Baltimore’s Chinatown

MHT has an ongoing project to document Asian American heritage in Baltimore City and the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, with funding from the National Park Service’s Underrepresented Community Grant program. Check out this research update from architectural historian Nicole A. Diehlmann of RK&K who is working on this exciting project!

Large-scale immigration from China to the United States began in response to the discovery of gold in northern California in 1848. Many immigrants arrived in San Francisco from the Guangdong province in southern China, which had suffered from political instability and natural disasters. Seeking opportunity in the United States, Chinese immigrants first found employment in northern California’s gold mines and later on the Transcontinental Railroad. When the railroad was completed in 1867, some Chinese workers began to move out of California to the eastern United States.

Chinese immigration to Maryland did not accelerate until the late nineteenth century. The 1870 census indicates only two Chinese people living in the state. Ten years later, that number had only increased to five, but by 1890, there were 189 Chinese people living in Maryland. In 1900, the number had nearly tripled to 544 individuals—480 were foreign born residents, while 64 people had been born in the United States. The vast majority, 426 individuals, lived in Baltimore City. Most lived near the intersection of Marion and Liberty Streets, not far from Baltimore’s bustling port in the Inner Harbor. This area, which became known as “Chinatown,” was the residential and commercial center of the Chinese immigrant community. Some Chinese people lived outside of Chinatown, but still within the city, particularly those who operated laundries, which were found throughout Baltimore. Others lived outside of the city, such as members of the Lee family who were vegetable farmers in Lansdowne. As the number of Chinese residents in the Baltimore area grew, they established organizations and businesses to provide social, economic, and political support for the growing community.

1901 Sanborn Map indicating “Chinese Joints” and a Chinese Restaurant at the northwest corner of Park and Marion Streets in Baltimore (LOC).

Historic maps and newspaper articles record the history of these early immigrants. Language in these newspaper articles reflected prevailing attitudes of Caucasians toward Asian immigrants at the time, and the articles often used derogatory terms and condescending tone, at best treating the traditions and customs of the Chinese community as novel spectacle and at worst with derision.  Many newspaper articles relate to police raids, illustrating the suspicion and over-policing suffered by Chinese residents; however, they also provide a wealth of details about the people and places associated with the Chinese community. Chinatown contained a diverse mix of businesses and residences. Many of the buildings were multipurpose, housing businesses, restaurants, and domestic and religious spaces under one roof. The 1890 Sanborn fire insurance map indicates Chinese laundries at 10 Park Avenue and 677 West Baltimore Street. The 1901 Sanborn map indicates a Chinese restaurant at 114 Park Avenue and other establishments referred to as “Chinese Joints” just west along Marion Street. Lum Bing was the proprietor of the restaurant on the second floor of 114 Park Avenue, according to an 1896 Sun article. The building also housed the San Francisco–based Chinese importing firm of Quong Hing Lung Chong Kee & Company, which was run by Lee Yat and Hop Lung, as well as residences. The family of Lee Yat lived at 311 Marion Street. An 1894 Sun article noted that the Lee’s two daughters were the first Chinese babies born in Baltimore. Mee Lim was the proprietor of the Park Avenue restaurant in 1923. Upon his death he had an estate worth over $12,000 dollars that was distributed to the School Board as he had no heirs. In addition, the 1901 Sanborn map indicates a Chinese laundry at 102 Liberty Street that was operated by Wang Sing and Su Hong in 1899 and Der Pop in 1902, all of whom also lived in the building. At 208 West Fayette Street, there was a “Joss House,” which is the English term for a Buddhist or Taoist temple or altar.

1914 Sanborn Map indicating Chinese restaurants, dwellings, and a Joss House along Marion and West Fayette Streets, west of Park Avenue (LOC).

The 1914 Sanborn map shows a three-story Joss House at 217 Marion Street, two three-story Chinese-occupied dwellings at 203 and 205 Marion Street, and a restaurant at 202 West Fayette Street. 203 Marion Street was noted in an 1894 Sun article as a store operated by Joe Kee, who operated the Chey Shing Chung & Co., a Chinese grocery, dry goods, and embroidery dealer. 217 Marion Street was called a “Chinese resort” with Ah Goo as the proprietor in a 1901 Sun article about a police raid on the property where 13 individuals were arrested for playing fan-tan, a 2,000-year-old gambling game that Chinese immigrant workers brought to the United States. The 1914 Sanborn map indicates that 217 Marion Street also housed a Joss House, which was likely installed circa 1903. That Marion Street house was also the site of a celebration recognizing the new Republic of China and the rise to leadership of Sun Yat Sen in 1912, when a flag of the new republic was hung from the second story and a picture of Sun was placed on the wall. The restaurant at 202 West Fayette was called the Empire and was operated by Der Doo. In 1919, Rector’s Chinese and American restaurant, under the management of Dr. Wu, opened along the same block at 208 West Fayette.

Articles in the Sun from this era describe various Chinese cultural traditions from the perspective of white observers. An 1895 article describes Teng Meng, a day where offerings are left on the graves of ancestors. It notes that eight wagons left from the Chinese Masonic Temple in Baltimore—three went to Cedar Hill Cemetery on what is now Ritchie Highway in Anne Arundel County and five to Mount Olivet Cemetery on Frederick Road, where there were eight Chinese graves. The article states that offerings of “boiled chicken, bananas, raisins, nuts, cigarettes, opium and whisky” were left at the gravesites. A 1903 Sun article described the Lunar New Year celebration in Chinatown, noting that the Chinese grocery and supply stores and restaurants did great business serving the growing Chinese community. The festival, which traditionally lasts two to four weeks in China, occurred over four days in Baltimore due to “the restrictions placed on the enthusiasm of the celebrants by the police.”

Feeling development pressure from the booming department stores and five-and-dime stores along North Howard and West Lexington Streets, the center of Chinatown moved northward along Park Avenue to West Mulberry Street after World War I. The buildings north of Marion Street were demolished circa 1929 to make way for an expansion of the Julius Gutman Company department store. There were many Chinese businesses and residences along the 300 and 400 blocks of Park Avenue and the 200 block of West Mulberry Street. The 1922 Polk’s Baltimore City Directory lists six Chinese goods dealers on these blocks. The Baltimore branch of the On Leong Merchant’s Association was established in 1920 and had offices at 215 West Mulberry Street, but later moved 323 Park Avenue.

The On Leong Chinese Merchant’s Association moved to this building at 323 Park Avenue in 1950. (Nicole Diehlmann 2021)

Baltimore City’s Chinese population began to decline during the Great Depression. A Sun article from 1937 noted that “Baltimore’s 400-odd Chinese are scattered about, although they once lived homogeneously in the neighborhood about Mulberry Street and Park Avenue.” The article notes that those remaining in Baltimore still engaged in trades such as restaurants and laundries, although some became noodle manufacturers such as Tom You, proprietor of the Quong Chow Noodle Company at 209 West Mulberry Street.

Chinatown continued to shrink in the post–World War II era. The north side of the 200 block of West Mulberry Street was demolished for a parking garage by 1952, and buildings on the south side were slowly demolished over the late twentieth century. Other businesses opened outside of Chinatown, like the China Clipper at 1003 North Charles Street and the New China Inn at 2426 North Charles Street. Some growth continued to occur within Chinatown, however, as landmark restaurants, such as the White Rice Inn at 320 Park Avenue and the China Doll at 406 Park Avenue, opened in Chinatown in the 1940s. A combination of urban renewal in the late 1950s and the repeal and creation of several national laws in the 1960s led to an exodus of many Chinese Americans from Baltimore to the suburbs. By 1963, 2,188 Chinese people resided in Maryland, and of those, only 748 lived in Baltimore City. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 removed barriers to race-based discrimination and allowed Chinese and other Asian Americans to freely move to suburban areas, further continuing the decline in Baltimore City’s Chinese population.

Buildings on the 300 block of Park Avenue, at the center of Chinatown, continue to house variety of Chinese businesses and organizations (Nicole Diehlmann 2021)

The changes in the Baltimore Chinese community and the decline of Baltimore’s Chinatown were noted in a 1969 Sun article. Mrs. George Tang stated that Chinese serving in World War II gained new skills that allowed them to get jobs in new industries. Their prosperity allowed their children to attend college and embark on careers far different from the laundry and restaurant jobs that were the mainstay of the earliest Chinese immigrants. She further noted that they “have a freer kind of existence. They’re accepted by the rest of society.” New businesses and a small Caucasian “Bohemian population” were changing the composition of Chinatown. In the mid-1970s, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association attempted to acquire land at Park Avenue and Mulberry Street for a 14-story Asian Culture Center, but their effort was unsuccessful. Many buildings formerly occupied by Chinese immigrants in Chinatown are currently vacant and in poor condition; however, the vestiges of this once vital Chinese community are still apparent and worthy of preservation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing FY2021 African American Historic Preservation Program Grant Recipients!

By Charlotte Lake, Ph.D., Capital Grant and Loan Programs Administrator

We are pleased to announce this year’s African American Heritage Preservation Program (AAHPP) grant recipients! This is the tenth year of grants since the program’s launch, marking $10 million total in funding awarded to 128 grant projects. The Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Maryland Historical Trust jointly administer this program to promote the preservation of Maryland’s African American heritage sites. Grants fund construction projects at important sites throughout the state. This year’s projects include museums, cemeteries, an interpretive memorial, a historic lodge, community centers, and a historic school. Read more about our newly funded AAHPP grant projects below.

Project: Laurel Cemetery – Baltimore City ($88,000) | Sponsor: Laurel Cemetery Memorial Project, Inc.

Incorporated in 1852 as Baltimore’s first nondenominational cemetery for African Americans, Laurel Cemetery became known as one of the most beautiful and prominent African American cemeteries in the city. Descendants attempted to purchase the cemetery, but the owner prevailed against their legal challenges and leveled the cemetery for development in 1958. As a result, much of the cemetery currently lies beneath the parking lot of the Belair-Edison Crossing Shopping Center. Grant funds will support repairs to the retaining wall and construction of a pathway with interpretive signage in the unpaved portion of the cemetery, where recent archaeological investigations have identified undisturbed burials.

Project: Historic Oliver Community Firehouse – Baltimore City ($100,000) | Sponsor: African American Fire Fighters Historical Society, Inc.

Baltimore’s African American Fire Fighters Historical Society will use grant funds to acquire the historic firehouse, Truck House #5, through the City’s Vacants to Value program. The overall project will rehabilitate the building and convert it into the International Black Fire Fighters Museum & Safety Education Center.

Project: African American Heritage Center – Frederick, Frederick County ($100,000) | Sponsor: The African American Resources-Cultural and Heritage Society Incorporated

Grant funds will support the creation of a new center for African American heritage within a commercial space inside a modern parking garage. The project will reconfigure the commercial space and add accessibility improvements so that it can be used for exhibits, collections, and public programs to share Frederick County’s African American heritage and present this history within a broader regional and national context.

Carver School, photo courtesy of City of Cumberland

Project: Carver School – Cumberland, Allegany County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Mayor and City Council of Cumberland

Built in 1921 to accommodate the growing African American population of Cumberland, Carver School (previously known as Cumberland High School and the Frederick Street School) soon attracted students from outside Allegany County, including attendees from nearby areas of West Virginia. The school was renamed in 1941, when Principal Bracey held an election and students voted to name the school after Dr. George Washington Carver, who consented by letter to having the school named after him. The grant will fund necessary repairs to the building so that it can be rehabilitated for community use.

Project: Diggs-Johnson Museum – Granite, Baltimore County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Friends of Historical Cherry Hill A.U.M.P., Inc.

The Cherry Hill African United Methodist Church, now known as the Diggs-Johnson Museum, was built in the late 19th century, and functioned as a church through the 1970s before its conversion to a museum in the 1990s. The museum documents the history of the African American community of Baltimore County, and in particular the enslaved and free African Americans of Granite, many of whom worked the area’s granite quarries. The grant project will fund repairs to the church’s foundation and grave markers in its burial yard.

Kennedy Farmhouse, photo courtesy of John Brown Historical Foundation

Project: Kennedy Farm / John Brown Raid Headquarters – Sharpsburg, Washington County ($99,000) | Sponsor: John Brown Historical Foundation, Inc.

This grant will fund repairs to the timber and chinking of the Kennedy Farmhouse, a log building used as the headquarters by John Brown and his band in planning their famous raid on Harper’s Ferry. While the raid was planned, the farmhouse also served as living quarters for the five African American members of the band:  Dangerfield Newby; Lewis Leary; Shields Green; John Copeland, Jr; and Osborn Anderson. The raid on Harper’s Ferry is considered a pivotal moment in the lead-up to the American Civil War.

Project: Galesville Community Center – Galesville, Anne Arundel County ($45,000) | Sponsor: Galesville Community Center Organization, Inc.

Of the fifteen schools in Anne Arundel County built using money provided by the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which supported the establishment of African American schools throughout the southern United States, only six survive today. The grant project will fund repairs to the roof, siding, and windows of the Galesville Rosenwald School, built in 1929, which now serves as a vibrant community center.

Howard House, photo courtesy of Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Project: Howard House – Brookeville, Montgomery County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Department of Natural Resources – Maryland Park Service

The Howard House, currently in ruins, is the last intact building associated with Enoch George Howard. Born enslaved, George Howard purchased his freedom and eventually became a prosperous landowner, donating land to establish Howard Chapel and a community school. The grant project will restore the stone house’s exterior to its original appearance for interpretive use.

Project: Bazzel Church – Cambridge, Dorchester County ($100,000) | Sponsor: Good Shepherd Association

In 1911, the Bazzel Church was either built on or moved to its current site, where the original 1876 chapel stood before it burned down. The church, located in Bucktown, is best known for its association with Harriet Tubman, whose family members reportedly worshipped at the original church building. Initial stabilization of the church was completed in the summer of 2020, and the grant will fund the next phase of repairs, eventually leading to the rehabilitation of the building for use as an interpretive center.

Project: Mt. Zoar AME Church – Conowingo, Cecil County ($32,000) | Sponsor: Mount Zoar African Methodist Episcopal Church

Mt. Zoar African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1881 and the earliest known burial in the adjacent cemetery dates to 1848. Over 30 veterans are buried in the cemetery, including soldiers whose graves are marked with Grand Army of the Republic flag holders. The grant project will fund repairs to the cemetery and grave markers.

Prince Georges African-American Museum & Cultural Center, photo courtesy of Prince George’s African-American Museum & Cultural Center at North Brentwood, Inc.

Project: Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center – North Brentwood, Prince George’s County ($20,000) | Sponsor: Prince George’s African-American Museum and Cultural Center at North Brentwood, Inc.

Through exhibitions and educational programs, the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center shares the county’s untold stories of African Americans. The grant-funded pre-development project will involve the design of facility renovations and an addition to provide support space and affordable housing space for African American artists.

Project: Millard Tydings Memorial Park – Havre de Grace, Harford County ($25,000) | Sponsor: The Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton Memorial Fund, Inc.

Established as Bayside Park in the late 1800s, Millard Tydings Memorial Park includes recreational amenities as well as memorials to those who served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Grant funds will help construct a new monument dedicated to Sergeant Alfred B. Hilton, Harford County’s only recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The monument will include permanent interpretive material about Sgt. Hilton and the role of his U.S. Colored Troops regiment in the Civil War.

Project: Union of Brothers and Sisters of Fords Asbury Lodge No. 1 – White Marsh, Baltimore County ($91,000) | Sponsor: The Union of Brothers and Sisters of Fords Asbury, Inc.

In 1874, Dr. Walter T. Allender constructed and donated this building to the Baltimore County School Commissioners for use as an African American School, initially known as Colored School 2, District 11. The Union of Brothers and Sisters of Ford’s Asbury Lodge No. 1, an African American benevolent society, held monthly meetings on the second floor of the school building until 1922, when Baltimore County Public Schools donated it to the lodge. The grant project will fund repairs and accessibility improvements that allow the building to be used by the public again.

If you are planning to apply for funding for an AAHPP project, the FY2022 grant round will begin in the spring of 2021, with workshops in April and applications due July 1. For more information about AAHPP, please visit our website or contact Charlotte Lake, Capital Grant and Loan Programs Administrator, at charlotte.lake@maryland.gov.

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!

Researching Identity through History and Place

By Karen Yee, University of Maryland Graduate Student

Chinatowns have always held a special place in my heart because the visits were the only time my parents would talk about our heritage. Every year without fail, my family would travel all the way to New York City’s Manhattan Chinatown to celebrate the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day in English, which falls on April 4 or 5. It’s a time to remember ancestors by tomb sweeping and lighting incense as a sign of respect to our ancestors. When I was 13, my grand-uncle made the trip with us. I still remember when he looked around at the cemetery and quietly said: “They discriminated against us, that’s why all these gravestones are just slabs of stone.” I did not understand what he meant until years later, when I began studying about Asian American history as a graduate student at the University of Maryland.

The author, Karen Yee.

When I began my graduate research to learn about Baltimore City’s Chinatown for the Maryland Historical Trust this semester, I started with limited knowledge of Asian American history. It was not taught in public school or an option while I was in college. When I first studied the general history of Chinese immigration into the United States as part of this project, I was shocked to find that the earliest wave of Chinese immigration from the mid-1850’s had come from the Guangdong Providence – even more surprisingly, it was primarily in the Taishan district – where my family had roots. I knew at the very least that this was where my father’s side of the family grew up, and it was my own dialect that I spoke with my grandmother. As I delved deeper, I immediately reported my new facts to my father, who told me how the history connected to my own family tree. After researching the general history of Chinese Americans, I looked toward Baltimore’s Chinese immigrant history. Before I began this project, I was not even aware there was a Chinatown in Baltimore.

Park Avenue in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the author.

For hundreds of years, Baltimore enjoyed a fairly positive trading relationship with China. Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood, for example, is named after Canton, China. John O’Donnell purchased property in what is now known as Canton to build a plantation in the late 18th century. He had traded with China at the port of Canton because it was the only Chinese port opened to Western trade at the time. Over the years, Chinese prime ministers, major trade groups, and student groups have visited Baltimore for a variety of reasons.  Leslie Chin’s History of Chinese Americans in Baltimore (1976) shows the ways Chinese immigrants have impacted the urban landscape through their laundries, restaurants, import stores, and joss houses (places of worship of Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, or Chinese Folk religion) in Baltimore’s Old Chinatown. Baltimore’s Chinatown held a majority percentage of the total Chinese population in Maryland between 1870 and 1960, after which it began to decline due to suburban sprawl and the need for more space to accommodate growing families into areas such as Rockville. Despite legislation such as the Page Act of 1875 (the first restrictive federal immigration law in the United States, which prevented entry of Chinese women) and Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which banned the entry of Chinese men as well), the Chinese population in Baltimore continued to grow in size. This growth resulted either from people exploiting loopholes in the legislation or migration of already established immigrants from other states. 

Charm City Night Market in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the author.

Chinatowns were developed out of the need for Chinese immigrants to seek safe havens from racial discrimination, providing a place where residents could trade and practice traditions within a familiar context. Most Chinatowns were composed of men due to the restrictive immigration legislation in the late 19th century. Family groups and associations such as the Chinese Benevolent Association also gave political and social help to those in need. In Baltimore, some churches and religious/faith institutions extended a hand in helping immigrants adjust to life in the United States.

Life in Baltimore’s old Chinatown was not really any different from other city neighborhoods except for the context of anti-Chinese sentiment and discrimination. There were community celebrations such as the Chinese New Year, funerals, and other activities. Chinese immigrants did interact with the non-Chinese local community through their trade businesses, laundries, and restaurants. Although old Chinatown no longer stands in its entirety, revitalization efforts in the area began in 2018 with the Charm City Night Market, which took place in the area. Hopefully in the future, the neighborhood will return back to its former glory — not as a Chinatown, but as a place where all Asians, Pacific Islanders, and others can celebrate their history and heritage through historic sites and cultural resources. This motivates me to continue my research on the history and heritage of Chinese Americans in Baltimore and in Maryland.

As I wrap up my research work with MHT this month, I find it fitting that May is both Asian Pacific American Heritage and Preservation Month. This project provided an opportunity to preserve a part of my own and others’ family history. It also shed light into my own personal identity. I had grown up understanding that I was Chinese American, but I did not understand what it meant to be a Chinese American in the United States. My history in the United States does not start at the beginning of my birth, but in the struggles of those who had come before me and worked hard to achieve their goals and rights. It took me eleven years to begin to understand what my grand-uncle had said that day. As I and others visit the tombs of our ancestors, I hope that we will all continue to seek out our own histories to preserve our stories and places for future generations to learn and explore. Old Chinatown in Baltimore may be changed, but its history and stories wait patiently to be discovered and shared.

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.