Highlighting the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s New Grants Review Panel

By Andrew Arvizu and Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrators

Top row (left to right): Heather Ersts, Emily Falone, Kevin McDonald, Marina Herrera, Mary Callis, Eric Beckett, Tony Spencer; Middle row (left to right): Meagan Baco, Jacqueline Woodruff, Peter Morrill, John Seidel, Larry Brown, Ashley Samonisky; Bottom row (left to right): Francisco Ayala, Michial Gill, Tina Busko, Anne Raines, Rico Newman, Cathy Hardy Thompson, Nathan Cabrera

The Maryland Heritage Areas Program went about grants review differently this year. Due to COVID-19, the program held all of its grants review meetings and training sessions virtually, which presented some challenges, from difficult-to-hear audio to confusion about how to call-in. However, there were also bright spots. Reviewers stayed in their own homes across the state, where they could spread out their grants review materials, and – most importantly – they convened safely.

The more substantial change to the grants review process was who reviewed the 169 applications, requesting $7.7 million dollars in grant funds. This winter the Maryland Heritage Areas Program successfully formed a new Grants Review Panel, made up of 20 Marylanders who represent a wide range of areas of expertise related to heritage tourism and education.

In fall of 2019, the program held an open call for panelists, inviting members of the public to be a part of the FY 21 Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grants review process for the first time ever. Nearly 70 nominations were received, including nominations from six state agencies that are represented on MHAA, as well as nominations from Maryland’s ethnic and cultural commissions.

Today, we are highlighting the 20 panelists who attentively pored over budgets and project timelines, who learned the ins and outs of MHAA grants review over a series of group video calls, and who tirelessly weighed the merits of the many applications over two all-day virtual grants review meetings in June 2020.

The panelists include:

Francisco Ayala (Frederick, MD)
Francisco Ayala is representing the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs. He currently works as an Engagement Specialist for Kaiser Permanente. Previously, he studied Economics at Tecnológico De Monterrey with an emphasis on statistical analysis and business growth.

Meagan Baco (Baltimore City, MD)
Meagan Baco is the Director of Communications at Preservation Maryland, the state’s largest and oldest non-profit dedicated to Maryland’s history and heritage. Meagan is an inaugural fellow of the ARCUS Preservation Leadership program, and the Baltimore Planning Academy. They earned an M.S. in Historic Preservation from Clemson University and the College of Charleston, and a B.A. in Environmental Design from SUNY Buffalo. Previously, Meagan was Acting President of Preservation Action and a Historic Preservation Specialist at Clinton Brown Company Architecture. At Preservation Maryland, Meagan leads the organization’s state and national communications including major programs, like the Campaign for Historic Trades, Smart Growth Maryland, and PreserveCast. They also manage several public history projects including initiatives related to Maryland suffragists, labor history at Baltimore’s mills, and the first-of-its-kind Maryland LGBTQ Historic Context Statement.

Eric Beckett, Maryland Department of Transportation
Eric Beckett is the Deputy Director of the Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering at the Maryland Department of Transportation. He entered this position after completing his M.A. in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan. With over eleven years of experience in the state agency, Eric brings a wealth of administrative and logistical knowledge. In the recent past, he has participated on grant reviews for the Transportation Alternatives, Safe Routes to Schools, and the Recreational Trails programs. Eric is representing the Maryland Department of Transportation and previously served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.   

Larry Brown, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development
Larry D. Brown, Jr. is the Assistant Director of the Baltimore Region for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. He has a long tenure of service working for the state, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, and Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Baltimore. He is committed to fostering community engagement and supporting equitable growth. He has over 13 years of experience in grant-making, project management, and administration. He received his B.S. in Management Science from Coppin State University and a Masters of Divinity from Family Bible College and Seminary. Larry is representing the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Division of Neighborhood Revitalization.

Tina Busko (Berlin, MD)
Tina Busko is the Executive Director of the Rackliffe House Trust. She received her B.S. in Horticulture and History from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After moving to Maryland with her family, she worked as a Naturalist at Assateague State Park. In her current position, at the Rackliffe House Trust, she has become an expert in heritage tourism, grant writing, and administration.

Nathan Cabrera (Dundalk, MD)
Nathan is responsible for outreach and partnership development at Volunteer Maryland, an AmeriCorps program within the Maryland Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. Nathan has received his B.S in Business Marketing and over his career has worked with merchants incorporating the National Main Street program to help grantees with commercial improvements, homeowners with curb appeal projects, host community events, grow social media presence and website design. In addition he’s overseen hundreds of volunteers and partnered with community leaders to help with clean-up and greening initiatives. Nathan’s friendly manner, can-do attitude, and tireless energy is used to build relationships and reaching people all across the State of Maryland.

Mary Callis (Oakland, MD)
Mary Callis is the Executive Director of the Garrett Lakes Arts Festival. Over her ten-year tenure as director she has engaged her community, built lasting partnerships, managed grants, and significantly grown the organization. She has a strong understanding of the impact of heritage tourism and the role that heritage can play in supporting community development.

Heather Ersts, Maryland Department of Commerce
Heather Ersts is the Partnership and Outreach Manager of the Department of Commerce Maryland Office of Tourism Development. She has over 25 years of experience in the museum field, including tenures at the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Historic Annapolis Foundation. She received her B.A. in History from the University of Maryland College Park, MA in History from George Mason University and her MA in the History of American Decorative Arts from Parsons School of Design/The Smithsonian Associates. Her professional experience has made her an expert in public history, grant writing/administration, and marketing. Heather is representing the Maryland Office of Tourism and served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.  

Emily Falone (Elkton, MD)
Emily Falone has thirty years of experience as the Delaware State Administrator for Emergency Programs. There, she oversaw numerous state and federal grants and chaired grant review boards. After retiring from her position with the State of Delaware, Emily has applied her expertise at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, where she currently works. She holds a B.S. in Biology and Geology from CUNY Brooklyn College and an M.S. in Geology from the University of Delaware.

Michial Gill, Ph.D., Maryland State Department of Education
Dr. Gill is the Director of Grants Administration at the Maryland State Department of Education. He received his B.S. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Carolina-Columbia, his M.A. in Business Management from Webster University, and his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Morgan State University. With over 20 years of experience working with the state, Dr. Gill possesses a mastery of grants management and administration. Dr. Gill is representing the Maryland State Department of Education.

Marina Herrera (Accokeek, MD)
Marina Herrera is the Development Manager at the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park, where she is responsible for managing and driving communication campaigns and annual fundraising to engage donors and supporters. Prior to joining the Accokeek Foundation, Marina worked in nonprofit development in the higher education space and, before that, as a nurse in geriatrics and Alzheimer’s/dementia care. She received her B.A. in English Studies from the University of New Mexico.

Kevin McDonald (North Bethesda, MD)
Kevin McDonald is the Digital Strategy Assistant at Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. He received his B.A. in Archaeology and Drama from Tufts University before completing his M.A. in Applied Anthropology and his Graduate Certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture at the University of Maryland, College Park. His academic works, including “An Ethnobotany of the Vaults: A Student Reflection on Anthropology, Biocultural Collections, and Museum Research” and “How death disappeared from Halloween” have been published in esteemed journals like Practicing Anthropology. As a museum professional, he has extensive experience and expertise with exhibit planning, grant writing, and public outreach across the arts and culture sector.

Peter Morrill, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Peter Morrill is the Curatorship and Cultural Resources Manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He completed his B.A. in Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. With experience working for the National Park Service, Delaware State Parks, and the Maryland Historical Trust, Peter is an expert preservationist with experience in research, project management, grant writing, and property acquisition. He currently serves as a board member for Baltimore Heritage and the Maryland Military Monuments Commission. Peter is representing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.

Rico Newman (University Park, MD)
Rico Newman is a member of the Elders Council of the Choptico Band of Piscataway Indians. He retired from a career as a Cultural Information Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and spent six years serving on the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs. He currently devotes time to the Accokeek Foundation as a board member and resides in University Park, Maryland.

Anne Raines, Maryland Historical Trust
Anne B. Raines is Deputy Director and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer at the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), part of the Maryland Department of Planning.  After earning her Bachelor of Architecture at North Carolina State University, she worked for several years as an architect in the US and UK. She earned her M.Sc. in Architectural Conservation with distinction from Edinburgh College of Art (University of Edinburgh) in 2009; returning to the US, she worked as Capital Grants and Loans Administrator at MHT until assuming her current position in 2017. She is representing the Maryland Historical Trust on the panel.

Ashley Samonisky (Cambridge, MD)
Ashley Samonisky is the project manager of Vision Planning and Consulting, LLC. She has an extensive history of working with federal, state and local government in the fields of hazard mitigation, stakeholder engagement, and public outreach. She completed her B.S. in Emergency management at the University of Maryland and her B.S. in Geography at Salisbury University. Her capstone project centered on researching and mapping historic cemeteries in Dorchester County. In her current role at Vision Planning and Consulting, she uses her project management experience to offer guidance to state and local governments on a variety of projects.

John Seidel, Ph.D. (Chestertown, MD)
Dr. Seidel is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College. He received a B.A. in Anthropology and Political Science from Drew University and M.A.s in American Civilization and Anthropology before completing his Ph.D. in Historical Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Professionally, Dr. Seidel has over 40 years of experience in preservation and archaeology. Further, he has served on the board of numerous historical organizations including the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area, the Maryland Humanities Council’s History Matters! Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Anthony “Tony” Spencer (Annapolis, MD)
Born, raised, and educated in Anne Arundel County, Anthony J. “Tony” Spencer has an extensive background as an artist, as well as experience in public administration and a track record of serving his community. His CV includes time spent in the United States Marine Corps and a 23-year career with the Annapolis Fire Department. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has served on the Anne Arundel County Public School Board, on the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and as a grants evaluator for the Maryland State Board of Education. Mr. Spencer serves on and is representing the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.

Read more about Spencer, who chaired the new Grants Review Panel in its inaugural year, in a previous blog post.

Cathy Hardy Thompson (Charles County, MD)
Cathy Hardy Thompson is currently the Preservation and Long Range Planning Program Manager for the government of Charles County. Over the past 15 years, she has worked in a variety of capacities for the Charles County Government, including historic sites surveyor, preservation planner, and program manager. She has extensive experience writing and administering grants that support critical heritage tourism products.

Jacqueline Woodruff (Bowie, MD)
Jacqueline Woodruff serves as Grants Manager for the Maryland State Department of Education. She has an M.A. in Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College. This education led her to an impressive work history that includes serving as the acting program director at Lockheed Martin, as the regional coordinator of the Y in Central Maryland, and the executive director of The Vision Foundation. In her current role as grants manager, Jacqueline secures critical federal support for Maryland’s Department of Education. She is an expert in grant-making, project management and administration.


MHAA staff have been amazed by all the ways in which the panelists adapted to each new situation gracefully, and we look forward to working with them again next year. The panel’s recommendations for award will be reviewed at the Maryland Heritage Area Authority virtual meeting on July 9, 2020, which is open to the public.

Announcing the Chair of the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s New Grants Review Panel

By Ennis Barbery Smith, Assistant Administrator, Maryland Heritage Areas Program

The Maryland Heritage Areas Program is thrilled to announce the successful formation of its new Grants Review Panel, made up of 20 individuals from across the state of Maryland. The 20 panelists represent a wide range of areas of expertise – heritage tourism, public art, historic preservation, education, project management, museums, marketing, and other fields – all of which relate to the types of projects that are eligible for funding from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA).

In autumn of 2019, the program held an open call for panelists, inviting members of the public to nominate themselves or others to review MHAA grants in FY 2021. As part of the process, six state agencies nominated representatives with relevant expertise, and MHAA staff invited Maryland’s seven ethnic and cultural commissions to nominate panelists. In total, nearly 70 nominations were received.

The 20 individuals who will make up the FY 2021 Grants Review Panel are diverse not only in terms of expertise, but also in terms of racial and ethnic background, gender, and geographic associations. The Panel includes Commissioners from the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, and the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs. It also includes representatives from the all corners of the State: from Garrett County in the west to Worcester County on the Eastern Shore.

Mr. Anthony J. “Tony” Spencer will chair the new Grants Review Panel in its inaugural year. Spencer was nominated to serve on the Panel by the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, on which he also serves as a Commissioner.

Mr. Anthony J. “Tony” Spencer, Chair of the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s Grants Review Panel

Born, raised, and educated in Anne Arundel County, Spencer has an extensive background as an artist, as well as a background in public administration and a track record of serving his community. His CV includes time spent in the United States Marine Corps and a 23-year career with the Annapolis Fire Department. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has served on the Anne Arundel County Public School Board, on the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and as a grants evaluator for the Maryland State Board of Education. Currently, he devotes his time to the arts. He is the founder of A. J. Spencer Consultants, LLC and Enrapture Records. Plus, he manages a career as a performing artist, which has included appearances with a host of local, regional, national, and international artists and philharmonic orchestras.

Spencer shared these thoughts on his new role as Chair: “I have come to understand the value of giving back and serving the greater community. Serving with the Maryland Heritage Areas Program as a grant evaluator provides me the opportunity to ensure that the communities and organizations within Maryland have access to resources to research, preserve, present, and celebrate our collective histories.”

The deadline for Intent-to-Apply forms – the first step in the MHAA application process – was January 31, 2020, and the Program received over 240 forms, requesting over $10.4 million in grant funds. With such a strong turnout, MHAA staff are expecting a large number of applications this year. The panelists will soon be busy reviewing the applications, and the Program is grateful for their willingness to read, review, and rank the hundreds of applications that come in each year. The panelists’ duties will also include participating in a training session and two day-long grants review meetings. Be on the lookout for our follow-up blog post, which will include more panelist profiles!

Baltimore National Heritage Area Uses Increased State Funding to Develop Innovative Neighborhood Placemaking Grant Program

By Ennis Barbery Smith, Maryland Heritage Areas Program Assistant Administrator

In years past, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) has provided up to $15,000 annually to each of the 13 Certified Heritage Areas across the state of Maryland for locally-administered “mini-grant” programs, but starting last year MHAA increased this funding level to $25,000 per heritage. Compared with the larger project grants available through MHAA, mini-grants allow Certified Heritage Areas to support smaller-scale projects, activities, and partners.

A map of Maryland’s 13 Certified Heritage Areas

This funding increase allowed the Baltimore National Heritage Area (BNHA) to design and launch the Neighborhood Placemaking Grant Program, which provides funding to help neighborhoods in the heritage area become visitor-ready and highlight the unique cultural heritage that each neighborhood has to offer. Eligible projects fall into three categories:

  • Navigate Your Neighborhood: Festivals, performances, re-enactments, and events that promote heritage tourism and attract visitors
  • Plan for Your Neighborhood: Planning and feasibility studies for capital projects, vacant lot development planning, and project evaluations
  • Green Your Neighborhood: Projects that promote neighborhood greening activities, environmental stewardship, cleanliness, beautification, and citizen community education

The overwhelming response that this grant program received has revealed a significant need for funding to support these types of projects in Baltimore City. While $25,000 was made available for the program from MHAA, BNHA received requests for funding that totaled over $80,000. The heritage area ended up pulling in additional funding from another source in order to award $27,945 total to seven important projects. Shauntee Daniels, Executive Director of BNHA underscored the importance of the Neighborhood Placemaking Grants, when she explained that “every neighborhood has a story.”

Community members celebrate one of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods at the Jonestown Festival, funded in part by a Neighborhood Placemaking Grant. Photo by Will Kirk, courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Baltimore National Heritage Area

Daniels emphasized that many of the neighborhoods’ stories are centered around immigration: “All of these little enclaves of neighborhoods were brought together and built by people who came here as cultural groups.” She described how the area around the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore, known as Jonestown, is a good example of a neighborhood with an engaging story to tell, but – all-too-often – museum visitors pass right through the neighborhood itself. The Jewish Museum received a Neighborhood Placemaking Grant to help fund the annual Jonestown Festival in 2019, highlighting the neighborhood’s engaging history.

Another view of visitors enjoying the Jonestown Festival, funded in part by a Neighborhood Placemaking Grant. Photo by Will Kirk, courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Baltimore National Heritage Area

The China Town Collective also received one of the inaugural Neighborhood Placemaking Grants to support their second-ever “Charm City Night Market.”  Steph Hsu of the Collective said, “The Charm City Night Market celebrates the cultural exchange of Asian Americans in Baltimore City…. Thanks to the funding from the Neighborhood Placemaking Grant we were able to expand our possibilities with signage, wayfinding, and lighting, which will include lanterns designed by a local entrepreneur.”

In addition to creating opportunities for visitors, the Neighborhood Placemaking Grants have encouraged collaborations within and between communities across the heritage area. Kim Lane, Executive Director of Pigtown Main Street in Baltimore, offered this insight: “We shared it [the Neighborhood Placemaking Grant opportunity] with our partners in our area, which resulted in conversations that lead to a group of community leaders from Pigtown Main Street, Pigtown, Barre Circle, Ridgely’s Delight and Camden Carroll forming a committee to plan a heritage walk.” 

This newly rebranded and reimagined mini-grant program builds on BNHA’s “Heritage Neighborhoods” goal, which calls on the heritage area to “assist visitor friendly neighborhoods offering heritage experiences” and specifically mentions “emerging heritage neighborhoods,” tasking BNHA with meeting neighborhoods where they are and supporting them in the early stages of becoming visitor-ready.

BNHA is currently accepting applications for this year’s round of Neighborhood Placemaking Grants. The deadline to apply is December 9. Read more about this opportunity on their website.

13 Grants-Related Things that Frighten Us and How MHT is Trying to Make the Process a Little Less Scary

By Ennis Barbery Smith, Maryland Heritage Areas Program Assistant Administrator

It’s October, and many of us working in the historic preservation and heritage tourism fields are offering our annual retellings of the spooky stories associated with the buildings we help steward. Some of us are leading ghost tours and hanging fake cobwebs from eaves. However, the “scary” thing that I’m writing about today is the grants process. It’s not “spooky” scary. It doesn’t go bump in the night, but it is frightening in other ways. Grants can keep us up at night, and by us, I mean both grant recipients and grants managers.

Here at MHT, we have some good news to share about how we’re trying to make the grant reporting process a little less frightening for everyone involved. But, before I get to that, if you’re unfamiliar with grants, you may be wondering “what could be frightening about grants?” I asked some of our grantees and grants managers to share their fears, and here’s a listing of some of their answers:

13 Grants-Related Things that Frighten Us:

  1. Grant Applicant / Recipients’ Fears:
    Writing an entire application thinking you understand the priorities of the funding organization, only to get a rejection letter detailing how you completely missed the mark

  2. Looking through a grant application to see how much time you need to complete it, allotting that time, then realizing later that the final step is five letters of support and the grant is due by close of business

  3. Forgetting your password for the grant portal on the day the grant is due

  4. Manipulating your project budget to fit into the form that has been provided in the grant application, and inadvertently leaving out an important expense in the process

  5. Answering what seems to be the same question on a grant application five times and struggling to make the answer sound different each time

  6. Finding out the grant is reimbursable when you were counting on money up front and your operating budget is tight

  7. Doing the math and finding out that the total money (i.e. staff time) you’ve spent writing grant reports and providing financial documentation is greater than your total grant award

  8. Finding out there are more strings attached to the grant award than you realized, such as being required to purchase a ticket to the funding organization’s event

  9. Grant Managers’ Fears:
    Finding out, in your grantee’s final report, that the entire project has changed without them telling you, and they’ve spent the grant money on expenses that your grant program can’t cover

  10. Finding out that the project contact has literally disappeared from the grantee organization and not told anyone else at the organization about the grant’s existence

  11. Realizing that a grantee who was awarded a historic preservation grant has inadvertently used the money to dismantle historic elements of the building

  12. Seeing that a grantee has not taken the time to fact check their interpretive sign at a historic site, but they have taken the time to include your organization’s logo prominently

  13. Realizing that – out of the hundreds of pages of financial documentation you’ve reviewed – only a few pages relate directly to the grant project

In summary, the grants process is fraught with things that frighten us. While MHT can’t control all of the scary circumstances listed here, we at MHT are making changes to some of the processes within our control: our financial documentation and grant amendment policies.

Those of you who have received grant funding from one of our programs in the past will probably recall scanning and uploading stacks of cancelled checks and invoices each time you requested a disbursement of your grant funding. Over the years, long before compiling this list, our grantees have been giving us feedback about how they sometimes felt they were spending more time documenting their grant spending than actually doing the important work directly related to their projects. During the series of public meetings that MHT held as part of the process of updating the Statewide Preservation Plan, PreserveMaryland II, our past and present grantees echoed these concerns.

We have listened to this feedback, and now we’re making changes:

  1. Less paper to scan and submit: Under our old policies, MHT required grantees to submit both “proof of expenditure” (invoices, receipts, etc.) and corresponding “proof of payment” (cancelled checks, credit card statements, etc.) for all expenses associated with their grant projects. Across all of our programs, we will no longer be requiring grantees to submit “proof of payment.”

  2. Streamlined amendments and extensions: We will now be processing most grant extensions and amendments via email. Grant extensions and amendments, when approved, allow grantees to make changes to the timetables, scopes of work, and budgets associated with their projects.

  3. For MHAA grants, a “spot-check” process: While all Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grantees must still retain financial documentation of grant-related expenses, only a portion of MHAA grantees will be required to scan and upload their financial documentation as part of their grant reporting. You can think of this as similar to the IRS’s tax-filing system in which the IRS only requires that a portion of audited tax-payers submit documentation for their tax claims.
The Maryland Heritage Areas Program orientations discussed the new policies in September.
Photo courtesy of Lucille Walker and the Southern Maryland Heritage Area

We hope that these changes—and other changes that are more program-specific—will mean that our grantees can complete their reporting requirements in less time and have more time to spend on their projects. The rollout of this new financial documentation policy looks different for each of our grant programs. Please contact the MHT staff person you’ve been working with if you have questions about how this might apply to your grant.

To our grantees, MHT thanks you for all the important projects you’re working on to steward Maryland’s heritage. This Halloween-season, may these changes lighten your workload a little, so you can focus on the important things, like getting that fog-machine in working order or curating the perfect collection of gourds, if you’re sticking with a more restrained autumnal style.

Thank you to the grantees and grants managers who contributed to the list of grant-related fears! If you enjoyed this Halloween-themed blog and you’ve worked in the non-profit world, you might also be interested in this description of a visit to a non-profit-themed haunted house – it’s truly terrifying.

Maryland Heritage Areas Program Highlighted as a Funding Source for Landscape-Scale Conservation

Maryland Heritage Areas Program Highlighted as a Funding Source for Landscape-Scale Conservation

By Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrator

When you think of “cultural resources” in Maryland, do you picture buildings and artifacts? And, when you read the phrase “natural resources,” what comes to mind? Perhaps a diamond back terrapin sunning itself in the marsh grasses?

These images are “zoomed in.” When we zoom out and use a landscape-scale perspective, thinking of any of the regions that make up Maryland’s 13 heritage areas for example, cultural and natural resources are intertwined. Historic Districts are often home to streams and dotted with trees. Agricultural landscapes — hemmed in by wetlands, rivers, and forests- – serve as stunning backdrops for nineteenth century barns and farm houses. On Maryland’s shores, in coastal and bay-side communities (like Tilghman Island, pictured below) cultural traditions, the economy, and the built environment are all closely tied with the surrounding land and water.

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center’s Oyster House on Tilghman Island serves as a working oyster house and a site for environmental education. It has benefited from Maryland Heritage Area Program grants.
Photo provided courtesy of Phillips Wharf Environmental Center

The Maryland Heritage Areas Program (MHAP) staff recently wrote a paper detailing examples of how the program uses a landscape-scale perspective to support a wide range of heritage tourism and education related grant projects: from hiking trails to museum exhibits, wetlands to web resources. Jennifer Ruffner presented the paper in November of 2018 at a symposium called Forward Together. The United States National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS) held the symposium, bringing together an international group of scholars and professionals to discuss the linkages between culture and nature in their work.

Jennifer Ruffner, MHAP Administrator, presenting the paper entitled Stewarding Places and Stories: Maryland Heritage Areas Program as Framework for Conservation

The symposium was held in San Francisco at the Presidio (pictured below), a former army post turned park that includes historic buildings, walking trails, and an unusually high number of rare and endangered plant species. MHAP staff were honored to attend the symposium — especially in this setting that illustrated how the cultural and natural are so often linked, rather distinct.

If you are interested in reading more about how the Maryland Heritage Areas Program supports landscape-scale heritage conservation, MHAP staff’s paper is now available online.

The Presidio’s Infantry Row
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio

Maryland Heritage Areas Grant Helps Wye Mill Keep on Grindin’

By Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrator

Each year, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) provides grant funding to heritage tourism-related projects that preserve and celebrate important places across the state. As part of Preservation Month, the MHAA staff wanted to take the time to visit one of these fascinating places where preservation work is underway, and to take you — our blog readers — along with us on a photo-based virtual tour.

John Nizer, Gail Owings, and Otis pose in front of the Wye Grist Mill in Wye Mills, MD.

The place we chose to visit was the Wye Grist Mill, where we were greeted by the cast of characters above: John Nizer (Board President and volunteer extraordinaire for the Friends of Wye Mill), Gail Owings (Executive Director of the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area), and Otis, a canine-heritage-tourism-enthusiast who you may recognize from his frequent appearances visiting historic buildings and landscapes on the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area’s social media feed.

The Mill dates to 1682, and — with very minimal interruption — it has been grinding grain to produce flour ever since. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the Mill’s claims to fame, featured prominently in tours and signage, is that it (and many other mills on the Eastern Shore of Maryland) shipped flour to the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington, during the American Revolution. Part of what makes the Wye Grist Mill so special is that it’s a rare survivor. Sadly, those “many other mills” that dotted the Eastern Shore during the American Revolution are nowhere to be found today.

But Wye Mill is still standing and still grinding. Visitors can still see the grindstones, the waterwheel, and all the other intricate inner workings in action on the first and third Saturdays of each month from May to the middle of November, when a trained miller is on site. Visitors may also purchase grain. I, the author, can attest that the cornmeal ground on-site is fabulous, and makes a mean cornbread.

When we arrived at the Mill on a cloudy Wednesday in early May, one of the first things that John Nizer showed us was a new door on the rear lower level of the building that had just been commissioned and installed as part of the MHAA grant project. The previous door was determined to be damaged beyond repair, and a new “beaded vertical plank exterior door with diagonal interior sheathing” was approved by the Maryland Historical Trust just this spring.

John was excited to show it off, not only because of the door’s period-specific details, but because of the people who made it. A local teacher at Queen Anne’s County High School, Ron Frederick, took on the special project with some of his best carpentry students. Even the nails on the door are handmade. Charles Euston, a blacksmith working in Woodbury, CT crafted all 175 of them. He also does blacksmith work for the National Park Service.

Illustrations used in exhibit at the Wye Grist Mill, showing Oliver Evans’ automated process for milling, which he patented with the U.S. Patent Office in 1790.

As John explained and as the Mill’s hand-painted illustrations convey, the building uses an automated system for grinding grain, which was invented by Oliver Evans in 1784. This system would have been installed at the Wye Grist Mill sometime in the late 18th century or early 19th century, according to the signage present on-site. It replaced a system that required much more manual labor.

Wye Grist Mill’s iron waterwheel, which will be inspected as part of the grant project

When the miller on duty is ready to get started grinding, he or she opens a small metal gate that allows water to flow onto the waterwheel from a nearby containment pond. The waterwheel then powers the automated mechanisms. A miller must start the milling process by pouring grain down into the door in the floor (shown below) that leads to the “grain spout.”

The door to the grain spout is shown here. It is simply a removable panel in the floor with a handle attached.

From the grain spout, the grain then goes up an elevator to the top floor and back down another chute into the hopper on the main floor.

John Nizer explained the process as he stood beside the hopper (right).

Inside the hopper, the grain filters down between the two millstones’ grooves, where the grinding happens. The two stones involved in this process are called the “runner stone,” the top stone weighing in at around 2,600 pounds, and the “bed stone,” located below and weighing about 1,800 pounds in comparison. The distance between the two stones can be adjusted by the miller and will depend on how fine or coarse the miller wants the resulting flour to be.

A view of the top of the runner stone inside the hopper

The millstones are turned by a system of belts and cogs located directly below them on the first floor. John explained to us, as he showed us the system (below), that some of the cogs are metal while others are wood. He asked us why this would be the case, and we were momentarily stumped. “Metal against metal produces sparks,” he said, explaining the fire risk potential.

This photo shows the cogs that help turn the millstones, and the bottom of the bed stone is visible near the top of the photo.

After being ground between the two stones, there is one more automated elevator ride to the top floor of the building, where the course outer layers of the grain and other impurities are removed. The grain then comes back down to the main floor and falls into the “meal bin” through a chute. At this point, the grain is now flour. The processes for cornmeal and grits are slightly different.

The meal bin, where flour arrives through the chute visible on the right

The best way to learn about this traditional — albeit automated — process and all the related history is to see the Mill in action, talk with a docent, and peruse its exhibits and hands-on activities. Just down the road from the Mill, there are other historic sites to explore:

Over the next year, the Friends of Wye Mill will continue to inspect and repair parts of their historic building and milling equipment with the help of millwright Gus Kiorpes (also the millwright for Mount Vernon). These repairs will be funded in part by the MHAA grant they received. We wish them and all of our grantees a merry Preservation Month and happy grant season!

Thanks for coming along on our virtual photo tour of the Wye Grist Mill.