1980s. One of the state’s most decorative examples, this one-room structure boasts eave brackets, corner pilasters and (originally) a lath and plaster interior. It has the added distinction of serving its original purpose, as votes are cast here every two years for the Princess Anne town elections.

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Sang Run Election House. Photo: Al Feldstein

In the western part of the state, the unincorporated community of Sang Run in Garrett County is the site of the Sang Run Election House. Reputedly built in 1872, the one-room, board and batten sided structure served the voters of this once thriving lumber town.

Calvert County has, remarkably, retained four of its historic polling houses – the Sunderland Polling House (relocated to the White Hall property), the Old St. Leonard Polling House, the Sunderland Polling House in Huntingtown, and the St. Leonard Polling House. Utilitarian in nature, these one-room structures served the county from the late 19th through the mid-20th century. Most had two doors so that voters could move easily in one door, cast their vote, and exit out the other.

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St. Leonard’s Polling House. Photo: Kirsti Uunila

Calvert County Historic Preservation Planner Kirsti Uunila notes that these structures have an important story to tell as the center of civic life. “These polling houses weren’t segregated – Calvert County’s black and white residents cast their votes together here. Following school integration in the 1960s, the polling houses were abandoned and voting often took place in schools.” Oral histories document that these sites served as important centers of social as well as political activity, with oysters, crabcakes, and fried chicken being sold to hungry voters here on election day.

Although the way in which we cast our vote may have changed, our responsibility has not. As you make your way to the polls this Election Day, remember the story of these humble landmarks….and then go get a crabcake!

Preparing for Future Floods

By Nell Ziehl, Chief, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach

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Hoopers Island

As we turn from Ellicott City’s disaster response to recovery, and watch hurricanes threaten Florida and Hawaii, it’s hard not to think about all the places throughout Maryland that are prone to flooding. We built our earliest towns, cities, roads and rail lines along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. As ports and fishing industries boomed, we developed more. And let’s be honest: we all love to live and play near water.

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Westernport, located on the Potomac

With support from the National Park Service and the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund,the Maryland Historical Trust has hired Preservation Design Partnership, LLC to help us think about how to plan for and adapt historic buildings and districts threatened by flooding from tides, coastal surges, flash floods and sea level rise. Earlier this summer, we accompanied Dominique Hawkins and her team to riverine and coastal communities in western Maryland, Cecil County, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, and the Eastern Shore, to try to get a handle on what property owners and local governments face when preparing for floods.

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Mill No. 1 on the Jones Falls in Baltimore City

Before the end of the year, we hope to release a paper to help guide our agency, local governments and partner organizations as we consider how to maintain the integrity of our irreplaceable historic sites while preparing for increased flooding and precipitation. I’m sure we won’t have all the answers, but it will, we hope, be a starting point for a conversation that we look forward to continuing with all of you.

My Summer in Maryland Archeology

By Justin Warrenfeltz

As the 2016 Summer Archeology Intern with the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), I have worked on a wide variety of projects, each more interesting than the last. In June, I assisted with the planning and implementation of the Archeological Society of Maryland annual Tyler Bastian Field Session in Maryland Archeology. As a former archeological crew chief, this was a perfect opportunity for me to contribute substantially to MHT’s work at the River Farm site. Under the guidance of archeologists with the Lost Towns Project, I assisted with excavation and site management.

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The author at Janes Island State Park in Crisfield

After the Field Session, State Terrestrial Archeologist Dr. Charles Hall asked me to plan and implement a research method for oyster shell analysis of artifacts recovered from the Willin Site in Dorchester County, most recently excavated by MHT archeologists in 2009. Using the MHT Library to research current literature on oyster shell analysis, I created a new shell catalog and collection forms and analyzed thousands of oyster shells recovered from the site. I learned – and practiced – valuable skills in artifact analysis, research planning, and project management.

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Excavation at River Farm

Finally, working under the supervision of Dr. Troy Nowak, Assistant State Underwater Archeologist, I helped plan and implement both a marine survey, conducted by remote sensing, and a terrestrial survey of archeological sites in and around Janes Island State Park in Crisfield. This project introduced me to many different aspects of archeology with which I previously had no experience: I learned how to drive a small boat; conduct controlled archaeological surface collection and soil coring; and assist with magnetometer and side-scan surveying.

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The author with State Terrestrial Archeologist Charlie Hall

My time with MHT has been an immensely rewarding experience. I learned a wide range of skills and developed important professional relationships with members of the Archeological Society of Maryland, Lost Towns Project, Maryland Archeological Conservation Lab, Maryland Historical Trust and Department of Planning, and the Maryland Park Service. I am immensely grateful to MHT and its staff for this unique opportunity.

A Fond Farewell to Roz Racanello

By Maryland Historical Trust Staff

Not long after the State of Maryland certified the Southern Maryland Heritage Area in July 2003, Roslyn “Roz” Racanello saw a job ad for an Executive Director of a new heritage preservation and tourism organization serving Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties. She wasn’t sure what a “Heritage Area” was exactly, but she thought her background in the arts, marketing and communications, planning and partnership building, and fundraising and advocacy might be a good fit. Having recently moved to Maryland from the New York City region, she had worked largely in the private sector doing creative and design work with world renowned firms such as Time-Warner, Readers Digest, and the New York Stock Exchange. The Steering Committee recognized Roz’s skills and hired her to build Maryland’s sixth Heritage Area from the ground up.

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Roz Racanello with North Beach Mayor Bojokles in 2010

Under Roz’s leadership, the Southern Maryland Heritage Area worked with partners to secure over $5.4 million of grants and matching funding for heritage preservation and tourism projects in the three-county region. She played a leading role in the creation of the Religious Freedom National Scenic Byway, now managed by the Southern Maryland Heritage Area, and recently served as principal staff to the Steering Committee for the development of a Piscataway Indian Heritage Trail. For these and many other projects, in 2010 she received a Governor’s Award for her outstanding work in Cultural Heritage Tourism from the Office of Tourism Development, and another Cultural Heritage Tourism Award in 2014 for the publication Destination Southern Maryland: A Regional Guide to War of 1812 Events.

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This award-winning publication helped steer residents and visitors to tourism offerings in Southern Maryland.

For nine years Roz also served as Chair of the Maryland Coalition of Heritage Areas, the independent professional organization of Maryland’s 13 State-certified Heritage Areas. In this role, she was a highly effective and respected spokesperson, representing the organizations with the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority that governs the overall program. Her efforts with the Office of the Governor and the Maryland Legislature helped secure full State funding of $3 million annually. Her professional knowledge and innovative approaches also made her a highly sought-after and valued Board member of over a dozen government and non-profit organizations, including the Executive Directors Council of the Maryland Tourism Development Board; the Maryland Historical Trust’s PreserveMaryland Steering Committee; and the Star-Spangled 200 War of 1812 Bicentennial Events, Programs and Grant Review Committee. As a member of the Preservation Maryland-led Tobacco Barns Summit Coalition, she helped distribute Save America’s Treasures grants to save 30 endangered historic tobacco barns.

RRacanello MHAA CakeBefore retiring this summer, Roz attended the July 7, 2016 meeting of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, which awarded her a Certificate of Appreciation, as did the Maryland Coalition of Heritage Areas. Last month she was also honored by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan with a Citation in recognition of her thirteen years of outstanding service to the people of Maryland. She will be missed at the Maryland Historical Trust, and we thank her for all that she’s done to promote preservation and heritage tourism in our state.

A Summer with the Maryland Historical Trust – by Andrew Chase

The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) enjoys hosting interns during the summer months. This year, we asked our interns to share their experiences with all of you! If you enjoy these blogs, please consider applying for an internship with MHT in 2017. 

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The author on a site visit to Crimea, Baltimore City

I am a rising senior at Severna Park High School, and ever since I was young, I have had a profoundly great interest in history. I enjoy reading all sorts of histories, from political to economic to art and architecture. This summer, I spent two months completing an internship with the Maryland Historical Trust, Maryland’s State Historic Preservation Office. During my internship, I was able to get a closer look at Maryland’s history and see how we preserve our past.

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Learning about records management

Within the Office of Research, Survey, and Registration, I worked with MHT’s Inventory Registrar and Librarian on records management, including various projects involving the architectural survey files which comprise the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, housed in MHT’s Library. In addition, I updated records on the database “Medusa”, combed through rediscovered binders of records to find information on historic properties that had been lost over time, and matched unidentified slides of bridges to their inventory numbers. I also had great experiences, ranging from discovering new (to me) technologies, such as the typewriter, and even visiting Crimea (a property in Baltimore), along with the MHT Easement Committee.

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Experimenting with historic technology

With all the material I have worked with from across the state, I have seen the great deal of work that goes into preserving Maryland’s historical resources. To me, what is interesting about historic preservation is that one of the most common ways to preserve a historic site is to survey and document the property. MHT’s Library preserves documentation on the entire spectrum of historic sites in Maryland.