Long Live the Chestertown Tea Party! (Guest Blog)

By Steven X. Lee

The Chestertown Tea Party Festival is one of Maryland’s quintessential ‘Local
Legacies.’ But this year it too succumbed to cancellation in the quake of the COVID-19
pandemic. In honor of the annual homage to Colonial Maryland’s claim for
Independence, I offer a passage from my forthcoming book, Story of Mr. Thomas Carney – A Maryland Patriot of the American Revolutionary War. Based on the actual war record of a free black enlistee, the work gives a glimpse into Revolutionary War Era Maryland from the perspective of an African American soldier and his family. Here, from the book’s second chapter, the fifty-year-old war hero recounts his experience as a twenty-year-old on a visit to Chestertown.

Now sometimes Pa would have us load our finest wagon with the goods of our farm: produce, crafts and treats, the wagon was like a little store. Then he and I would set out to sell at marketplaces around the Eastern Shore. One fine spring morning in May of 1774, Pa said “We’re a’goin’ to Chester,” and I was glad. Chester’s a grand old town with lots to do, interesting things to eat and drink, and all the latest news. Pa had a cousin there too we’d sometimes see, a waterman who lived near the end of Water Street, at Scott’s Point, Chestertown’s black community.

S. Water Street

South Water Street, Chestertown. While the original 18th and early 19th century houses
are no longer extant, this was once the area of a vibrant African American community known as
Scott’s Point.

However on this day the fine streets were packed with people, activity and uproar, our wagon could make but a crawl; Pa wondered “Have we come to town in the midst of a festival or a really big brawl?” When we finally reached the harbor, as I looked from the shore, there were ships out in the water, with men throwing things overboard: boxes and barrels, crates, papers and more.

Widehall&Tour 2016

Framing the left-side of the harbor’s main plaza, on S. Water Street at the end of High Street, this is the front façade of Widehall, the circa 1770 mansion of Thomas Smythe.

The Chester River had become a sea of bobbing articles and debris. A sailor in uniform was tossed into the water from a ship’s bow. Frantically he swam ashore, stood up and gestured at the men aboard while sounding a defiant vow. Cannons of the ships were fired up into the air, and musket fire from land joined in the fanfare. Even the seagulls, ducks, geese, and other birds of the shore, excitedly rose in frenzied synchronized flights, bringing the clear blue sky to life.

Ringing his bell, a town crier in a hat and waistcoat, yelled “Hear ye! Hear ye! Down with the British, their taxes and tea! We are Maryland, a land of liberty. Hear ye; hear ye!” The crowd’s roar swelled, and despite many a British jeer, the townspeople seemed to dance in revelry and good cheer.

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The original 18th-century HMS Sultana patrolled the waterways of eastern American Colonies, including those of the Chesapeake Bay, for the British Royal Navy. It served to collect tea taxes as well as other customs duties, and guarded against smugglers. This Chestertown-built 2001 replica serves as a sailing classroom in Colonial history and environmental science for kids, and for re-enactments in the Chestertown Tea Party Festival.

It was Chestertown’s protest Tea Party we had happened upon they say, when we
came to sell our goods there that day. Maryland, with the other American Colonies,
was joining against the British way of rule and taxation. The Colonies wanted to be
their own new nation.

Chester remains a ‘grand old town.’ The vintage streets, architecture, fine harbor,
and birds of the shore can still be found.

 

The author, Commissioner Steven X. Lee, serves on the Maryland Commission of African American History & Culture, is Program Director of The Heritage Museum, and served as the Founding Director of the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park & Museum.

Story of Mr. Thomas Carney – A Maryland Patriot of the American Revolutionary War is anticipated to be released in 2021. For more information about the Chestertown Tea Party visit: https://www.chestertownteaparty.org, and on Chestertown’s history, visit the Historical Society of Kent County: https://kentcountyhistory.org.

 

Caravaning for Votes: The Margaret Brent Pilgrimage to St. Mary’s City

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director, Maryland Historical Trust

In June 1915, a caravan of suffragists arrived in St. Mary’s City to honor Margaret Brent, a 17th century Marylander lauded by many as the first woman suffragist in America.  The “Margaret Brent Pilgrimage,” sponsored by the Just Government League, was designed to garner the attention of the media and stir the imagination of the public. The successful spectacle inspired newspaper articles in state and local papers which tracked the pilgrims’ progress over a series of weeks during the summer of 1915. Most of the sites that hosted the caravan are located in the Four Rivers and Southern Maryland Heritage Areas and can still be visited today. 

PhotoofPilgrimage

Suffrage leaders in the prairie wagon. From left to right – Mrs. F. F. Ramey, Mrs. John M. Heard,
Miss L. C. Trax. Source: Maryland Suffrage News. (Baltimore, Md.), 29 May 1915. Chronicling
America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The pilgrimage caravan, designed for maximum effect, was described by the Baltimore Sun in May of 1915 as consisting of:

“A prairie schooner, two big white horses, some pots and pans and army cots, a bottle of citronella, four women suffragists and one man (who) will leave tomorrow for Southern Maryland on a pilgrimage to the home of Margaret Brent, the first suffragist of America…”

The sides of the canvas covered wagon were emblazoned with the slogan “Votes for Women,” two American flags unfurled on either side of the wagon’s bench seat, and – in addition to pots and pans – the wagon included a typewriter, a camera, and a flaming gasoline light for night meetings. On the wagon were Miss Mary O’Toole, an Ireland-born Washington lawyer and Secretary of the Washington, DC, branch of the College Equal Suffrage League; Mr. and Mrs. Frank Ramey, the former both an attorney and a suffragist; Mrs. Frank Hiram Snell, a New Englander who previously worked in Missouri on the suffrage amendment there; and Miss Lola C. Trax, a Marylander who was a prolific writer and professional organizer in the women’s suffrage movement.  

Miss Trax had planned the 350-mile journey, which would begin at the Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore City and travel south through Annapolis, Prince Frederick, and Solomon’s Island to St. Mary’s City, with the return trip planned through Leonardtown, Charlotte Hall, La Plata, and Upper Marlboro before their return to Baltimore. In all, the plan was for the pilgrims to cover an average of 15 miles per day, stopping at 37 towns along the route. They would host up to three open- air meetings per day, in order to “tell the inhabitants about the votes for women movement” in the hopes of arousing interest and obtaining converts.  

SuffrageNews

The route of the Margaret Brent Pilgrimage. Source: Maryland Suffrage News. (Baltimore, Md.),
29 May 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The caravan set off from Baltimore on May 31st, stopping in Glen Burnie and Severna Park. On June 1st the front page of the Evening Capital newspaper heralded their arrival in Annapolis with the headline “Suffrage Pilgrims Invade City Today.”  After meeting with the Mayor, the caravan relocated to the front of the courthouse, where the suffragists expounded on their cause before a large crowd.

Although off to an auspicious start, their luck didn’t last. As reported by the Sun paper on June 4th:

“…one of the worst storms that has visited this section in weeks has been sweeping over the State.  The thermometer has registered March temperatures instead of June mildness.  Yet dauntlessly, indefatigably, that rain-soaked wagon, fresh and new no longer is being towed through roads that experienced country travelers are shy of.  Sometimes the road is entirely erased by the flood of water that is drenching the country.  Other times, a thick clinging mud is sucking up the wheels to their very hubs.”

This miserable weather not only chilled the wagon’s passengers, who were wrapped in steamer rugs, sweaters and raincoats, it also kept the hoped-for audiences at home. The Sun reported “So far six towns have gone unconverted even partially by the caravaners. These are Edgewater, Scrabbletown, Galesville, Shadyside, Deale, and Friendship.”  

Despite these challenges, the suffragists pressed on, viewing their pilgrimage “as a sacred mission that will bear fruits in a wider demand for the vote among women and a larger sympathy among men.” The caravan received a particularly warm welcome in Prince Frederick, where the Sun reported:

“Judge Briscoe came out to greet the caravaners as the big prairie schooner arrived in the town, he handed the suffragists the key to the town, declared himself at their service and told them the Courthouse was entirely at their disposal.”  

That night, in the main courtroom, three worn-out suffragists slept on three camping cots stretched out in a row.

Finally, on June 8th, the caravan arrived in St. Mary’s City.  The St. Mary’s Beacon reported that hundreds of people had gathered on the grounds of St. Mary’s Seminary which were fluttering with “Votes for Women” pennants. The veranda of the building was used as the rostrum from which each of the five caravaners addressed the expectant crowds. After the meeting, groups of suffragists visited local historical sites including the home of Margaret Brent, the Leonard Calvert monument, and Trinity Church before beginning the second leg of their journey.  

suffragists

This photo of St. Mary’s Seminary students was taken in 1915, the same year as the pilgrimage. Behind them stands the St. Mary’s Seminary Main Building, now known as Calvert Hall, from which the pilgrims addressed the crowd. Source: St. Mary’s College of Maryland Digital Archives – Historic Campus Photographs Collection.

Overall, the suffragists traveled for 23 days through Maryland’s southern counties. One participant sent back a preliminary report of their results just before the journey’s end, writing:

“[We] spoke to 2423 people, secured 343 members, and raised $65.27. The expenses are heavy and the hardships many. It takes a ‘good sport’ to be a successful campaigner. A caravaner must be prepared for all kinds of weather, all kinds of food and activity, and all degrees of response from varying audiences. Those who want to do real work can get it with us, but those who are looking for emotional thrills or a vacation should pass us by.” 

Today, a State Historic Roadside Marker commemorates this journey and all those who did the “real work” necessary in order for women to have the right to vote. It is important to note, however, that while the 19th Amendment guaranteed the freedom to vote regardless of sex, it primarily benefited white women. The fight for full voting rights for women of color in America continued for decades afterwards – for African American women, particularly in the South, this meant an ongoing struggle until passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Saving the Historic Sang Run Election House (Guest Blog)

By Ken Dzaack, Maintenance Program Supervisor, Deep Creek Lake State Park

The community of Sang Run, Maryland is a close-knit gathering of neighbors located along the banks of Ginseng Run in west central Garrett County.  For more than 100 years, the Friends Store, and the Sang Run Election House were at the heart of this small community.  The Election House, thought to date to 1872, was the polling place for Sang Run and the surrounding area until 1972.  It is the oldest polling place of its type in the county.  The property remained in the Friend family for more than 150 years before being gifted to the State of Maryland, eventually becoming Sang Run State Park.

EH 1920s

The Sang Run Election House in the 1920s.

At the time of its transfer to state ownership in 2007, the balloon-frame structure was in fair condition, though it exhibited some weather and vandalism damage.  Park records show that serious discussion about preservation work on the Election House began in February of 2011, followed by Maryland Historical Trust approval of a stabilization project proposal in February of 2012.  However, in the meantime, the structure began to deteriorate.  Significant funding and manpower from Deep Creek Lake State Park and community volunteers succeeded in keeping the structure from failing.  In 2015, temporary frame stabilization was installed.  With the creation of Sang Run State Park in 2017, stabilization and preservation of the Election House took on a higher priority.

In 2018, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Engineering and Construction staff, the Maryland Park Service Critical Maintenance Chief Wayne Suydam, the Deep Creek Lake State Park’s Manager Roy Musselwhite and Maintenance Program Supervisor Ken Dzaack assessed the Election House in preparation for work to begin in 2019. Using information gathered during the assessment, and the few existing historic photographs, DNR Engineering and Construction was able to develop a plan to return the election house to its original circa-1872 appearance, whereby the Maryland Park Service dedicated the resources needed to have the project completed by park service staff. The core construction team included the original assessment team plus maintenance supervisors and lead technicians Derek McFarland, Brian Buckel and Duane Stein from Rocky Gap, New Germany and Herrington Manor State Parks.

EH Prior to Restoration_Interior

Interior restoration of the Election House.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the project was locating supplies of “period-appropriate” materials.  All the original framing and siding lumber was native species, rough cut, and weathered.  After exhausting an extensive list of potential used-lumber sources, the team elected to contact an Amish-owned sawmill to supply 2 x 12 x 12 hemlock siding, batten boards, and framing lumber.  Other local milling firms supplied original pattern trim and an original pattern entry door using the required lumber species.  In another building on the property, a supply of period accurate 4-over-4 windows, with intact period glass, was located.  The rural setting of this location, and the geographic area, played a large part in being able to get accurate materials in a cost effective and timely manner.

Physical work began on the building on June 7, 2019, with removal and salvaging of all reusable material.  Because of the tight time table set for the bulk of the work on this project, the Park Service’s Western Region Maryland Conservation Corp crew was called on to participate.  After salvaging the usable material, new piers were set and new beams and a subfloor were put in place.  The walls were framed, taking care to restore the original window configuration, and the construction of the heavy hemlock roof trusses began.  The trusses were lifted and set by hand 10 feet over the floor.  The roof was sheathed with 1 X 12 lumber in keeping with the original construction methods and eventually restored with a period-accurate, custom-made standing seam metal roof. 

Because there was not enough original lumber salvaged to cover the entire building, it was decided to use the original siding on the most visible sides of the building and new Hemlock siding on the remainder.  As was done in the original construction, the siding was installed vertically.  Handling this rough-cut material by hand gave the entire crew a new appreciation for what it took to construct this building over 140 years ago.

EH Restored Exterior_Front

Sang Run Election House, restored exterior

Finally, the replacement windows were stripped and completely rebuilt at the Rocky Gap State Park shop.  The glass and old finish was removed.  Damaged wood was removed and new pieces installed.  The original glass was cleaned, replaced, pointed, and glazed.   New, original design exterior shutters also were built at Rocky Gap. In time, the crew addressed interior surfaces, including new red oak hardwood flooring, as well as period-appropriate trim. On April 23, 2020, the project was considered 100% complete.  The core construction crew individuals received a Maryland Park Service Superintendent’s Commendation Award. This read, in part: “Your efforts have distinguished yourself and the Maryland Park Service as we advance the long-term preservation of this significant historical landmark.”

The Sang Run Election House’s historic significance to the area could be best characterized by an anecdote from a bygone election: While counting ballots some officials wanted to declare a winner, another official halted the declaration by reminding them that the votes from Sang Run had not arrived yet.  Evidently, the voting power of the area was substantial!  Resident feeling for the Sang Run Election House was emphasized during the project by the constant arrival of folks who talked about their memories of the building, expressing their appreciation of its being preserved.  Several people remembered casting their first ballot in the building. Many others remember, as children, going on Election Day so their parents could vote.  

The completed Sang Run Election House at Sang Run State Park will be used for interpretive programs and special events. Come see us!

Year One of PreserveMaryland II, the Statewide Preservation Plan

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

After nearly a year and a half of public meetings, hundreds of comments, drafts and redrafts and reviews, the National Park Service approved PreserveMaryland II, Maryland’s statewide preservation plan, in July 2019. The plan, which runs through 2023, serves as a guidance document for everyone engaged in historic preservation and cultural heritage activities in Maryland. As noted in the plan (Goal 4), we had hoped to have an annual meeting to report out on the Maryland Historical Trust’s activities for the year and to hear from partners and constituents about their progress. At the time, I envisioned that those meetings, held in partnership with allied organizations, would occur around the state and allow for continued transparency, while also providing us an opportunity to receive feedback and – if necessary – adjust course. Unfortunately, given the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to put that and many other outreach meetings on hold. Instead, this May, in honor of Preservation Month, we have compiled some of our highlights from the first year, and we would love to hear from you about any projects you’d like to share!

Goal 1: Connect with Broader Audiences

In 2020 – like all of you – we have had to focus on virtual connection. Building on our previous successes with Black History Month posts, we created daily blog and social media content for Women’s History Month in March, Archeology Month in April, and Preservation Month in May. We also expanded our social media platforms to include Instagram – check us out at @mdhistoricaltrust!

Instagram

MHT’s new Instagram page @mdhistoricaltrust

Responding to public feedback related to diversity and inclusion in decision-making, and in an effort to collaborate more closely with communities who may be underrepresented in the Maryland Heritage Areas Program, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) worked with constituent groups and organizations, including the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, to remake its grants review panel. This effort included an open public recruitment and vetting to prioritize diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The first review of applications by the new panel, which makes recommendations to the MHAA for funding, is currently underway. MHAA is also in the process of convening a working group to address issues of diversity and inclusion. The working group will be made up of MHAA members, local heritage area staff, and representatives from the Governor’s Ethnic and Cultural Commissions.

Goal 2: Improving the Framework for Preservation

By popular request, MHT has continued to make enhancements to its grants programs to improve accessibility and ease of use. In 2019 and 2020, we eliminated the financial reporting requirement to provide proof of payment and allowed most extensions and amendments to be processed via email. MHAA, which has by far the largest pool of funding among the MHT-administered grant programs, has instituted a “spot check” system, requiring grantees to retain financial information but only provide it for review if randomly selected. These changes add up to dramatic time savings and reduced burden for grantees. MHAA is also evaluating the ability to reduce or eliminate match requirements, as the Certified Local Government program has done, with the goal of expanding access to funding for those organizations that may need it most.

Medusa

Medusa will soon have enhanced searching capacity to improve research.

Following the successful launch of the Medusa application, which made the state’s cultural resources information available in a map-based, user-friendly format, MHT is continuing to expand its online research and service capacity. We are currently working on enhanced searchability of Medusa data (for example, to allow searches by architectural category or dates) and, even before the pandemic hit, we had started developing an online submission form for historic preservation project review and compliance.

Goal 3: Expand and Update Documentation

Many of PreserveMaryland II’s strategies to expand and update documentation address gaps in our data related to marginalized communities. In 2019 and 2020, we have partnered with Preservation Maryland on a project to research LGBTQ history in Maryland, which will result in a historic context study for the state, as well as in-depth documentation of properties associated with the LGBTQ community in Montgomery County and Baltimore City. We have also received funding from the National Park Service to support research into the Women’s Suffrage movement around the state, as well as funds from the MHT Board of Trustees to support an internship focused on a historic context of Chinese Americans in Baltimore.

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Carroll County dairy barn. Photo credit: Marcia Miller

MHT recently embarked on an effort with the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design to document historic dairy farms in Cecil, Carroll, and Frederick counties over the next two years. Learn more about the project here.

Goal 4: Build Capacity and Strengthen Networks

Although we have not been able to move forward with many of the workshops and trainings proposed under this goal, we have been responsive to the COVID-19 situation in a variety of ways. We have translated our grants workshops into webinars and held public meetings using platforms such as WebEx. MHT and MHAA surveyed cultural heritage organizations and institutions to assess COVID-19 impacts, and MHAA initiated an emergency grant round in response. (Learn more about the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s COVID-19 response here.) At Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, our staff have worked hard to produce virtual educational opportunities, including “STEAM Sunday,” “Plant of the Week,” and a “Lunchtime Learning” series on Facebook Live.

Lunchtimelearning

To build awareness of historic preservation and cultural resources in new professional circles, MHT developed and produced trainings related to climate change and cultural heritage for Maryland’s Climate Leadership Academy and for the 2019 APA Maryland conference. Following the 2019 release of Planning for Maryland’s Flood-Prone Archeological Resources, MHT will be developing new trainings for local governments and archaeologists interested in the topic.

Goal 5: Collaborate Toward Shared Objectives

Recognizing the challenges inherent in the redevelopment of formerly government-owned historic campuses in Maryland, and following the passage of Senate Bill 741 in 2019, the Maryland Department of Planning contracted with a team consisting of Widell Preservation Services, LLC; BAE Urban Economics, Inc.; and Sparks Engineering, Inc. to study this issue and provide recommendations.  The resulting report, Advancing the Preservation and Reuse of Maryland’s Historic Complexes, identified completed campus reuse projects in our state and beyond, evaluating their effectiveness and proposing measures which could improve the redevelopment of such projects in Maryland in the future.  A steering committee for the project, chaired by Rob McCord, Secretary of Planning, included Senator Katie Fry Hester; Delegate Regina Boyce; Nick Redding, Executive Director of Preservation Maryland, and John Renner, Vice President of Development at Cross Street Partners. Other agency partners also took part in monthly meetings of the steering committee.  

Complexes report

January 2020 report issued to Planning on the redevelopment of former campuses

Following PreserveMaryland II objectives and strategies, MHT has partnered with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to conduct architectural and archeological assessments of DNR-controlled properties. Recent survey locations include Billingsley, the core of a 700 acre land grant patented in the 1660s to Major John Billingsley and the last documented location of the Mataponi and Patuxent Indians in the Archives of Maryland (Prince George’s County); Fishing Bay, the focus of a Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant from MHT to the Chesapeake Watershed Archaeological Research Foundation to complete a coastal archaeological survey of the watershed (Dorchester County); and Fort Frederick State Park, where a team discovered cultural resources associated with the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp that housed the workers who restored Fort Frederick, as well as a road trace that may indicate where a small colonial town was positioned (Washington County).

We hope you enjoyed our virtual #PreservationMonth this May and look forward to hosting our 2021 preservation plan update in person! Thanks for everything you do to advance historic preservation and cultural heritage in Maryland.

Meet Harford County, Maryland’s Newest Certified Local Government!

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

As the State Historic Preservation Office, the Maryland Historical Trust administers the Certified Local Government program, a federal-state-local partnership designed to highlight and support counties and municipalities that have made a special commitment to historic preservation. Local governments with historic preservation commissions must meet certain standards to qualify for the program, in return for which they have the opportunity to access funds for education and training, as well as compete for project grants (for example, to support preservation planning, architectural or archaeological survey, or nominations to the National Register of Historic Places). To learn more about the Certified Local Government program, visit our website.

In December 2019, we were pleased to welcome Harford County into the program. This year, in honor of Preservation Month, I asked Jenny Jarkowski, Deputy Director, and Joel Gallihue, Chief of Long Range Planning in the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning, to share their thoughts on preservation in the county. The Q&A follows.

JERMILL

Lee’s Merchant Mill, Jerusalem Mill Village (photo courtesy of Harford County)

What is it about the historic character of Harford County that makes it special?

Harford County has such a diverse collection of resources, starting with the archaeological sites of Susquehannock people and early English colonial cabins. We have existing examples of homes and mansions that demonstrate the major architectural styles built in the eastern United States. We have important African American history, including two Freedmen’s Bureau schools and documented stops on the Underground Railroad. A crossroads of maritime, transportation, and military history, with easy access to major cities, we feel the potential for heritage tourism and heritage lifestyles for those who choose to invest in our resources.

What is your favorite historic place in Harford County?

It is difficult to choose, but with everyone sheltering at home (despite some beautiful spring weather), we suggest HA-469, better known as Rocks State Park. A visitor to the King and Queen Seat can see the same view local author Thomas Wysong lauded in 1880 as a “[r]are picture of sublimity and beauty … embracing within its range hill and dale, forest and field, river and brook, farmhouse and hamlet.” With a little extra care to observe social distancing, this historic resource can help relieve cabin fever.

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King and Queen Seat at Rocks State Park (photo courtesy of Harford County)

Why did Harford County want to become a Certified Local Government?

Our 2016 master plan HarfordNEXT states, “These [historic] resources provide a direct link to our past, contributing to our sense of community and offering continuity as Harford County continues to grow and evolve.” Gaining Certified Local Government status was an implementation strategy of that plan.

What are some of your preservation priorities over the next few years?

We have many implementation strategies in HarfordNEXT, the county’s master plan. Some of these include the identification and prioritization of threatened or endangered resources which are of significant value in the county’s history. A big thrust in the coming years will be to expand the county’s landmark list. During this expansion, we would like to examine the documentation of historic districts that together have significance to the history of a locale. We will also be exploring the establishment of an archaeology component to our existing program.

(HA-6) Bon Air_Main House 12-4-2015 (17)

The main house at Bon Air, built c. 1794 in Fallston (photo courtesy of Harford County)

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Harford County has very diverse cultural and historic resources, from the King and Queen Seat to the north, to the Route 40 corridor to the south. In the middle is the Town of Bel Air, which is also a Certified Local Government, with its bustling historic Main Street. To the east we have the cities of Havre de Grace and Aberdeen: Havre de Grace and its beautiful homes and waterfront and Aberdeen with its strong ties to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. When we can travel again, come visit!

Maryland’s Cultural Heritage Organizations and Institutions Grappling with COVID-19

In late March, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) and Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) launched an online survey, sent via MHT’s distribution lists, website and social media platforms. By the time the survey closed on April 13, we received 224 responses, with nearly 75% of participants representing non-profit organizations. The overall feedback was clear:  the COVID-19 public health crisis is having – and is expected to continue to have – a serious and detrimental effect on the financial and programmatic stability of cultural heritage organizations in Maryland. Although many museums and institutions have developed virtual tours and programs to keep people engaged and learning, these measures do not compensate for the loss of event revenue, on-site activities, and the experience of authentic history and public exchange available locally and around the state.

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Figure 1 – excerpt of survey responses showing majority of participants represent nonprofits.

While MHAA and MHT staff are still compiling the full survey report, some key findings include:

  • Lost Income. More than 69% of respondents reported they have already lost income, and only 6.3% anticipate that they will make it through the crisis without revenue loss. Losses varied widely by organization, with an average estimate of $61,500 from the beginning of the COVID-19 closures through the survey submission.
  • Staffing Cuts. More than 12% of respondents have already reduced staff, and an additional 12.9% have reduced salaries or payroll. Approximately half of respondents indicated that temporary or permanent staff reductions were likely.
  • Long Recovery Time. The majority of respondents (57.6%) predicted that recovery of their income streams to pre-COVID levels would take six months or more after the national and state emergency declarations concluded, with 29.5% predicting it would take at least a year.
COVIDfig2

Figure 2 – excerpt of survey responses showing the majority of participants anticipate a recovery time of six months or more following the conclusion of the state of emergency.

In response to this dire situation, MHAA automatically extended all grant reporting deadlines by 90 days and took the unprecedented step of allowing current MHAA grant recipients to repurpose project funding for emergency and operating expenses. Other grant programs at MHT, including the Historic Preservation Grant Program and the Certified Local Government Program, worked with grantees to extend existing deadlines and change grant scopes to better accommodate the COVID-19 situation and quickly offer support. The Maryland Heritage Areas Program also launched and concluded its first round of COVID-19 Emergency Operating Grant applications, in which nonprofit heritage tourism organizations within certified heritage areas were eligible to apply for grants of up to $20,000. MHAA received 114 applications requesting over $1.8 million by the May 1 deadline, and a committee of MHAA members are currently reviewing the applications as a batch with the goal of announcing award decisions in mid-May. Subsequent grant rounds will be subject to funding availability and decisions by MHAA.

MHAA and MHT will continue to monitor this situation as it progresses and identify ways to support our constituents. Over time, this may also include training and workshops to help improve institutional resilience overall, as well as disaster and emergency preparedness. We welcome your feedback and ideas as we continue this conversation together.