Preserving Chesapeake Heritage: Navigating the Tubman Landscape amid Rising Tides

By Jessica Brannock, Communications Intern

In 2007, roughly 17 acres of wetlands within Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) were dedicated to create the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (HTUR) State Park. These lands and waterways where Tubman lived and worked as a young woman, enslaved by the Brodess family, make up just a fraction of the 25,000 acres of land in Dorchester County dedicated to the HTUR National Monument. While the park’s Visitor Center offers exhibits on the life and heroism of Tubman, the true monument to her legacy is the landscape itself—and it’s disappearing.

Over the course of a decade, Tubman returned to this landscape 13 times and guided 70 slaves to freedom. Hiding in the marshes by day and traveling by foot and boat at night, Tubman and other freedom seekers relied on their knowledge of Chesapeake waterways, plant, and animal life to survive the journey north.

Visitor Center

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, LEED silver certified, and constructed on higher ground to protect the building against rising sea levels.

Today, much of the wildlife found in the brackish tidal marshes and hardwood forests of Blackwater NWR are typical of what Tubman encountered over 150 years ago. However, preserving these habitats and heritage is an ever-present challenge as wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed are threatened by environmental change.

Current water levels in Blackwater NWR are much higher than when Tubman navigated the rivers and marshes to freedom. Since the NWR’s establishment in 1933, over 5,000 acres of wetlands have been lost to sea level rise.

Marshes act as buffers between land and water, filtering out toxins and absorbing the forces of storms and tides, and Tubman would have been familiar with the tidal rhythms that flooded the wetlands with saltwater and ebbed back with the flow of freshwater tributaries. As sea levels rise, however, saltwater mingles more heavily with fresh, destroying salt-sensitive plant-life as marshlands erode and give way to flooding. By the end of the century, climate science predicts that sea levels will rise in the Bay region between 3 and 4 feet.

Saltwater Intrusion 4

Patches of bare forest and exposed tree roots, destroyed by saltwater intrusion are reminders of rising tides, and the imminent loss of habitat that follows.

The HTUR Visitor Center was constructed with the vulnerability of the landscape in mind. The building is sustainably designed to LEED silver standards and includes bioretention ponds, rain barrels, and vegetative roofs. Located near the Little Blackwater River, where Tubman worked checking muskrat traps as a child, the site was strategically elevated, placing the building on higher ground—a precautionary measure against the accelerating rate of sea level rise. With nearly 300 acres of marsh within the NWR lost each year, the wetlands could be fully submerged by 2050.

Actions can be taken to slow the loss and preserve the landscape so valuable for its habitat and history. In 2017, the Conservation Fund, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Audubon Society partnered to raise 40 acres of marshland within the NWR. This thin-layering process spread 26,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Blackwater River across the wetlands, raising the marshes by 4-6 inches. Along with large scale tree and marsh grass planting, these efforts will help reduce the pace of flooding over the next decade.

As tides rise, the landscapes that hold our heritage will continue to suffer losses to their environmental and historical resources. In the coming years, we must acknowledge environmental threats and face them head on, so that future generations may continue to experience and interpret the legacy of our national treasures.

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Giving Thanks for Oysters and Watermen

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director, Maryland Historical Trust

As you enjoy your oyster dressing this Thanksgiving holiday, take a moment to be thankful for our watermen and the sleek vessels that carried them to harvest these tasty bivalves while under sail.  Hundreds of Skipjacks, powerful shallow-draft wooden boats with a single mast and two sails, once dredged oysters from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay.  Cold, dangerous and dirty work, the history of winter oyster harvesting in Maryland is defined by stories of fierce competition and often unfavorable weather.

Maryland Traditions- Deal Island Skipjack Races

Skipjacks on Deal Island. Credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs

Skipjacks were developed near the end of the 19th century, replacing Bugeyes with their more powerful design.  Survivors of this traditional industry include the Ida May (built in 1906 in Deep Creek, VA) and the Thomas W. Clyde (built in 1911 in Oriole, MD) which were among 36 traditional Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s.  Far fewer vessels exist today.  

Every year, over Labor Day weekend, the Lions Club of Deal Island celebrates these graceful boats at the Skipjack Races and Festival event, now in its 58th year.  An important ceremonial precursor to oystering season, the weekend includes a race around a marked course in Tangier Sound, a blessing of the fleet, a boat docking contest and fishing tournament.

Maryland Traditions- Deal Island Skipjack Races

Skipjack Race. Credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs

If you missed the race this year, we have some great news: on December 2nd, the Deal Island Skipjack Races and Festival will be honored — along with Anne Arundel County quilter  Joan M. E. Gaither and the Baltimore American Indian Center — with a Maryland Traditions Heritage Award at the Proscenium Theater (Performing Arts and Humanities Building) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  Tickets to this event are free and can be reserved by visiting the UMBC box office or by visiting the Maryland Traditions Facebook event.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Maryland Patriot’s Annapolis Home (Guest Blog)

By Glenn E. Campbell, Senior Historian, Historic Annapolis

William Paca was one of the four Maryland men who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and he served as the state’s third governor at the end of the Revolutionary War. After marrying the wealthy and well-connected Mary Chew in 1763, the young lawyer built a five-part brick house and terraced pleasure garden on two acres of land in Annapolis. The couple had three children, but only one of them survived to adulthood, and they cared for an orphaned niece for several months in 1765-66. In addition to Paca family members, the Georgian mansion also housed a number of enslaved individuals and bound servants.

William Paca House

William Paca House and Garden, located at 186 Prince George Street in Annapolis. Photo: Ken Tom

After William Paca sold it in 1780, the house continued as a single-family home until 1801, then served mainly as a rental property for much of the 19th century. Later owners and occupants added upper floors to the building’s wings and hyphens; this increased the square footage of its potential rental space but disrupted the structure’s original Georgian symmetry. In 1901, national tennis champion William Larned purchased the property, added a large addition and created Carvel Hall, known as Annapolis’s finest hotel for much of the 20th century.

WPHG Summer 2017 Credit Tom, K

In the early 1970s, Historic Annapolis and the State of Maryland undertook extensive archeological investigations to restore the garden to its colonial appearance. Photo: Ken Tom

Concerned that developers might tear down the home of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, the nonprofit preservation group Historic Annapolis and the State of Maryland bought the Paca mansion and the rest of the Carvel Hall site in 1965. Over the next decade, a team of experts—archival researchers, archaeologists, architectural historians, paint analysts, x-ray photographers, carpenters, masons, landscape designers, horticulturists, and other skilled professionals—restored the William Paca House and Garden to their 18th-century configurations and appearances. The site was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Historic Annapolis and the Maryland Historical Trust continue to work closely together as the property’s stewards for today and the future.

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Candidates for American citizenship take the Oath of Allegiance on July 4, 2016. Photo: Ken Tom

Since 2006, Historic Annapolis has hosted an Independence Day Naturalization Ceremony at the William Paca House and Garden. It’s especially fitting to welcome new citizens (over 300 so far!) into the American family at the Signer’s home every July 4th, because William Paca himself became a citizen of the newborn United States on that historic date in 1776. The basic truths and simple yet profound ideals expressed so powerfully in the Declaration of Independence motivated his patriotic action 241 years ago, and they continue to attract people to our shores to share in the freedoms enjoyed by American citizens.

The Life of a Roadside Historical Marker

By Nancy Kurtz, Marker and Monuments Programs

The marker you pass on your journey, embossed with the Great Seal of Maryland, could have been born in the early 1930s, cast in iron and displayed along a narrow roadway in the days when the family car and the road trip were new ideas and local citizens wanted to inform travelers of the people, places and events important in their history.

The Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) and Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) jointly manage the state roadside historical marker program.  The State Roads Commission began the program in 1933 in cooperation with the Maryland Historical Society.  The program was transferred to the Maryland Historical Trust in 1985, with new standards, criteria and placement guidelines added in 2001, including the requirement for markers to commemorate topics that carry statewide significance.  MHT reviews and approves new marker applications.  SHA installs and maintains the markers, and now funds all new and replacement markers.

RM-733h THE BANK ROAD old

The Bank Road marker, when it was young

When either agency is notified of a marker problem, SHA staff pick up the marker and start the refurbishing, repair or replacement process.  A tag is installed on the pole to notify the public of its whereabouts.  If you should notice a sudden unexplained disappearance, a marker on the ground or other problem, please contact Nancy Kurtz at 410-697-9561nancy.kurtz@maryland.gov, or send in a problem report found on the MHT marker website:  http://mht.maryland.gov/documents/pdf/research/MarkerReport.pdf.

With over 800 markers installed since the 1930s, maintenance is ongoing. Markers requiring repair or refurbishing are sent off-site for the work, usually in groups of two or more.  Sandblasting and welding repairs can take three to four weeks.  Repainting can take four to six weeks.  Reinstallation is dependent on weather and work schedule, and usually grouped geographically, so can take two to three months after repainting.  The best time estimate for the whole process would be approximately six months, but can vary according to these factors.

One important aspect of reinstalling a marker is safety.  Roadways, traffic volumes and speed have changed through the years and do not always allow reinstallation in the original location.  Where possible, the markers are placed near a side road to allow drivers to pull off the highway.

RM-733 THE BANK ROAD refurbished

The Bank Road marker, refurbished

The early markers are historic in their own right.  Although some show the scars of damage and repair, we strive to keep them on the roadways well into the future.  The history of the marker program, thematic tours, application procedures, photographs and maps are found on the MHT website, including a keyword search for travelers who pass a marker at today’s highway speeds. To learn more, please visit:  http://mht.maryland.gov/historicalmarkers/Search.aspx

 

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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A Fond Farewell to Roz Racanello

By Maryland Historical Trust Staff

Not long after the State of Maryland certified the Southern Maryland Heritage Area in July 2003, Roslyn “Roz” Racanello saw a job ad for an Executive Director of a new heritage preservation and tourism organization serving Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties. She wasn’t sure what a “Heritage Area” was exactly, but she thought her background in the arts, marketing and communications, planning and partnership building, and fundraising and advocacy might be a good fit. Having recently moved to Maryland from the New York City region, she had worked largely in the private sector doing creative and design work with world renowned firms such as Time-Warner, Readers Digest, and the New York Stock Exchange. The Steering Committee recognized Roz’s skills and hired her to build Maryland’s sixth Heritage Area from the ground up.

Roz & Mayor Bojokles

Roz Racanello with North Beach Mayor Bojokles in 2010

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Discovering Archeology Day!

Visitors to Discovering Archeology Day assist in the archeological reconstruction of ceramic vessels.

Visitors to Discovering Archeology Day assist in the archeological reconstruction of ceramic vessels.

Are you looking for something different to do this Saturday?  Something in a beautiful place that will be entertaining, educational, and . . . archeological??  Why not come to Discovering Archeology Day at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in Calvert County?

This free all-day event (10:00AM – 5:00PM) will have you experiencing, discovering, learning and having fun while exploring the “What, where and how’s” of archeology!  There will be demonstrations and activities for budding archeologists of any age!  Tours of the Maryland Archeological Conservation Laboratory will be conducted throughout the day.

Located at 10515 Mackall Road in St. Leonard, The Maryland Historical Trust’s Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum is set on the banks of the Patuxent River.  It is a beautiful place to take a hike, or enjoy a picnic.  Visit the reconstructed Indian Village, and walk the archeological trail.