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.

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.

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Roz Racanello with North Beach Mayor Bojokles in 2010

Under Roz’s leadership, the Southern Maryland Heritage Area worked with partners to secure over $5.4 million of grants and matching funding for heritage preservation and tourism projects in the three-county region. She played a leading role in the creation of the Religious Freedom National Scenic Byway, now managed by the Southern Maryland Heritage Area, and recently served as principal staff to the Steering Committee for the development of a Piscataway Indian Heritage Trail. For these and many other projects, in 2010 she received a Governor’s Award for her outstanding work in Cultural Heritage Tourism from the Office of Tourism Development, and another Cultural Heritage Tourism Award in 2014 for the publication Destination Southern Maryland: A Regional Guide to War of 1812 Events.

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This award-winning publication helped steer residents and visitors to tourism offerings in Southern Maryland.

For nine years Roz also served as Chair of the Maryland Coalition of Heritage Areas, the independent professional organization of Maryland’s 13 State-certified Heritage Areas. In this role, she was a highly effective and respected spokesperson, representing the organizations with the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority that governs the overall program. Her efforts with the Office of the Governor and the Maryland Legislature helped secure full State funding of $3 million annually. Her professional knowledge and innovative approaches also made her a highly sought-after and valued Board member of over a dozen government and non-profit organizations, including the Executive Directors Council of the Maryland Tourism Development Board; the Maryland Historical Trust’s PreserveMaryland Steering Committee; and the Star-Spangled 200 War of 1812 Bicentennial Events, Programs and Grant Review Committee. As a member of the Preservation Maryland-led Tobacco Barns Summit Coalition, she helped distribute Save America’s Treasures grants to save 30 endangered historic tobacco barns.

RRacanello MHAA CakeBefore retiring this summer, Roz attended the July 7, 2016 meeting of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, which awarded her a Certificate of Appreciation, as did the Maryland Coalition of Heritage Areas. Last month she was also honored by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan with a Citation in recognition of her thirteen years of outstanding service to the people of Maryland. She will be missed at the Maryland Historical Trust, and we thank her for all that she’s done to promote preservation and heritage tourism in our state.

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.

Maryland Heritage Areas Authority Provides 63 Grants to Heritage Tourism Sites, Activities and Organizations Across Maryland.

Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace at the Lockhouse

Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace at the Lockhouse

Sixty-three matching grants totaling $2,713,480 were awarded to Maryland non-profits, local jurisdictions and other heritage tourism organizations – including heritage, historic preservation, natural resources and educational organizations– by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA). These grant funds support heritage tourism projects and activities that expand economic development and tourism-related job creation throughout the state (full listing available here). MHAA oversees Maryland’s system of 12 locally-administered, State-certified Heritage Areas. Continue reading

Maryland Heritage Areas Authority Provides 51 Grants to Heritage Tourism Sites, Activities, and Organizations Across Maryland

CROWNSVILLE, MD (July 11, 2011) – Fifty-one matching grants totaling $2,298,000 were awarded to Maryland non-profits – including museums, tourism sites, historic preservation, natural resources and educational organizations, as well as local jurisdictions – by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA). These grant funds support heritage tourism projects and activities that expand economic development and tourism-related job creation throughout the state (see full listing in the full release). Continue reading