Interpretation at Sotterley Plantation: The Road to Relevance

By Jeanne Pirtle, Education Director, Historic Sotterley, Inc.

Historic Sotterley Plantation has a long history, to be sure. It has also been open to the public as a museum since 1960.  Let’s see, what was happening in the 1960’s? Schools were still segregated. Jim Crow was still alive.  And in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Sotterley’s last private owner had decided to open Sotterley and create a non-profit so that it could be preserved.  As with most house museums at that time, the early tours focused on the furnishings and lives of the owners with a little legend, lore and myth mixed in.  After the owner’s death in 1993, ownership went to the Sotterley Foundation, which is now Historic Sotterley, Inc.

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In the early 1970’s, a visitor and her father came to the museum.  They paid their two dollars for a tour.  They noticed a slave cabin on the property, but on their tour of the house nothing was mentioned about the slave cabin.  The visitor was Agnes Kane Callum.

Agnes was born in Baltimore in 1925.  She had raised her family while working for the post office. After retirement she earned two degrees from Morgan State University.  She continued to research her family and found a connection to Sotterley.  Her ancestors, Hillary and Elsa Cane, were enslaved there in the 19th century. Agnes made it her passion and mission to have the story of her family told in Sotterley’s narrative. She kept visiting Sotterley with research in hand, bringing large groups of her family and friends with her.  Eventually, Agnes became a trustee on Sotterley’s board and developed an education program for middle school students that is still taught today, Slavery to Freedom.

In 1996, Sotterley was on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered” list.  Agnes joined forces with owner descendants to save Sotterley. It was rescued and grant money was used to help restore the house and cabin. For some years, tours focused on this restoration with a few stories of the enslaved, but still it was not a complete and inclusive narrative.

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Sotterley’s slave cabin

In 2010, with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Sotterley began work on a re-interpretation and developed research-based tours that moved past the romanticism to reveal a realistic view of the plantation’s story seen through different perspectives.  An exhibit in the slave cabin, as well as other projects focused on changing perspectives in interpretation at Sotterley, were assisted by grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.  In 2012, Sotterley was recognized as a port site through the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP).  In 2014, Land, Lives and Labor became Historic Sotterley Plantation’s first permanent exhibit created to focus on the people who lived and labored for the owners from 1699 into the mid 20th century.  It is housed in the Corn Crib, which was restored using funding from the African American Heritage Preservation Program, administered by MHT and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.

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“Land, Lives, and Labor” exhibit, housed in the Corn Crib

Agnes Kane Callum passed away in 2015.  Sotterley will remember her life and legacy as we dedicate the new Slave Cabin exhibit to her memory this April.  This exhibit will focus on the lives of her ancestors, Hillary and Alice Elsa Cane and their children and allow visitors to experience a window into their lives.

At Historic Sotterley, we continue to tell the stories of all who lived and worked here, as we remember our roots and the people who helped us along the way, not just in February, but every day. We welcome every visitor who anticipates a new discovery and finds relevance in our collective past.

2016 Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Grants Awarded

With funding from the National Park Service Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund, the Maryland Historical Trust has awarded seven grants throughout the state to help protect historic places and archeological sites from future storms. These grants will be supported by the Trust’s Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Program, which was created to assist local governments to better plan and prepare for the effects of coastal storms and other hazards that impact historic places and properties. The grant projects are described below.

Anne Arundel

Early 20th century vernacular home common to Shady Side

Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation, Inc., Phase I Hazard Mitigation Planning for Anne Arundel’s Cultural Resources: $32,000
Three areas in the county (Shady Side and Deale; Pasadena; and Maryland City, Laurel, and Jessup) face the highest risk to flooding and contain the most undocumented historic structures, as well as unsurveyed potential archeological resources. To remedy this, the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation will conduct a study to identify historic structures and archeological sites and evaluate the potential damages caused by flooding.

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The River Farm site inundated by high tide

Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc., Sustainable Models for Sites Endangered by Natural Hazards: $32,000
The Archeological Society of Maryland will gather information about several archeological sites in Anne Arundel County, Calvert County and St. Mary’s County that are slowly being destroyed due to eroding shorelines and water intrusion from coastal storms and increased tidal flooding. In St. Mary’s County, at the possible location of the Native American village known as Secowocomoco, testing will inform future decisions about excavation and protection from ongoing erosion. Studies in the Battle Creek watershed (Calvert County) will help researchers understand the foodways and lifeways practiced by the Native Americans who lived there. At River Farm, a large Native American settlement along the Patuxent River, investigations will locate site boundaries, determine eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and inform planning against future erosion and flooding. The Society will develop a series of case studies to provide guidance for public-private partnerships engaged in survey, assessment, and protection of archeological resources threatened by natural hazards and climate change.

Baltimore

Historic Fells Point, a waterfront neighborhood

City of Baltimore, Integrating Historic and Cultural Considerations into Baltimore’s All Hazards Plan: $30,390
The City of Baltimore contains more than 80,000 historic properties and many of its oldest neighborhoods, such as Fells Point and Jonestown, are located on or near waterways, making them vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise, storm surge and flooding. With this grant, the City will identify high-priority historic areas and buildings that are significantly impacted by flooding, evaluate the impacts of flooding, and incorporate the results of evaluation into their Disaster and Preparedness Project and Plan (DP3), which is the City’s climate adaptation and hazard mitigation plan. The City will also identify methods for protecting vulnerable historic structures that are in accordance with the DP3 and amenable to the City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Dorchester

Flooding on Elliotts Island Road (credit: K. Clendaniel)

Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area, Hazard Mitigation Planning Project for Dorchester County: $44,000
Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, Dorchester County has a long history of occupation first by Native Americans and later by English settlement along its waterways. One of the greatest periods of historic significance for the county is 1825 to 1900, during which the agricultural economy shifted to towards the canning industry. There are many properties constructed during that period of significance that are at risk to flooding due to coastal storms, sea level rise, and tidal flooding, but have not been identified and studied to understand their contribution to history. Dorchester County will conduct a survey to identify areas with historic structures vulnerable to flooding and evaluate their vulnerability to flood hazards.

Port Deposit

Flooding from Hurricane Irene (credit: Town of Port Deposit)

Town of Port Deposit, Cultural Resources Inventory and Risk Assessment for Cecil Towns: $40,000
This project encompasses hazard mitigation planning efforts in two Cecil County historic towns: Port Deposit and Elkton. The Town of Port Deposit is located adjacent to the Susquehanna River, which makes the town’s historic district susceptible to flood damage by heavy rain events, coastal storms and ice jams. An updated historic and architectural investigation will be undertaken to re-evaluate and update the National Register of Historic Places nomination as the first step in planning to protect Port Deposit’s buildings from further flood damage. Situated along Big Elk Creek, the Town of Elkton’s Main Street and Historic District has a history of flooding that dates back to the nineteenth century. Elkton’s historic properties are vulnerable to flooding from coastal storms, large rain events and snow melt. To address this, a survey will identify historic structures vulnerable to flooding and assess the potential damages that could occur.

Smith Island

Crab shanty in Ewell

Smith Island United, Inc., Smith Island Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative: $9,000
Situated in the Chesapeake Bay and accessible only by water, Smith Island is comprised of three communities — Ewell, Rhodes Point and Tylerton — which have a history of experiencing coastal storms. The historic occupation of the island dates back to the seventeenth century, although the majority of buildings on the island date to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Under this grant, an evaluation of flood mitigation measures for representative historic house types in each of the three villages will be conducted. The results will be used to develop preservation-sensitive models for flood protection for historic houses of similar construction.

Talbot

W-shaped Victorian house in Tilghman

Talbot County, Documentation and Assessment of Historic Resources in Western Water-Oriented Villages: $60,000
Talbot County contains thirteen unincorporated water-oriented villages, many of which have historic structures dating back to the eighteenth century. The four villages of Tilghman, Neavitt, Newcomb, and Royal Oak have a large number of unrecorded historic structures at high risk of flooding due to tidal events and coastal storms like Hurricane Sandy. This project will identify key historic properties that convey the history and heritage of each village, conduct a study to determine those properties’ vulnerability to coastal storms, and estimate the potential damages that could occur.

 

Maryland Heritage Areas Grants Workshops and Webinar – Register Today!

Cove Point Light and Keeper's House

Cove Point Light and Keeper’s House

 

It’s that time of year again!

Are you located in a Certified Heritage Area?

Are you interested in learning more about grants that are available for capital and non-capital projects relating to the preservation of historical, archeological, natural and cultural resources and heritage tourism?

If so, you will want to attend one of two upcoming grant workshops or a grants webinar that are being offered by the Maryland Heritage Areas Program. These sessions are an opportunity to learn more about the FY 2016 grant program and the new online application process.  You will also be able to ask any questions you may have about the program, or a project you are considering. Continue reading

Maryland Historical Trust Staffer Honored for Museum Work

By J. Rodney Little, Director of the Maryland Historical Trust

For 15 years, Mary Alexander has administered the Maryland Historical Trust’s Museum Assistance Program, offering all manner of assistance to Maryland’s museums, particularly those classified as small.

Alexander and SMA Volunteers

Left to right: Lindsey Baker, Rob Forloney, Mary Alexander, Rod Cofield, Sarah Brophy, Allison Titman at the February 2014 SMA conference in Ocean City.

Celebrating those efforts, the Small Museum Association honored Alexander’s outstanding contributions to the field by awarding her the association’s highest honor earlier this month. The Small Museum Association Award recognizes an individual who advances funding, professional growth and information dissemination to the small museum community on a regional or state level. Continue reading