New Book Release! In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes (Guest Blog)

by Cathy H. Thompson

A new publication on the architectural history of Charles County, Maryland is now available from the MHT Press. Consisting of almost 500 pages, In the Midst of These Plains documents nearly four centuries of settlement in Charles County, describing in detail its shift from a rural agricultural community to an exurb of Washington, DC.  The result of many years of historic research and survey funded by the Maryland Historical Trust, the book highlights the history of the county through its historic buildings and landscapes. From iconic tobacco barns and substantial dwellings to the buildings of everyday life, the authors paint a picture of Charles County’s built environment. Rich in detail and illustrations, the book includes a wealth of historic and modern photographs, maps, and floor plans.  

The tobacco barn at the Exchange (CH-357) is believed to have been built about 1780 and employs traditional building features of the era, including vertical riven roof sheathing and tilted false plates. The sheds are later additions. Image source: National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey. 

Nestled in the southwestern corner of Southern Maryland, Charles County remained rural and remote for much of its history. First inhabited by various indigenous groups, English settlers arrived in the early seventeenth century. Many were Catholics seeking religious freedom, while others were of various Protestant faiths. Jesuit priests established a commanding mission at St. Thomas Manor in 1741 and continued to be major landowners. 

Erected in 1741, St. Thomas Manor (CH-6) stands on a high bluff at the confluence of the Port Tobacco and Potomac Rivers. It remains one of the County’s most sophisticated examples of 18th century Georgian architecture. Drawn by J. Richard Rivoire. 

By the eighteenth century, the wealthiest settlers had established a level of stability that allowed for the construction of substantial brick and frame dwellings in a distinct regional vernacular style, while the majority of residents, both black and white, lived in rudimentary log and frame houses. In the early nineteenth century, a distinct planter class had evolved, fueled by tobacco profits and enslaved labor. The Civil War brought a period of economic and social instability, but the arrival of the Popes Creek Branch of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad and establishment of the Naval Proving Ground in Indian Head at the end of the century brought a new wave of prosperity and led to the development of distinct town centers, including the future county seat of La Plata.  

Constructed in 1873, the LaPlata Train Station is the last remaining station in Charles County. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

Many residents continued farming tobacco as well as crops such as wheat and corn, while others exploited the riches of the region’s abundant waterways through fishing, oystering, crabbing, and even trapping fur that was sent to Baltimore’s lucrative garment market. Construction of Crain Highway in the 1920s provided a convenient link to Baltimore and Washington, DC, but proved to be the downfall of the local steamship lines that had serviced the county rivers for nearly a century. The highway brought new residents and tourists to waterside communities such as Cobb Island and carried agricultural products to urban centers.  Passage of legalized gambling in 1949 brought a postwar wave of tourists who came to frequent the flashy casinos and hotels with neon signs that appeared along Crain Highway, earning the strip the moniker “Little Las Vegas.”  Gambling was outlawed less than twenty years later, but the county continued to grow as a bedroom community of Washington, DC, with new suburban communities constructed on former tobacco fields. By the end of the twentieth century, the previously rural county had become inextricably drawn into the Washington metropolitan area.

The Village of St. Charles was a suburban planned community outside of Waldorf. The 1969 Master Plan called for a series of five villages that provided housing and services for families of a variety of income levels. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

Departing from the narrower focus of earlier survey work, In The Midst of These Plains includes chapters on Tobacco and Charles County’s Working Landscape (Chapter 4), Domestic and Agricultural Outbuildings (Chapter 5), and the Industrial Landscape (Chapter 9) as well as chapters on sacred, civic and commercial buildings. Together they broaden our understanding of the true breadth and diversity of the Charles County built environment and cultural landscapes.   

The Mulco spoon factory opened in Pomonkey in 1945. It produced coffee stirrers, Popsicle sticks, ice cream spoons, tongue depressors and plant markers. It employed 50 to 70 employees including many women. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

The book, which was written by Cathy H. Thompson and Nicole A. Dielhmann, can be purchased from the Historical Society of Charles County or from MHT press at https://mht.maryland.gov/home_mhtpress.shtml.

Announcing the FY 2022 Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Awards

MHT is proud to share the FY2022 recipients of our Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grants! This  grant program, which is funded through the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority Financing Fund, supports a wide variety of research, survey, planning, and educational activities involving architectural, archaeological, or cultural resources.

This year, a total of $300,000 is being awarded to non-profit organizations and universities for an exciting slate of eight projects across the state. Below are descriptions of all the projects awarded: 

The 2022 Tyler Bastian Field Session – The Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc. 

($17,000) 

This annual event provides a hands-on opportunity for laypersons to learn archaeological methods under the direction of professional archaeologists. The funds will cover field session expenses as well as the hiring of contractors to produce a final report and prepare artifacts for permanent curation. 

Preliminary work was conducted last year at the site of Barwick’s Ordinary, an eighteenth-century tavern and home of the first county seat for Caroline County, where the 2022 Field Session will be held next spring. MHT staff photo.

Documenting Dairy Farms in Northern Maryland Phase II – The Center for Historic Architecture and Design, University of Delaware 

($40,000) 

This project will be the second of a multi-year effort to document historic dairy farms and their associated farm structures, resources that are fast disappearing in Maryland. Phase II will take place in Harford, Montgomery, and Washington counties, producing approximately 12 Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms, measured drawings for three farm complexes, and a brief historic context of dairy farming in each county. 

The Roop Farm, also known as Margaret’s Fancy, in Carroll County was documented during Phase I of this project. Photo courtesy of the Center for Historic Architecture and Design. 

Tracing Piscataway Indian History on the Ground – St. Mary’s College of Maryland 

($60,000)

This project involves archaeological survey work on several fifteenth to eighteenth-century Piscataway sites along the north shore of the Potomac River. Research will focus on the identification of both Native and European trade items to explore how these items circulated within Piscataway practices and systems of meaning. A summary report will be produced detailing the project’s findings. As the 400th anniversary of Maryland draws near, this project presents an important opportunity to center narratives of the Piscataway in this transformational period. 

Trade items represented more than just economic exchanges to Indigenous communities. The exchange of objects, including beads, occurred within a web of rules, practices, and relationships laden with meaning and developed over the preceding centuries. Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.  

A Survey of Brick Construction in Colonial Maryland – Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation 

($44,000)

This project will trace the evolution and development of masonry building traditions in Maryland between 1634 and 1750. During this time period, the use of brick construction by a select few of the colony’s elite contrasted dramatically with the ephemeral building practices of neighbors, a distinction that has never been studied. Approximately ten buildings will be selected for detailed documentation, including measured drawings, field notes, and photographic prints. 

Dendrochronology has positively identified Araby in Charles County as within this early period of masonry construction, dating to 1746. Photo courtesy of Willie Graham. 

Southern Maryland Tobacco Barns Survey and Documentation – University of Maryland 

($42,000) 

Tobacco barns that date before c. 1870 in Southern Maryland will be surveyed for this project. These resources are highly endangered due to functional obsolescence and development pressure. The survey will systematically identify and document previously unknown tobacco barns and update information on resources identified in earlier efforts. Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms and a final survey report will be produced.

This survey will provide new interpretive analysis of Maryland tobacco barns, such as the recognition that sheds, as seen on each side of the De La Brooke Tobacco Barn in St. Mary’s County, were often original construction features rather than later additions as previously believed. MHT staff photo.  

Slavery, Resistance, and Freedom: Recording Anne Arundel County’s Past – The Lost Towns Project 

($40,000) 

This project will undertake a detailed archival and literature review of nineteenth-century Black housing in the Chesapeake. The investigators will create a database of approximately 100 such sites, conduct field visits to approximately 20 sites to assess their condition, create or update Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties site data, and write a summary report to disseminate the findings. Through this study, the project aims to broaden public support for the protection and preservation of Black historical spaces.  

This is a multidisciplinary project that may employ documentation techniques such as remote sensing. In this photo, Lost Towns uses ground penetrating radar to investigate the slave cemetery at Whitehall. Photo courtesy of the Lost Towns Project. 

National Register of Historic Places Nomination of Columbia Beach – Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation 

($40,000) 

This project includes the preparation of a National Register nomination for Columbia Beach, a community in Anne Arundel County established as a summer retreat for African Americans during the segregation era, when racist policies barred the Black community from other resort towns along the Chesapeake Bay. The timing of this nomination is critical, as Columbia Beach is currently threatened by development and climate change.  

African American professionals from Washington, DC and Baltimore built many of the early cottages in Columbia Beach. MHT staff photo. 

Architectural Survey of U.S. Route 1: Washington, DC to Baltimore – Anacostia Trails Heritage Area 

($17,000) 

This project will include a reconnaissance survey and the preparation of a historic context report for resources along U.S. Route 1 from Washington, DC to Baltimore City, including Prince George’s, Howard, and Baltimore counties. This is intended to be Phase I of a multi-year project to document the unique resources along U.S. Route 1, including tourist cabin hotels and roadside architecture, minority-owned commercial buildings, and light industrial complexes.  

This architectural survey will record vernacular commercial structures from the recent past, such as this row of commercial buildings in the 1300 block of Baltimore Avenue, College Park. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Historical Trust.  

Availability of FY 2023 funds through the Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program will be announced in the spring of 2022 on MHT’s website (https://mht.maryland.gov/grants_noncap.shtml). Application deadlines and workshop dates will also be found on this page at that time. 

For more information about the grant program, please contact Heather Barrett, Administrator of Architectural Research at MHT, at 410-697-9536 or heather.barrett@maryland.gov.  For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly. 

MHAA Welcomes New Members to its Grant Review Panel

Last year, MHAA transformed its grant review process to feature a panel of exceptional reviewers from all backgrounds and areas of expertise. Including representatives of nonprofit organizations, cultural institutions, state employees, and members of the public, the panel is responsible for reading and ranking the over 200 applications MHAA receives each grant round.  

This past year, MHAA was happy to welcome nine new members to our grants panel, with expertise in fields ranging from education and preservation to communications and art. You can read short bios for the new panelists below. If you are interested in joining the grants review panel for FY 2023 round, you can learn more about the process here and submit this form for consideration by December 31, 2021. 

Garland A. Thomas, Department of Housing and Community Development 

Garland Thomas is a representative of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, where he serves as Assistant Director of the Statewide Team for the Neighborhood Revitalization Unit – Team 2. He has years of experience in state government, administering several state revitalization programs. Serving on the grants panel, he brings expertise in project management, economic development, and grants management.  

Charlotte Davis (Frederick County) 

Charlotte Davis is the Executive Director of the Rural Maryland Council and has more than twenty years of experience serving the state of Maryland. She currently oversees the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund and the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment fund. Her years of experience working with rural Maryland allows her to offer invaluable insights into potential projects across the state.  

Lenett Nef’fahtiti Partlow-Myrick (Pikesville, MD) 

Lenett Nef’fahtiti Partlow-Myrick is an artist, poet, writer, and instructor of English at Howard Community College. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Transdisciplinary Leadership doctoral program at the University of Vermont. She has worked with local, state, and national organizations and has over forty years of experience in fundraising, grant writing, and the proposal review process. Across all of her work, she has maintained a commitment to cultural preservation and sustainability. With her work being displayed at a number of prestigious institutions, Ms. Partlow-Myrick brings a wealth of expertise in the fields of art and culture to the grants review panel.  

Elinor Thompson, Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture  

Elinor Thompson is serving on the panel as a representative of the Maryland Commission on American History and Culture. For over thirty-five years, Elinor has worked in the non-profit sphere on historic preservation and genealogy. She is an expert in preserving and interpreting church and cemetery records and has used her expertise to examine family and community histories. She brings extensive experience with projects pertaining to cemeteries, community history, and cultural heritage.  

Heather Savino (Baltimore, MD) 

Heather Savino is the Director of Development and Marketing for Patterson Park Public Charter School, Inc. She has experience in social work, community action, and social policy. On the panel, she has provided insight into working with youth, representing the LGBTQ* community, and investigating the intersection of race and social services. 

Linda Moore-Garoute (Prince George’s County) 

Linda Moore-Garoute is the Vice President of the Cedar Haven Association on the Patuxent River and Vice Chair of the Town of Eagle Harbor Environmental Advisory Committee. She is an expert in climate change mitigation, being certified as a Climate Change Professional in the state of Maryland in 2020. She has experience working with Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Chesapeake Bay Trust Foundation, and the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission. On the panel, she has focused on finding solutions to mitigate climate change impacts, creating sustainable heritage tourism projects, and highlighting African American cultural landscapes.   

Stephen DelSordo (Cambridge, MD) 

Stephen DelSordo has close ties to the Maryland Heritage Areas Program. He was a founding member of the Heart of the Chesapeake Heritage Area and sat as its first chair for ten years. Since then, he has worked closely with the Indian Tribes of Montana on heritage tourism programs. He brings a national perspective to the grants panel, having worked on heritage tourism projects around the county.  

Samia Rab Kirchner (Baltimore, MD) 

Samia Kirchner is an associate professor of Architecture and Planning at Morgan State University. She has years of experience working in historic preservation and is an expert in urban conservation and waterfront redevelopment. In the past several years, she has applied her expertise to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, serving as a member of their International Cultural Tourism Committee and a desk reviewer for their World Heritage Nomination Dossiers. Her expertise in historic preservation and her experience with the ICOMOS allow her to bring a global perspective to the grants review process, supported by extensive knowledge of the industry’s best practices.  

Jennifer Shea (Claiborne, MD and Chevy Chase, MD) 

Jennifer Shea is a communications strategist and filmmaker with experience in education, theatre, and the arts. Currently, she serves as the Writer and Strategist for the Herson Group, a well known communications consulting firm. Prior to this position, Jennifer worked at Cornell University both as a lecturer and administrator. Outside of these positions, Jennifer has worked in film, directing an oral history project for the Tilghman Watermen’s Museum that was screened on Maryland Public Television and PBS. She is also serving on the board of Maryland Humanities and has past board experience in education and the arts. Jennifer’s years of experience in these fields allows her to contribute a critical perspective when assessing projects through a cultural, educational, and artistic lens.  

We are excited to welcome these exceptional new members to our grants panel. To learn more about MHAA, visit https://mht.maryland.gov/heritageareas.shtml. If you would like to see the great projects that this panel helped fund, you can view a full list at https://mht.maryland.gov/documents/PDF/MHAA/MHAA_CurrentGrantAwards.pdf.    

Updated COVID-19 Survey Results: Maryland’s Cultural Heritage Organizations Continue to Struggle

One full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland’s cultural heritage organizations continue to suffer from the economic fallout of the crisis. The Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) and the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) are eager to understand the situation and find ways to support our partner organizations across the state. To that end, MHAA and MHT conducted two surveys, one in April 2020 and one in March of 2021. Both sets of survey responses highlight the severe economic ramifications that organizations have suffered to date, as well as the respondents’ expectations that these ramifications will linger even after the public health crisis starts to subside.  

When compared to the data from last year’s survey, the March 2021 survey respondents reported  an increase in every metric. Organizations have lost more income, laid off more staff, and expect to need a longer recovery time. 

The clearest impact of the pandemic has been on organizations’ income. Many of Maryland’s museums, Main Street businesses, and other heritage sites rely on visitation and events for the majority of their revenue. With the pandemic starting in early spring, these sites were shut down during the fair weather months, when they typically see their highest visitor count. Even as the state begins to re-open, many organizations are seeing smaller than average crowds. Small museums, historic homes, and local historical societies are some of the hardest hit organizations.  

This trend is reflected in the data, with four out of five respondents reporting a loss of income due to COVID-19 and with over 75% of respondents stating that their “income had decreased substantially.” This loss represents an increase of over 25% from last year’s survey. To account for this loss, 38% of organizations surveyed have had to tap into their financial reserves and 73% have considered a temporary or permanent reduction in staff.   

When compared to last year, organizations now expect a longer recovery time. When asked how long they would need to return to  pre-pandemic levels of revenue, 70% of organizations said they would need 6 months or longer and 44% of organizations said they would need 1 year or longer. Some organizations commented that the prolonged economic strain of the virus had significantly reduced their capacity while others feared a loss of relevance and community connection as a result of the shift to digital programming. Even with vaccines rolling out and the end of the pandemic potentially approaching, it is clear that the effects of COVID-19 will continue to challenge Maryland’s cultural organizations for some time to come.   

MHAA and MHT are taking several actions to help our partner organizations  continue their important work in a post-pandemic world. For their current grant round, MHAA will allow grantees to use up to $20,000 of their awards for COVID-19 related operating costs, and MHAA has provided over $1,018,453 in direct aid to date. MHT and MHAA will also host a listening session on Friday, June 4th at 9:30am,where members from partner organizations will be invited to discuss their challenges and successes during the pandemic. The listening session will give MHAA and MHT a fuller picture of our partner organizations’ struggles and allow attendees to share their experiences – and perhaps tips for adapting to our new realities – with each other. For more information on the listening session, click the link here: https://bit.ly/3vlbm5l 

Before the pandemic, MHAA and our partners generated $2.4 billion in economic impact and supported  over 33,000 jobs annually . Even as the pandemic made indoor activities unsafe, visitors continued to seek out Maryland’s outdoor heritage tourism experiences. Maryland State Parks reported record numbers of visitation for 2020. As this data shows, the demand for heritage tourism experiences remains high and Maryland’s cultural heritage organizations will continue to be economic drivers after the pandemic. We recognize that it is more important than ever to support our  partner organizations during this difficult time, and we are committed to protecting Maryland’s history and culture and making it accessible to visitors into the future.  

To join our round-table discussion and share insights on the effects of the pandemic on the heritage tourism field, please be sure to sign up for our listening session here: https://bit.ly/3vlbm5l

Celebrating 60 Years of Preservation in Maryland

By Elizabeth Hughes, Maryland Historical Trust Director

In 1961, the world was changing – and fast.  This was the year that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin became the first human to fly in space.  It was the year in which Freedom Riders began interstate bus rides, to test the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on desegregation.  It launched a decade of Cold War intrigue as construction of the Berlin Wall got underway, and the Bay of Pigs failure laid the groundwork for the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In this same year, the Maryland Historical Trust was born.  

Elizabeth Hughes in her office in Crownsville

Authorized on May 3, 1961, MHT was “created for the purpose of preserving and maintaining historical, aesthetic, and cultural properties, buildings, fixtures, furnishings and appurtenances pertaining in any way to the Province and State of Maryland from earliest times, to encourage others to do so and to promote interest in and study of such matters.”

Former MHT Director J. Rodney Little in his Annapolis office in 1980

After sixty years, a lot has changed. Certainly, the language of that purpose clause no longer rings true today. We recognize the history of this place predates European concepts of a Maryland “province” or “state.” MHT‘s mission is no longer concerned with “fixtures” and “furnishings” and has expanded to consider archaeology and landscapes. We no longer operate as an independent entity, but we are a bigger and better funded agency.  Today, each state has a State Historic Preservation Office, but in 1961, Maryland was unusual in committing state support to our shared cultural heritage. With the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966 and subsequent programs to foster preservation and archaeology, a network of federal, state, and local partners has grown to support these important efforts around the country. Of course, in more recent memory, our ways of working have also shifted: email correspondence, webinars, and virtual meetings have all but replaced faxes, hard copies, and in-person workshops. What else needs to change and what should remain the same?

MHT Board of Trustees’ ceremony for the Maryland Preservation Awards, c. 1990

As we celebrate our diamond anniversary this Preservation Month, I would like to hear from you. Please use this simple Google Form to give us your thoughts and let us know what you’d like to see from us in the future. In the next few weeks, in response to feedback we received from our recent COVID-19 survey of historic and cultural organizations, I will also host a virtual listening session to learn more from our constituents about current challenges and help encourage peer-to-peer exchange. Depending on demand, we may offer additional sessions going forward. Watch our Facebook page or sign up for news if you’d like to register! 

Thanks in advance for sharing with us, and here’s to the next sixty years! 

Revisiting a 19th-century Flea Glass from the Southern Dispensary

by Patricia Samford, Director of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation (MAC) Lab

Since the theme of Maryland Archeology Month 2021 is  “The Archeology of Healing and Medicine,” I thought it would be a great time to revisit a rudimentary microscope called a “flea glass,” which I first studied in a February 2017 Curator’s Choice piece. The monthly Curator’s Choice series highlights significant or unusual artifacts from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation (MAC) Lab collections, and a 19th-century flea glass from the Southern Dispensary in Baltimore qualifies on both counts.

“The eye of a human being is a microscope,
which makes the world seem bigger than it really is.”
– Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)

Nineteenth-century physicians often required more than just the naked eye to assist them in offering quality health care to their patients. Using magnifying devices, like this simple microscope, also called a flea glass, allowed them to gain a better view of wounds or conduct routine visual examinations of ears, eyes, and throats.

An example of a handled Flea Glass Dating to the Second Quarter of the Nineteenth Century.
(Source: https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/simple-microscope-flea-glass-245822098)

Invented in the 1500s, flea glasses were used primarily for studying insects and other small life forms rather than for medical purposes—hence the name. A small, convex lens held nearest to the eye and a larger, flat lens at the opposite end of a short metal tube allowed for magnification ranges of 6x to 10x.

The lenses and iron fittings of a flea glass or similar simple microscope were recovered from a circa 1850-1870 privy excavated at the Federal Reserve site (18BC27) in Baltimore. This magnifying instrument may have been originally mounted on a stand. A medical use for this scientific instrument was assumed because the privy fill also contained a number of other artifacts relating to medical care, including a mortar and pestle, a salve jar, a pill tile, a leech jar, a number of medicine bottles, and a possible stethoscope.

Flea Glass or Simple Microscope from the Federal Reserve Site (Top and Side Views).
Photo by Nicole Doub, MAC Lab.

Documentary records indicate that the privy was located near the Southern Dispensary, a branch of the Baltimore General Dispensary. A dispensary supplied free medicine and health care for citizens who could not otherwise afford medical services. The Southern Dispensary, funded by charitable donations and a small appropriation from the city, was incorporated in 1847 and remained in operation until at least 1889 (Woods 1847; Register 1890). The dispensary offered both clinic and in-home health care (Polk 1888).

Simple Microscope Mounted on a Stand.
Similar instruments were illustrated as early as 1685 in Oculus Artificialis by Johann Zahn

With large populations living in close proximity, it was critical for cities to provide medical services. At various times during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, cholera, yellow fever and smallpox, struck Baltimore (Mdmedicine 2017). Clinics like the Southern Dispensary played key roles in treating infected individuals and preventing widespread epidemics.

References

Bradbury, S.
1968 The Microscope Past and Present. Pergamon International Popular Science Series. Pergamon Press, Ltd., Oxford.

Mdmedicine
2017 Epidemics in Maryland. Website accessed January 13, 2017. http://mdhistoryonline.net/mdmedicine/index.cfm?action=epidemics

Polk, R. L.
1888 The Medical Directory and Register for Baltimore, Washington, Maryland and District of Columbia. R. L. Polk & Co., Baltimore.

Register
1890 Annual Reports of the Register of the City and the Commissioners of Finance. John Cox, Printer, Baltimore.

Woods, John W.
1847 The Act of Incorporation and By-laws, of the Southern Dispensary of Baltimore: Together with a List of Officers for 1847. Baltimore.

Zahn, Johann
1685 Oculus Artificialis Teledioptricus Sive Telescopium. Würzburg, Germany.