Women’s Suffrage in Maryland (Guest Blog)

By Nicole Diehlmann

The quest for women’s suffrage represents over 70 years of activism that ultimately resulted in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, on August 18, 1920. The movement relied on a complicated grassroots network of affiliated national, state, and local organizations that were often fraught with divisions over race, strategy, and tactics. These organizations were predominantly comprised of white upper- and middle-class women, although some efforts were made to engage poorer women. White suffragists nearly always excluded black women, who formed their own segregated organizations such as the Progressive Women’s Suffrage Club established in Baltimore by Estelle Young. Black suffragists advocated not only for women’s suffrage but also for a host of other civil rights legislation. Overall, the movement was decidedly nonviolent and relied on the power of persuasion and education to attract people to the cause.

The Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore.
The Just Government League headquarters at 817 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. Photo: Nicole Diehlmann

The national movement began in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, but organized suffrage activity in Maryland did not gain much momentum until the end of the nineteenth century. In 1889 Caroline Hallowell Miller of Sandy Spring in Montgomery County established the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA). Despite the name, the organization consisted only of a small group of Quaker women in the county. When the Baltimore City Suffrage Club was established in 1894, the Sandy Spring group was renamed the Montgomery County Suffrage Association and both clubs allied under the umbrella of the MWSA. Meetings were originally held in member’s homes, but as the groups grew larger, they began using more public spaces, such as the Friends’ Meeting House on Park Avenue in Baltimore.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

At the turn of the twentieth century, MWSA began hosting more and larger mass meetings to gain recruits. These meetings often featured nationally known suffragist leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt and were held in large private halls or theaters like Heptasoph’s Hall and MedChi’s Osler Hall in Baltimore. Under the leadership of Emma Maddox Funck, who was elected MWSA president in 1904, the organization became more closely connected to the national movement, and the number of locally affiliated clubs grew. The growth of these local clubs led to a diversity of opinions regarding strategy and tactics and, ultimately, a fracturing of the movement. By 1910, there were three separate statewide suffrage organizations for white women competing for membership and control of statewide suffrage strategy. MWSA remained as the most conservative organization. Most of its members tended to be women who did not work outside the home, and these women generally acted within socially accepted norms for upper and middle-class women of the time. Edith Haughton Hooker’s Just Government League, which was comprised of many professional women, such as nurses, teachers, and businesswomen, was the most militant. Just Government League members brought their members and their message outside of traditional female-occupied spaces to more public forums like open air mass meetings. Elizabeth King Ellicott’s State Franchise League was somewhere between the two. Both the Just Government League and the State Franchise League developed broad grassroots campaigns, creating affiliated organizations in towns and counties throughout Maryland.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
The Just Government League marching on Cathedral Street in Baltimore. From the Maryland Suffrage News

The Just Government League was the most successful of the three organizations, growing its membership through persuasive marketing tactics, including its widely publicized suffrage hikes, where women would march from town to town carrying banners, distributing literature, and giving speeches in support of women’s suffrage. The first was held in January 1914, where the “Army of the Severn” marched from Baltimore to Annapolis to deliver a suffrage petition to the Maryland General Assembly. Hikes continued into 1915, visiting all corners of the state, including a Western Maryland hike in Allegany and Garrett Counties, a “pilgrimage” from Baltimore to St. Mary’s County to visit the homesite of Margaret Brent, considered Maryland’s first suffragist, and shorter hikes in Harford, Howard, and Montgomery Counties. Not only did these hikes garner much publicity through widespread newspaper coverage, they also boosted membership in local and statewide suffrage organizations, which was key to growing a broad base of support for women’s suffrage.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

Despite their organization and tactics, Maryland suffragists were unsuccessful in convincing the Maryland General Assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Both chambers decisively rejected ratification when it came up for a vote on February 17, 1920—the House by a vote of 64 to 36 and the Senate by 18 to 9. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Several days later, on August 26, 1920, US Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the vote and proclaimed the Nineteenth Amendment to be part of the US Constitution. The decades-long struggle was finally over, and both white and black suffragists in Maryland quickly shifted to the task of preparing women to vote in the 1920 election; however, black women were still subject to Jim Crow-era rules and practices that sought to restrict  black citizens’ access to the vote. Equal suffrage for black women was not fully secured until the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Maryland General Assembly finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in a token vote on March 29, 1941, but the vote was not certified until March 25, 1958. Despite Maryland’s lack of decisive action on the amendment, Maryland suffragists, both black and white, made major contributions to the overall effort and their grassroots advocacy created a network of skilled female activists who continued to press for political and civic reforms in the state.

From the Maryland Suffrage News
From the Maryland Suffrage News

References

National Park Service. Maryland and the 19th Amendment. Last Updated May 12, 2020. https://www.nps.gov/articles/maryland-and-the-19th-amendment.htm.

Rohn, Kacy. 2017. The Maryland Women’s Suffrage Movement. Draft report available at the Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville.

Williams, Lea M. 2020. Ellen N. La Motte: Nurse, Writer, Activist (England: Manchester University Press, 2020). https://www.google.com/books/edition/Ellen_N_La_Motte/0vi7DwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22Just+Government+League%22+maryland&pg=PT69&printsec=frontcover

The Civil Rights Movement, Segregation, & Slavery in Maryland: A (Brief) Reading List

By Lara Westwood, Librarian

This past week, protests occurred in all fifty states and across the globe to fight against racism, inequality, and police brutality in the United States in the wake of the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among many others. For those looking to learn more about the historical context for these events, here is a short reading list on the civil rights movement, segregation, and slavery in Maryland. 

Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland by C. Fraser Smith
Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland by C. Fraser Smith

Ancestors of Worthy Life: Plantation Slavery and Black Heritage at Mount Clare by Teresa S Moyer & Paul A Shackel, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015

Baltimore Revisited: Stories of Inequality and Resistance in a U.S. City by P. Nicole King, Kate Drabinski, Joshua Clark Davis, et al., New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2019

Civil War on Race Street: the Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland by Peter B Levy, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004

Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland by C. Fraser Smith, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012

John Brown to James Brown: the Little Farm Where Liberty Budded, Blossomed and Boogied by Ed Maliskas, Hagerstown, Maryland: Hamilton Run Press, 2016

Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City by Antero Pietila, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 2012

Road to Jim Crow: the African American Struggle on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, 1860-1915 by C. Christopher Brown, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016

Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore by Seth Rockman, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, ©2009

Seeking Freedom: a History of the Underground Railroad in Howard County, Maryland by Paulina C Moss, Levirn Hill, Howard County Center of African American Culture et al, Columbia, Md.: Howard County Center of African American Culture, 2002

This list is by no means exhaustive but a starting point for those seeking more information. These books can be found at your local library or favorite independent bookstore. Let us know your recommendations in the comments section!

The Journey Home

By Rebecca Morehouse, Curator of State Collections, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab

In 1980, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funded a project to build townhouses in the block between what is now City Gate Lane and Dean Street in Annapolis. Excavation of the townhouse basements disturbed a portion of what was later identified as a 19th-century African American family cemetery. When archeologists at the Maryland Historical Trust heard of the discovery, they went to the site to rescue the human remains that had been exposed. They carefully mapped, photographed, and removed what turned out to be the partial remains of two individuals. In the event of this kind of inadvertent discovery, an archeologist’s priority is to identify what remains of the burials, document as much of the site as possible, and transfer any human remains to another location for protection. In the case of these two individuals, they were placed in the custody of MHT, and cared for at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab) at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM), a unit of MHT.

Figure 1: Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis
Figure 1: Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis.

Little was known about these two individuals until research conducted by Janice Hayes-Williams in the early 2000s indicated their remains were likely removed from what had been the family cemetery of Smith Price. Price, formerly enslaved, came to Annapolis as a free man. He owned the property where an 1860s plat indicated his family cemetery was located, as well as the land where the Asbury United Methodist Church now stands less than a block away. Smith Price was a founding member of the African Meeting House in Annapolis, which eventually became the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1803, Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in 1838, and then the Asbury United Methodist Church in 1968 (Figure 1).

While attending a meeting at the MAC Lab in April 2019, Janice Hayes-Williams asked me if the human remains from the Smith Price family cemetery were curated at the MAC Lab. When I told her they were, she asked if the remains could be returned to Annapolis and reburied there.  A flurry of correspondence soon followed, as MHT staff worked with the Office of the Attorney General to chart a course for the permanent transfer of the remains that would satisfy State regulations. 

The official request for transfer came from Asbury UMC in June 2019 and was quickly approved by the MHT Board of Trustees. The transfer took place on July 24, 2019 in a ceremony at Asbury UMC. In preparation for their trip to back to Annapolis, Janice Hayes-Williams wrapped the boxes which held the remains with Kente cloth and adorned them with sunflowers (Figure 2). I had the honor of assisting.

Figure 2: Boxes containing human remains from the Smith Price family cemetery are shown wrapped in Kente cloth. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams
Figure 2: Boxes containing human remains from the Smith Price family cemetery are shown wrapped in Kente cloth. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams

Once in the custody of the Asbury UMC, the church transferred the individuals to Dr. Julie Schablitsky, Chief Archaeologist at the Maryland State Highway Administration.  Dr. Schablitsky took the lead on coordinating the analysis of the remains, which included a detailed examination and inventory by Dr. Dana Kollmann, Forensic Anthropologist at Towson University, and facial reconstruction by forensic artist Detective Eve Grant (Figure 3). Dr. Schablitsky also arranged for DNA testing at DNA Labs International in Florida. Unfortunately, the extracted DNA was degraded and, while the scientists are still trying, they have been unable to match it to living descendants.

Figure 3: Conjectural drawing of the man whose remains were removed from the Smith Price family cemetery. Sketch by forensic artist Detective Eve Grant of the Baltimore County Police Department.
Figure 3: Conjectural drawing of the man whose remains were removed from the Smith Price family cemetery. Sketch by forensic artist Detective Eve Grant of the Baltimore County Police Department.

Analysis by Dr. Kollmann showed that the remains belonged to a man and a child of African ancestry. The man likely died sometime in his late forties or early fifties. Associated coffin nails dated to the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Though no personal artifacts were recovered with the skeletal remains, blue-green discoloration on the man’s left wrist indicates the presence of a copper alloy burial shroud pin, button, or cufflink. His skeleton showed evidence that he was muscular and would have participated in heavy physical labor. He had a minor injury to his left shin, which, while not resulting in a break, would have been painful. He also had arthritis in his right arm and shoulder, which would have also caused significant pain and hindered his movements. His teeth had  a well-defined pipe facet from carrying a tobacco pipe between his teeth on the right side of his mouth. The cause of the man’s death could not be determined.

The child, of unknown gender, likely died between the ages of 5 and 6 years. Copper alloy staining on the left temple suggests the child may have been wrapped in a burial shroud held in place with a copper alloy pin. The teeth show evidence of malnutrition or a significant illness, such as influenza. However, this did not contribute to the child’s death.

Figure 4: Procession from Asbury UMC to the St. Anne’s Cemetery for reburial. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams
Figure 4: Procession from Asbury UMC to the St. Anne’s Cemetery for reburial. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams

On November 1, 2019, Maryland’s Emancipation Day, following a community ceremony at Asbury UMC, these two individuals were laid to rest for a second time in St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis (Figures 4 and 5).

While MHT does not encourage the excavation of human remains, there are times when burials are threatened and must be removed, as with the case of the Smith Price family cemetery. Today, unlike in 1980, immediate relocation or reburial of disturbed human remains is now the preferred course of action, rather than being placed in the care of the State. On the occasion that human remains do end up in MHT’s custody, they are placed in a specially designated area, known as an appropriate place of repose, apart from the State’s other collections. This area is only accessible by MHT staff and is not visible to the public.

I consider the care of these individuals a sacred responsibility and one of the most important duties I have as Curator. However, if I am given the opportunity to help facilitate the return and reburial of human remains in MHT’s custody, I am honored to do so. Being able to participate in the preparation of the human remains, as well as the transfer and reburial ceremonies, was an experience which I will not soon forget.

Figure 5: Smith Price family cemetery remains returned to the earth at St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams
Figure 5: Smith Price family cemetery remains returned to the earth at St. Anne’s Cemetery in Annapolis. Photo credit: Janice Hayes-Williams

Announcing FY2020 AAHPP grant recipients!

We are pleased to announce the FY2020 African American Heritage Preservation Program (AAHPP) grant recipients! Twelve projects were awarded funding for preservation projects throughout the state. Jointly administered by the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Maryland Historical Trust, the AAHPP provides capital funds to assist in the preservation of buildings, sites, or communities of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. The Commission and MHT are excited to support these projects, which include unique sites such as a World War II memorial park, an early 20th century bowling alley, a historic swimming pool, and tunnels that were part of the Underground Railroad.  Read more about all our newly funded projects below.

If you are planning to apply for funding for a project, the FY2021 grant round will begin in the spring of 2020, with workshops in April and applications due in July. For more information about the AAHPP, please contact Charlotte Lake, Capital Grant and Loan Program Administrator, at charlotte.lake@maryland.gov. For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly.

Project: Sotterley Plantation: Slave Cabin – Hollywood, St. Mary’s County ($78,000) Sponsor: Historic Sotterley, Inc.

Sotterley Plantation is a 1703 Tidewater plantation with more than 20 original buildings still standing. After its restoration, the 1830s slave cabin was dedicated to Agnes Kane Callum, a Baltimore resident whose great-grandfather was born enslaved at Sotterley, and who was instrumental in telling the story of Sotterley’s enslaved community. The grant project will include repairs to the cabin as well as accessibility improvements to the paths leading to it.

Project: Fairmount Heights World War II Monument –Prince George’s County ($12,250) Sponsor: Town of Fairmount Heights

The Fairmount Heights World War II Monument was built in 1946 to honor local citizens who served in the armed forces during World War II. The grant project will include repairs to the monument and site improvements within the park.

Project: Liberty Grace Church of God: Bowling Alley – Baltimore City ($100,000) Sponsor: Liberty Grace Church of God, Inc.

Liberty Grace Church of God was built in 1922 and has an early 20th century bowling alley in its basement. This historic bowling alley will be restored to working order. Read more about the bowling alley in our earlier blog post!

Project: Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church – Cambridge, Dorchester County ($100,000) Sponsor: Eastern Shore Network for Change, Inc.

The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed in 1903 and is the oldest African American church still standing in Cambridge. This grant will fund structural repairs to the church, as well as repairs to windows and doors.

Project: Emmanuel Episcopal Church: Tunnels – Cumberland, Allegany County ($100,000) Sponsor: Emmanuel Episcopal Parish Incorporated

Emmanuel Episcopal Church was built atop the remains of Fort Cumberland, forming a series of tunnels beneath the church that eventually came to be used as shelter by African Americans escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad. Local oral traditions describe a quilt panel with a cross on a hill representing Emmanuel Episcopal Church as a stop on the road to freedom. This project will improve lighting and ventilation in the tunnels, as well as improve accessibility for visitors touring the tunnels.

Project: Warren Historic Site: Warren United Methodist Church and Martinsburg Negro School – Dickerson, Montgomery County ($100,000) Sponsor: Warren Historic Site Committee, Inc.

The Warren Historic Site is likely the last in Maryland where the traditional triad of buildings constructed in most post-Emancipation African American communities – the church, school, and lodge hall – still exist. The grant project will include roof and foundation repairs on the church, as well as roof, foundation, and floor repairs on the school.

Project: McConchie One-Room School – La Plata, Charles County ($99,000) Sponsor: Charles County Fair, Inc.

The McConchie School was constructed around 1912 to serve African American children in central Charles County. The school was closed in 1952, was converted to a residence, and had been abandoned by 1980. The Charles County Fair purchased and moved the building to the fairgrounds in 1990. The grant project will include structural repairs so that the school can continue to be used as a museum.

Project: Zion United Methodist Church – Federalsburg, Caroline County ($100,000) Sponsor: Zion ME Church

Zion Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1931 and features stained glass windows and ornamental woodwork on its tower. The grant will fund accessibility and drainage improvements to the site, as well as structural repairs to the building.

Project: Robert W. Johnson Community Center: Swimming Pool – Hagerstown, Washington County ($100,000) Sponsor: Robert W Johnson Community Center, Inc.

In 1959, the North Street Swimming Pool was constructed as part of the Robert W. Johnson Community Center in Hagerstown’s Jonathan Street Neighborhood. It was the only pool in the city where African Americans could swim, and the pool itself is relatively unchanged since it was built. The grant project will repair the swimming pool so that it can be returned to community use.

Project: Ellsworth Cemetery – Westminster, Carroll County ($65,000) Sponsor: Community Foundation of Carroll County, Incorporated

Six African American Union Army veterans established the Ellsworth Cemetery in 1876 to provide a burial place for the African American residents of Westminster. The grant project will include mapping of the cemetery and conservation of grave markers.

Project: Asbury M.E. Church – Easton, Talbot County ($100,000) Sponsor: Historic Easton, Incorporated

Asbury M.E. Church was dedicated by Frederick Douglass in 1878. The church also served as a temporary high school for Black students in the 1930s and is now both an active church and a community center. Grant funding will be used to make structural repairs and accessibility upgrades to the fellowship hall within the church.

Project: Fruitland Community Center, Wicomico County ($44,000) Sponsor: Fruitland Community Center, Inc.

In 1912 local community members built the Morris Street Colored School, now known as the Fruitland Community Center, for Wicomico County’s African American children. The building is still used for educational purposes, with summer and after school programs for children as well as an archive. The grant project will include roof replacement, accessibility improvements, and upgrades to the electrical and mechanical systems of the building.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Fort Frederick Colored School

By Peter Morrill, Curator Program Manager, Department of Natural Resources

Along the south side of Big Pool Road in Washington County, Maryland, sits a non-descript vacant house.  It’s easily overlooked by passersby, but hidden beneath additions, layers of asphalt “brick” and aluminum siding, lies a 19th-century one-room schoolhouse built to serve the area’s African American community.  Though it is not immediately recognizable by the casual observer as a school, a closer look reveals that much of the school’s original fabric remains intact and waiting to be restored in order to tell its story about Maryland’s racially segregated past and one of the county’s most interesting families.

The Fort Frederick Colored Schoolhouse, or the Williams Schoolhouse as it is also known, survives despite later alterations, including the porch and two-story addition at right.

In 1857 Nathan Williams, a free black man, purchased about 115 acres of land in Washington County, including the remains of the colonial Fort Frederick, and began what would become a successful farming operation.  Beginning in the 1870s, the family operated a schoolhouse for local African American children; family members also taught at the school.  By 1892, a 36’ by 24’ by 12’ frame school had been constructed by the county and was designated the “colored” school for the Indian Springs Election District, #11.  The teacher was Charles A. Williams, and the school enrolled 14 pupils.  By 1895, it was determined that this schoolhouse was unsatisfactory and that a new one should be built.  For $3, the Williams family deeded a quarter-acre parcel of their land to the county for the erection of a new school.  This school was completed by 1900 for a cost of $297.76 and remained in service until 1914, when it became a residence.  Over the years, the original one-room schoolhouse became virtually unrecognizable: the door was relocated, porches were added, and the interior was divided into three rooms.  A two-story addition was also added to the west, further obscuring the tiny school’s historic form.  The house has long been known as the Hornbaker House after the family who owned the house from 1950 until 1973, when they sold it to the State for inclusion into Fort Frederick State Park, which had been formed in 1922.  The Maryland Department of Natural Resources rented the property as a residence for a number of years, but it is now vacant.

DNR staff, including Charlie Mazurek, Historic Preservation Planner (second from left), and Peter Morrill, Curator Program Manager (right), have been instrumental in raising awareness of the importance of this structure and in seeking funding for its preservation.

Thanks to a generous grant from the African American Heritage Preservation Program[AR1] , donations from the Friends of Maryland State Parks and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Department of Natural Resources will begin to peel back the layers and restore the schoolhouse to its circa 1900 to 1914 appearance.  In collaboration with staff from the Maryland Historical Trust, selective demolition has been carried out to begin to identify the original locations of windows and doors, identify later additions to the structure, and document these changes prior to the beginning of restoration work.  In the coming months, later additions will be removed and the exterior of the schoolhouse will be returned to its former appearance for the first time in over 100 years.  Once complete, the school will serve as a gateway to Fort Frederick State Park and an educational center to interpret the rich history of the Williams Family and the experience of African American families living in Washington County after the Civil War and emancipation.


.

Curator Program Manager Peter Morrill looks for physical evidence
of the schoolhouse’s historic form and finishes.

Further reading:

Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties form: https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/PDF/Washington/WA-V-206.pdf

Preservation Maryland Six-to-Fix: Historic Resources in Maryland’s State Parks: https://www.preservationmaryland.org/programs/six-to-fix/projects/current-projects/historic-resources-in-marylands-state-parks/

 [AR1]Link to: https://mht.maryland.gov/grants_africanamerican.shtml


Maryland in Concert

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

Woodstock nearly came to Maryland this summer. Organizers of the 50th anniversary celebration of the legendary music festival of August 15th through 18th, 1969 attempted to move the event from Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in New York to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Howard County in a last ditch effort to save the show. But plans never quite came together. Several of the big name acts, including Miley Cyrus and Jay-Z, dropped out, and the show was canceled. Even without hosting the legendary Woodstock, Maryland has a rich musical history, and many concert venues, theaters, and related structures are listed on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties

Knabe opened this piano factory in 1861. After the company moved production out of state, the factory was purchased by Maryland Baking Company and its subsidiaries.

Music has always been a vital part of culture in Maryland. Each Native American tribe that settled the Chesapeake Bay area had its own musical style and rituals. Enslaved people and free Africans brought their native traditions to the colony which spurred the development of new styles and genres. Colonial elites often hosted performances in the drawing rooms of their plantations, while the popular music, such as ballads and dance music, could be heard in the taverns. Francis Scott Key’s poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”–today called “The Star-Spangled Banner” and arguably Maryland’s most famous contribution to American music history–became popular after it was set to a well-known drinking tune. As the colony developed, concert halls and theaters were opened and musical social clubs were formed in the cities and larger towns.

The Peabody Institute is located near the Washington Monument in Baltimore.

By the mid-1800s and into the 1900s, Maryland had developed a strong musical culture. Baltimore saw several notable musical institutions established during this time. In the 1830s, William Knabe, a German immigrant, opened his piano repair and sales company. In partnership with Henry Gaehle, the company began manufacturing square, upright, and grand pianos. The partnership eventually ended. By 1861, Knabe built a new, larger factory on Eutaw Street after two of his other manufacturing locations burned and to accommodate the business’ growth. The factory operated until 1929 when new owners moved production to New York state. The Peabody Institute was founded in 1857. The city of Baltimore opened an academy of music as well as a free library and gallery of art in the Mount Vernon neighborhood with $300,000 donated by businessman and philanthropist George Peabody. One of the country’s best music schools, it became part of Johns Hopkins University in 1977. The Music Hall on Mount Royal Avenue opened in 1894 to much fanfare as the city had been without a major performance venue after the Concordia Opera House burned down. The first concert season promised to be of the “finest class” and promised to attract visitors to the city.[1] The Boston Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by several renowned opera singers, including soprano Nellie Melba, kicked off the inaugural season. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra also regularly played concerts at the venue. The hall was purpose-built as a concert venue, designed for acoustic quality, but also hosted other theatrical events and was available for balls and banquets. Otto Kahn, an investment banker and patron of the arts, purchased the hall in 1909 and changed the name to the Lyric Theatre. The theater changed hands several times and was nearly torn down in 1903 to make way for a garage. The theater has undergone extensive renovations over the years, and is now known as the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

The exterior of the Lyric has undergone extensive renovations. Pictured here is the Maryland Avenue facade in 1984. 
The Lyric’s stage area remains largely unchanged.

Maryland also boasted several stops on what would become known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. In the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, African American performers often played in venues where they would otherwise be barred from patronizing. The theaters and other performance spaces on the circuit, on the other hand, welcomed both black artists and audiences. Arthur Wilmer converted a Prince George’s County tobacco farm into one of the premier venues on the circuit. Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine hosted the likes of Patti LaBelle, Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Sam Cooke. Wilmer booked many famous artists before their careers took off. The park, which opened in the early 1950s, featured a dancehall, motel, restaurant, picnicking grounds, and ball fields. Music events were held at the park until it closed in the 1990s and has since fallen into disrepair. The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, more commonly known as the Black Elks, operated a similar venue at John Brown’s headquarters, also called Kennedy Farm in Sharpsburg, Washington County. Abolitionist John Brown orchestrated his raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry from the farm in October of 1859. He and his followers stockpiled weapons at the farm in the months leading up to the raid. Almost 100 years later, the African American fraternal organization purchased it with the intent of establishing a national headquarters complete with a youth center, retirement home, tennis courts, and other amenities, as well as a national shrine and museum to honor Brown. It became a popular weekend destination for black residents of western Maryland and West Virginia and attracted many famous artists to play at the dancehall. James Brown performed the last concert there in 1966, just before the camp closed and the Elks sold the property. 

Since it closed in 1999, Wilmer’s Park has fallen into disrepair. The main building and restaurant can be seen here.
An interior view of the main hall at Wilmer’s Park showcases a mural commemorating building’s musical legacy.

The Baltimore Civic Center, now known as Royal Farms Arena, has hosted several historic concerts since it opened in 1962. The futuristic, Googie-style arena was built in an effort to revitalize the city’s downtown and served as a multi-purpose entertainment space. The Baltimore Bullets and Clippers called the Civic Center home court and ice, respectively, during the 1960s and early 1970s, and the Ringling Brothers Circus regularly performed there. Martin Luther King, Jr. also gave speeches at the Center in 1963 and 1966. The 1964 Beatles concerts cemented the venue in music history. The band played two shows on September 13 to a packed house. Beatlemania was at full froth. A large contingent of Baltimore City police officers had to be stationed outside the band’s hotel before the show. Two female fans apparently unsuccessfully tried to meet the Fab Four by mailing themselves to the arena in boxes marked “fan mail” before the show. Once the band took the stage, even greater pandemonium ensued. The Baltimore Sun described the scene at one of the shows: “The enormous cavern of the building had become a vibrant, pulsating shrine with waves of shrieking adulation that burst with concussive force.”[2] Several concert-goers had to be treated for “hysterics” and fainting, according to the same article. A few years later, a Led Zeppelin appearance nearly caused a riot when 200 people without tickets to the show attempted to rush the doors of the arena. Ten people were arrested as a result. This and other raucous rock concerts led the city to attempt to limit shows that would “[appeal] to young people” to afternoons and require promoters to hire more security.[3] The evening concert ban was eventually lifted, and the venue continues to host a wide variety of events every year. 

The house at Kennedy Farm, or John Brown’s Headquarters, pictured before extensive renovations were undertaken to return the structure to its original form.

Maryland’s musical legacy continues to grow. More concert venues are being studied for their architectural and historical significance, and notable concert events will assuredly continue to be held across the state. 

Large billboards now line the exterior of the Baltimore Civic Center or Royal Farms Arena, but little else has been changed over the years. 

Sources:

[1] “The Music Hall.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 29, 1894: p. 4. 

[2] Levine, Richard H. “Thousands See Beatles Shake Civic Center”. Baltimore Sun, Sept. 14, 1964, p. 38.

[3] O’Donnell, Jr., John B. “Rock Shows To Be Limited To Afternoon.” Baltimore Sun, May 7, 1970: p. C22.

“Baltimore Symphony.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 5, 1898.

Borha, Imade. “John Brown To James Brown.” The Frederick News Post, Dec. 31,  2016. 

Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation. “Baltimore Civic Center (B-2365).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1976.

Engineering Science, Inc. “William Knabe & Co. Historic American Engineering Record Draft report.” Maryland Historical Trust. 

“George Peabody.: Death of the Great Philanthropist–His Last Hours Passed in London–His Career and Benefactions.” New York Times, Nov. 5, 1869.

Goodden, Joe. “Live: Civic Center, Baltimore.” The Beatles Bible.

Hildebrand, David, Elizabeth M Schaaf, and William Biehl. Musical Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017. 

History.” Knabe Pianos, Samick Music Corporation.

History of the Peabody Institute.” Our History, Johns Hopkins University.

Hopkinson, Natalie. “The End of an Era?: Wilmer’s Park Played Host to Much History, But the Future of the Brandywine Venue Is Unclear After the Death of Its Owner.” The Washington Post, Aug. 18, 1999.

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