Erosion Threatens Cultural Resources at the 17th-century Calverton Site: Maryland’s Flood Awareness Month and Archeology Month Align

by Zachary Singer, MHT Research Archaeologist, and the Staff of Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc.

In addition to celebrating Maryland Archeology Month in April, Governor Larry Hogan proclaimed April 2021 as the first Maryland Flood Awareness Month. Although, April 2021 is the first official concurrent observance, 2017’s Archeology MonthAt The Water’s Edge: Our Past on the Brink addressed the effects of flood hazards on archaeological sites. In the 2017 Archeology Month Booklet, Jason Tyler of Applied Archaeology and History Associates, Inc. (AAHA) contributed an essay entitled “A Return to Calverton, or What’s Left of It”. In the essay, Jason described the results of a 2015 survey to document archaeological resources along the banks of Battle Creek in Calvert County and highlighted the impacts of shoreline erosion on the late 17th-century Calverton site (18CV22). Calverton was laid out in 1668 and served as the seat of government within Calvert County from 1668-1725. Jason concluded the chapter by advocating to protect the site from erosion and flood hazards and also to document the site through archaeology to learn about the threatened cultural resources at Calverton.

The Calverton Shoreline, 1682 vs. Today

Following Jason’s recommendation, the 2017 and 2018 Tyler Bastian Field Sessions with the Archeological Society of Maryland were held at the Calverton site to investigate the site before storm-surge flooding and the wind-driven waters of Battle Creek further eroded what evidence remained of the town. The field sessions focused on ground-truthing anomalies identified during a magnetic susceptibility survey by the MHT Office of Archaeology. The Field Session investigations identified a part of the Colonial town that had not entirely washed into Battle Creek, including intact sub-plowzone cultural horizons and features. In the summer of 2020, AAHA conducted supplemental archaeological investigations at Calverton to continue documenting those portions of the site at heightened risk from shoreline erosion and flooding caused by sea level rise. The 2020 work was supported by the Calvert County Government and a grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

Magnetic Susceptibility Data Collected by the MHT Office of Archaeology

Prior to AAHA’s 2020 field investigations, the MHT Office of Archaeology conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey within 10 meters of the eroding bank overhanging Battle Creek to identify anomalies in the area of the site most at risk to further loss from wind and water action. The GPR essentially uses a 350MHz (megahertz) antenna to send radio pulses into the ground which bounce off of subsurface anomalies and return to the antenna. Through the use of special software, the data collected by the GPR operator can be used to create a detailed 3 dimensional model (called a 3D time slice) that reveals both the horizontal and vertical relationships amongst radar anomalies including potential cultural features (trash pits, cellars, privies), potential modern disturbances, and natural tree root systems.

MHT archaeologists identified seven likely anthropogenic features via examination of the radar time slices. There were two large rectilinear anomalies in the eastern portion of the survey area. A deep, roughly circular anomaly near the center of the survey area was interpreted as a possible well. To the west of the possible well was an irregular anomaly that corresponded with a magnetic aberration identified during a 2019 gradiometer survey. To the east of the possible well was another amorphous anomaly. One trench-like linear anomaly was identified running roughly north-south in the western portion of the survey area. Additionally, one irregularly-shaped anomaly appeared in the southwest corner of the survey area and roughly corresponded to the location of a feature identified in 2017: a cluster of artifacts partly eroding from the bank of Battle Creek. In addition, the rectangular footprint of a test unit from previous excavations was identified, confirming the projection of these anomalies in real space. All seven potential cultural features were recommended for ground-truthing during AAHA’s 2020 archaeological fieldwork.

In total, AAHA excavated eight Test Units during the 2020 fieldwork to assess the form and function of the GPR anomalies. The excavations resulted in the identification of ten cultural features and the recovery of 3,369 artifacts mostly dating from the late 17th and early 18th century including tobacco pipes, a Charles I sixpence coin (1639-1645), and sherds of tin glazed earthenware. Of the ten features identified and excavated by AAHA in 2020, seven are related to the occupation of Calverton most likely from the late seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The largest and most artifact-dense features related to the colonial occupation of Calverton were identified in the central portion of the study area and represent a posthole/mold (Feature 15/22), a small cellar (Feature 14 – the anomaly originally thought to be a possible well), and a possible trash pit (Features 16 and 17). Also identified was a small trench or ditch feature for what was probably once a paling fence in the western portion of the study area (Feature 19).

The 2020 archaeological investigation at Calverton provided additional data crucial to understanding the colonial occupation of the town in the portions of the site most vulnerable to flooding and erosion. Most significantly, it identified a previously unknown cellar (Feature 14) and an associated post hole/mold (Feature 15/22) both of which likely reflect the location of a colonial structure. While the small window into this structure excavated to-date has allowed some preliminary conclusions to be drawn, additional excavations could further reveal the size, layout, and function of the former building. Additional excavation and GPR survey in the vicinity of the paling trench identified during the 2020 investigation (Feature 19) could also provide valuable data on lot divisions in Calverton and colonial towns as a whole.

Another important aspect of the 2020 project was to monitor the shoreline at Calverton to continue assessing the risk of the site to the destructive power of wind and water action along Battle Creek, which remains an imminent threat to the archaeological resources at the site. MHT map projections show that the town’s important public buildings, including the courthouse and chapel, have already been lost to Battle Creek. AAHA’s comparison of the 2020 location of the Battle Creek bank to the location recorded by a 2017 Calvert County LiDAR survey shows shoreline loss ranging from 0.0313 meters to 3.204 meters, with an average of 1.333 meters of loss over two years, or 60- 70 centimeters per year. Most alarmingly, seven of the 28 points taken for the analysis (25% of the total) show shoreline loss in excess of 2 meters and these points occurred over the entire length of the surveyed shoreline. At this rate, the late 17th/early 18th-century cellar feature (Feature 14) will be lost to erosion by 2028 without intervention. With climate change comes increasing numbers of catastrophic storms. Tidal surges during such storm events can wreak havoc on the shoreline, severely undercutting the bank at Calverton.

Map Depicting the Rate of Shoreline Loss at Calverton between 2017 and 2020

This reinforces the urgent need for additional archaeology at Calverton before the resource is entirely lost. Maryland Flood Awareness Month aligning with Maryland Archeology Month provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the impacts of flooding on archaeological resources. To learn more about planning efforts to protect archaeological sites from the impacts of flood hazards, please see the MHT’s guide for Planning for Maryland’s Flood-Prone Archeological Resources.

Freedmen’s Communities in Maryland

After years of African American resistance to slavery and self-emancipation, as well as investment as Union soldiers in the Civil War, Maryland abolished slavery in 1864 when voters approved a new state Constitution.[1] Land ownership carried important practical and symbolic protections following emancipation – property served as a homeplace for Black families that white enslavers had separated, as a means for self sufficiency through farming and raising livestock, and as an important message of individual rights and citizenship. In these post-war years, some white landowners sold property to African Americans, although this land was often less than ideal; it might be swampy or have dense forests that needed to be cleared.[2] Despite these challenges, African Americans developed small enclaves of houses and farms that grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These communities also built churches, schools, and fraternal organization lodges.[3]

Some of these important places have been documented in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) – our repository of places with known or potential value to the history of the State of Maryland. We have provided some highlights below and encourage you to share in comments if you know of other communities near you!

Rossville, Prince George’s County

Located north of Beltsville in Prince George’s County, Rossville’s origins date to 1868, when six African American men purchased a third of an acre of land to construct Queen’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. Prior to the purchase, local African Americans had already created a cemetery on the property. The first church was a small log structure that burned in the late 1890s, but Queen’s Chapel continues to exist today in a 1956 brick building across Old Muirkirk Road from the cemetery and original site.

Queen’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, Prince George’s County (PG:62-21). Photo source: MIHP

In the 1880s, more land in the Rossville area became available after the death of a local white farmer. African Americans, many of them employed at the nearby Muirkirk Iron Furnace, purchased 12 surveyed lots and soon built residences. A fraternal organization called the Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham also purchased a lot and constructed a lodge in 1889. This organization served a very important role in the community by providing social services and financial assistance to members in a time when many white institutions refused to work with African Americans. This building – a two-story, front-gabled frame structure – still exists and now is home to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Black History Program.

Abraham Hall, Prince George’s County (PG:62-7). Photo source: MHT staff

The lodge building also served as a school for the first two decades of the twentieth century. However, Rossville residents pressured the County Board of School Commissioners for the construction of a dedicated school in the community. A building committee of local community members supervised the construction of a new school in 1922, which was partially funded by the Julius Rosenwald Fund’s School Building Program. (Philanthropist and former president of Sears, Roebuck and Company Julius Rosenwald created this special program to provide communities and local boards of education with financial and technical assistance for the construction of new, state-of-the art school buildings in 15 states in the rural south.) The school had two rooms with a capacity of 48 students. Today, the former schoolhouse serves as the American Legion Post 235.

Bacontown, Anne Arundel County

In 1860, the locally prominent Dorsey family freed an enslaved woman named Maria Bacon and gave her 30 acres of property. Sources indicate that Bacon was already living on this land prior to her manumission. Bacon, her three children, and several other manumitted African Americans formed the community known as Bacontown in northwestern Anne Arundel County near the Howard County line. The oldest building in the area is the late nineteenth-century Mary Elizabeth Henson House, the home of founder Maria Bacon’s daughter.

Mary Elizabeth Henson House, Anne Arundel County (AA-893). Photo source: MIHP

Like Rossville, Bacontown also had a fraternal organization lodge built by the Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham, a cemetery, and a church. The Bacontown community constructed the existing Mt. Zion Church building in 1913, which replaced an earlier log church that previously stood nearby. The stucco-covered Mt. Zion Church with a center steeple and entry reflects Gothic Revival architecture, a style that was common in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century church buildings.

Mt. Zion Church, Anne Arundel County (AA-892). Photo source: MIHP

Unionville, Talbot County

On the Miles River Neck, a cape northeast of Easton, eighteen African American Union soldiers returned from Civil War service and founded the town of Unionville. A local white man named Ezekiel Cowgill sold and leased lots to them with the intent of creating a new community. (Cowgill was a Quaker, a religion with many adherents who were abolitionists in the years before the Civil War.) The name that the founders chose for the town sent a significant and courageous statement in an area where many white residents supported the Confederacy.

In 1892, in the center of town, local community trustees constructed St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church, detailed with Gothic Revival features including a pointed arch door and window openings and a three-story, pyramidal roofed tower. To the rear of the church is a cemetery where all 18 of the founding Civil War veterans are buried: John Blackwell, Ennels Clayton, Isaac Copper, John Copper, Benjamin Demby, Charles Demby, William Duane, William Doran, Horace Gibson, Zachary Glasgow, Joseph Gooby, Joseph H. Johnson, Peter Johnson, Edward Jones, Enolds Money, Edward Pipes, Henry Roberts, and Matthew Roberts.

St. Stephens A.M.E. Church, Talbot County (T-789). Photo source: MIHP

To serve as a school building for Unionville, the Talbot County School Board relocated an existing school from McDaniel, a small town northwest of St. Michaels, during the Great Depression in 1932. As described in a reminiscing newspaper article, movers hauled the circa 1910 school building across the land and the structure traversed the Miles River on a purpose-built scow (a wide, flat-bottomed boat). The building, built with frame construction, lapped wood siding, and a steeply pitched clipped gable roof, ceased operations as a school in 1957.

Unionville School, Talbot County (T-794). Photo source: MIHP

Freedmen’s communities tell important stories in the history of Maryland. Some of them have been destroyed, and others are threatened by development and systemic economic disinvestment. Documenting these places in the MIHP is one way to help preserve their legacy. You can search the MIHP via MHT’s cultural resource information system, known as Medusa, on our website: https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.


[1] “A Guide to the History of Slavery in Maryland,” Maryland State Archives and University of Maryland College Park, February 2008, https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/intromsa/pdf/slavery_pamphlet.pdf.

[2] George W. McDaniel, Hearth and Home: Preserving a People’s Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982), 188-190.

[3] Michael Bourne, Orland Ridout V, Paul Touart, and Donna Ware, Architecture and Change in the Chesapeake (Crownsville, MD: MHT Press, 1998), 10.

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

Documenting Maryland’s Dairy Industry

By Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research & Survey

Dairy barns and supporting structures, such as milking parlors, silos, and farmyards, were once common features in Maryland’s agricultural landscape. Yet, no comprehensive survey or historic context exists that documents the role of the dairy industry in Maryland. As more and more farmers leave the industry, now is the time to capture these stories and document the associated historic resources before all tangible evidence disappears.

Martha Perry Robinson (Pattie). Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

To support this effort, the Maryland Historical Trust awarded the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design a non-capital grant to document historic dairy farms in Cecil, Carroll, and Frederick counties over the next two years. Additionally, the MHT Board of Trustees is funding the documentation of several farms in Garrett and Allegany counties. This project, eventually covering all 23 counties plus Baltimore City, is identified as a survey goal in the statewide preservation plan, PreserveMaryland II (2019-2023), and MHT staff from the Office of Research, Survey, and Registration is actively involved in the outreach, documentation, and research efforts.

Farmers from Western Maryland and staff from the Office of Research, Survey, & Registration at the Dairy Farmers Reunion at the Allegany County Fair in 2018 (Photo courtesy of Casey Pecoraro).

Changes in Maryland’s agricultural industry frequently translated to the built environment, requiring new forms and materials to meet evolving needs and advances. In the late nineteenth century, many Maryland farmers sought to diversify their agricultural production, moving from traditional crops such as wheat and tobacco to dairy, fruits, and vegetables. By the early twentieth century, countless dairy farmers shifted from using large multi-purpose barns that housed a variety of livestock to a more standardized barn design dedicated to safe dairy production. The U.S. Department of Agriculture publicized the new designs, which focused on increased light, ventilation, and materials, such as concrete, that promoted cleanliness. Additionally, advances in technology, such as the development of the feed silo in 1873 and improvements to refrigeration, pasteurization, and bottling, transformed the industry at the turn of the century.[1]

Main house at Leigh Castle Farm, Carroll County. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Near the town of Marston in Carroll County, Leigh Castle Farm is a representative early twentieth-century dairy farm that illustrates the shift in agricultural practices.[2] Harry and Martha (Robinson) Townshend purchased the roughly 53-acre farm in 1908 for $4,000. By 1910, the U.S. Census lists Harry as a farmer, with the household consisting of Harry, age 30; Martha, age 29; and Margaret, their one-year old daughter.[3] The family expanded three years later with the birth of their son Henry.

Martha Robinson Townshend and her mother Amanda Baden Robinson at the Carroll County farm. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

In addition to dairy production, the Townshends grew a variety of crops and raised chickens. In a letter dated July 20, 1914, Martha (known as Pattie) wrote to her mother, Amanda Baden Robinson, of Brandywine, Maryland: “We have had a very wet season and such heavy electric storms … I have certainly had a terrible time this summer – labor is scarce and high – some of Harry’s hay and wheat crop was damaged but I did my best … I have done but little canning – cherries rotted on the trees and my beans are to (sic) old to can now … Only have a small crop of chickens about a hundred and five … Am raising a calf, which is much trouble around the house (?) …”[4] On the eve of World War I and with a newly established farm, this passage illustrates the challenges and hard work of farming for a living.

Dairy barn constructed at the farm in 1929. Source: The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Between 1919 and 1923, the Townshends added a total of about eight acres to the farm. The farm expanded again with the construction of a sizable new dairy barn in 1929. Historic photographs in the collections of the National Museum of American History chronicle the barn-raising and show a typical, early twentieth-century concrete block and frame gambrel-roofed structure. Concrete block and structural terracotta tile were common materials used in the construction of dairy barns and milking parlors in the twentieth century, as more stringent sanitation laws were enacted. By 1930, the Agriculture Census showed 858 dairy farms in Carroll County, just behind Frederick and Harford counties, with a total of 5,652 farms classified as dairy operations in the state.[5] 

Additional research, such as agricultural or farm schedules, will provide further information into the operations of Leigh Castle Farm. As we move forward with our documentation and research efforts, MHT will continue to highlight examples of dairy-related buildings, farm complexes, and landscapes that help illustrate this important chapter in Maryland’s history.


[1] Diehlmann, Nicole A. and Jacob M. Bensen, Thematic Historic Context:  Dairy Farming in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland (Appendix F), March 2020.

[2] The farm became known as Leigh Castle, named after one of the early parcels of land.

[3] Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

[4] Letter to Amanda Baden from Martha (Pattie) Townshend, July 20, 1914. The Robinson and Via Family Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[5] Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 – Agriculture, Volume III, United States Government Printing Office (Washington, DC: 1932).

Gertrude Sawyer: Pioneer and Architect

By Annie Allen, Architectural Survey Data Specialist

This time last year, as a new employee of the Maryland Historical Trust, I attended my first annual all-staff meeting at the beautiful Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM). The day included a fun “Mystery Heist” icebreaker, for which we all assumed the personalities of various characters who frequented the Patterson residence in the 1950s. When I was assigned my character – Gertrude Sawyer, the architect of the park’s Point Farm –  I was instantly intrigued. Gertrude Sawyer happens to be my mother’s name! To get into my role, I read a small synopsis about Gertrude and learned that she was from Tuscola, Illinois, two hours away from where my Sawyer ancestors hail. These coincidences spurred me to dig a little deeper to find out more about this woman. I was hoping to find a fun family connection to my assigned character. What I discovered is definitely worth sharing. 

Gertrude Sawyer ca.1957. Source: University of Illinois Archives

Gertrude graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1918 with a B.S. in landscape architecture. Wishing to be an architect from a young age, she attended Smith College’s Cambridge School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, where she earned a Master’s in Architecture in 1922. She then moved to Washington, D.C., to work as an associate for Horace W. Peaslee – however, not before building and selling her first residential home in Kansas City, Missouri. She received an early commission while working for Mr. Peaslee to design the Junior League of Washington’s Art Deco headquarters on Dupont Circle. In 1934, Gertrude opened her own firm and became an AIA member in 1939.  During World War II, Gertrude helped to design four thousand temporary homes for military families in D.C.  She earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander for the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps (the Seabees). By the time of her retirement in 1969, Gertrude was registered to practice architecture in the District of Columbia, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Junior League Building (now Kossuth House, Hungarian Reformed Federation). Source: Kossuth Foundation

Gertrude’s projects were predominantly residential, with a focus on country estates. In 1932, Jefferson Patterson, a foreign service diplomat, hired Gertrude to design Point Farm, his country residence in St. Leonard, Maryland, most of which is now JPPM. This project resulted in 26 building designs, ranging from an elegant Colonial Revival family home and guest houses to a show barn for cattle. The Patterson family considered Gertrude the family’s architect. Gertrude’s scrupulous eye for detail is not only evident in the exquisite classical architectural features of the Patterson home but also in her rigorous note-taking, sections, and plans. Her drawings can be found online at the Maryland State Archives, and many of her building designs can still be seen around Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area.

Point Farm, Jefferson Patterson Residence. Source: JPPM

As one of this area’s early woman architects, Gertrude Sawyer was definitely a groundbreaker in her field. However, rather than being recognized as a female architect, she preferred to be known as a good architect. In an interview with Gertrude, Matilda McQuaid revealed “that several women’s organizations had contacted her, knowing her to be one of the pioneer women architects. But when she told them, ‘I was always treated fairly, and throughout my career had a very good time building and designing,’ they never called back.” She once told the Sunday Star that “[p]eople who don’t want a woman architect just don’t come to you. But others see the advantage of your being able to interpret their individual needs because you are a woman.” Gertrude’s dedication to her profession and her pursuit of excellence forged a successful career with many long-standing clients like the Pattersons. 

Detail of the main stair in Jefferson Patterson Residence. Source: Maryland State Archives

Although I haven’t found that family connection yet, it was a pleasure ‘getting to know’ this accomplished architect and trailblazer. I’m still researching! 

Jefferson Patterson Farm. Source: Jillian Storms, Baltimore Architecture Foundation
Jefferson Patterson Farm. Source: Jillian Storms, Baltimore Architecture Foundation

For more information about Gertrude Sawyer’s buildings at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, visit https://jefpat.maryland.gov/Pages/default.aspx 

Sources:

Allaback, Sarah. The First American Women Architects. University of Illinois Press, 2008.

American Institute of Architects. Application For Membership. June 1939. Gertrude Sawyer’s AIA Application. 1735 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC.

Berkeley, Ellen Perry., and Matilda McQuaid. Architecture: A Place for Women. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1989. 

Dean, Ruth. “For The Seabees: Woman Architect Came to Their Aid.” The Sunday Star [Washington. DC] 25 Mar. 1956, D-10 sec.: n.

“Early Women of Architecture in Maryland.” http://www.aiawam.com/.

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.