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.

Architectural Survey on Smith Island

by Allison Luthern, Architectural Survey Administrator

Historical architectural survey describes the process of locating, identifying, and recording historic places. It is the important initial step of all historic preservation activities – we need to start by understanding what exists where. The Maryland Historical Trust has supported architectural survey since our founding in the 1960s. The results of our architectural surveys are contained within the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP).

MHT’s Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program recently funded survey work by architectural historian Paul Touart in Somerset County, including properties on Smith Island. Smith Island is the last surviving inhabited island off the shores of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. Early in its history, the island was occupied by the Pocomoke and Assateague peoples, Native American tribes who also lived along the Eastern Shore streams. The first English landowner was Henry Smith (the island’s namesake) in the middle of the 17th century. Anglo-Americans continued to inhabit Smith Island through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.  

Smith’s Island, Lake, Griffing & Stevenson Map, 1877.

The recent survey project documented one of the oldest surviving buildings on Smith Island, known as Black Walnut Point. Its inventory number in the MIHP is S-536-6. The architectural survey provides a physical description of the house: It has a two-story, three-bay side hall/parlor plan main block supported on a stuccoed masonry foundation with an exterior sheathed in beaded weatherboards. The gable roof is covered with wood shingles. Attached to the back of the main block is a two-story, two-part service wing that dates from the third quarter of the 19th century, around 1860-70.

Black Walnut Point, photo by Paul B. Touart

The survey also details the property’s history through its ownership by two prominent Smith Island families, the Tylers and Marshalls. Today, it is the Smith Island Education Center.

Black Walnut Point, photo by Paul B. Touart

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century through the early 20th century, the Lower Shore region experienced growth and economic prosperity associated with new railway lines, agriculture, and the seafood industry – the latter being particularly important for Smith Island. During this time period, each of the three Smith Island communities (Tylerton, Ewell, and Rhodes Point) built a new Methodist church building. These three churches were also surveyed in our recent project.

Ewell United Methodist Church (S-536-1) is a single-story, gable front building on a raised, rusticated block foundation. It has a symmetrical façade and is topped by a square belfry. It was built in 1939-40 on a site that has long been associated with the practice of Methodism. Adjacent to the church is a parsonage, a tabernacle, and a cemetery.

Ewell United Methodist Church, photo by Paul B. Touart

Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church (S-536-4) is located in the center of Rhodes Point. It is a single-story, L-shaped building with a marble date stone that reads: “1921 / Calvary M.E. Church / Reverend J.L. Derrickson.” It is also surrounded by a large cemetery with both in-ground and above ground vaulted burial plots.

Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church, photo by Paul B. Touart

The third church, Union Methodist Episcopal Church (S-536-8), is in Tylerton. It was built around 1920-1930, using salvaged materials from an earlier 1896 church. It is a rectangular shaped church on a raised, rusticated block foundation with a large columned projecting pavilion flanked by towers. Like many historic Methodist churches, the sanctuary inside is on the upper level.

Union Methodist Episcopal Church, photo by Paul B. Touart

If you want to learn more, you can view all MIHP survey records, including more properties on Smith Island, on our website, https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.

“Little Las Vegas” in Charles County 

By Nicole A. Diehlmann 

Enjoy the following guest blog by Nicole A. Diehlmann, co-author of the new MHT Press publication on the architectural history of Charles County, In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes

Since 1920, major changes in Charles County’s economy, demographics, and physical development shifted it from a primarily agricultural economy to a bedroom community of Washington, D.C.  The legalization of gambling was one little-known feature of this shift.

The construction of Crain Highway (US 301) in the 1920s and the Potomac River Bridge in 1940 opened a major north–south transportation corridor, which linked Charles County to the larger urban centers of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and points south. The new road brought an increase in automobile traffic and tourism, and restaurants and hotels began to spring up along the US 301 corridor. After the end of Prohibition in 1933, small taverns opened, which became popular places to have a drink or two and play slot machines. At that time, slot machines were widely regarded as innocent amusement, even though gambling was outlawed by the State of Maryland. 

In the early 1940s, many county residents questioned the legality of slot machines, and the status of gambling became a contentious community issue. A grand jury was charged with studying the presence of illegal slot machines throughout the county. The grand jury’s report stated that there was no evidence indicating that any slot machines were in operation in Charles County, but in reality, establishment owners had successfully hidden or removed them prior to inspections. Subsequent reports concluded that the problem lay in a lack of law enforcement and argued that since gambling was so pervasive, it might as well be legalized so that the county could collect money from licensing fees. A bill was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly in 1949 for legalization as a “local option” that would affect only Charles County. The bill outlined several benefits of legalization, including how revenue generated would be used to reduce real estate taxes, pay off school bonds, and provide support for the library fund, the fire department, and the hospital. On the momentous day of June 21, 1949, gambling was legalized in Charles County by a vote of nearly 2 to 1. 

The Waldorf Motel and Restaurant featured flashy neon signs intended to attract visitors to this popular site along the US 301 strip. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government.

People from surrounding areas had been coming to the county for years to play the slots, but legalization spurred an extraordinary number of tourists to visit and thus, growth in all sectors in order to support the influx. The combination of legalized gambling, transportation improvements, and postwar mobility combined to dramatically increase the volume of traffic passing through the area and transformed Waldorf, the northernmost county town on US 301, into a tourist destination. Crain Highway was widened to four lanes to accommodate the traffic. Between 1949 and 1968, along a fourteen-mile stretch of US 301, 21 hotels with a total of 600 rooms popped up alongside restaurants, gas stations, and entertainment facilities that accommodated tourists and gamblers. This concentration of restaurants and hotels, each with its own array of slot machines, turned the once sleepy village of Waldorf into a large center of commercial activity. The largest sites for gambling in Waldorf in the late 1950s were Club Waldorf Inc. with 140 slot machines and the Waldorf Restaurant with 60 machines. Other casinos were clustered along the Potomac River, including the Reno, off the shores of Colonial Beach, Virginia, with more than 300 machines, and Marshall Hall, across from Mount Vernon, with 193 machines. At the height of the gambling era, revenue from slot machine licensing fees provided a full quarter of the county’s income.  

Although located off the shore of Colonial Beach, Virginia, the Reno Casino was considered to be within the jurisdiction of Charles County, Maryland, because it was in the Potomac River, which is wholly in the state of Maryland. In this way, Virginians were given easy access to Maryland’s slot machines. Photo source: In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes

The slot machine era in Charles County was a time of extravagance, excitement, and growth. The slots were everywhere, and everyone—adults, children, residents, and tourists—played them. At first buildings intended for other commercial uses were adapted to accommodate slot machines, but eventually special structures were built as gambling and entertainment houses. The demand for construction continued to increase, so that by 1960 there were 57 restaurants along the highway, with the larger ones billing themselves as casinos. The neon lights on restaurants and hotels made the US 301 strip look like “Little Las Vegas,” as it came to be known. Many of the restaurants offered dancing and live bands, often attracting famous performers. 

The Wigwam, demolished in 2013, was one of the most notable of the casinos that lined US 301. In the later twentieth century, the building housed Walls Bakery. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

In Charles County, most of the motels were constructed as fully integrated buildings under a single roof. The dominant styles were vernacular interpretations of Colonial Revival and Modernist styles, although Craftsman, Western, and Spanish Colonial Revival styles were present in motels in other jurisdictions. While they were often architecturally non-descript, motels and restaurants distinguished themselves by their roadside signage. Large neon signs dominated the grounds visually, enticing passing motorists to stop at the establishment. The Waldorf Motel, demolished in 2017, was an excellent example of the type, containing several rows of motel rooms, a large neon sign, and a two-story restaurant topped by a neon sign. One of the most notable of the casinos was the 1950 Wigwam. It included a casino building with an attached teepee, a decorative wooden totem pole, and a large Western-themed neon sign. After demolition in 2013, the neon sign was acquired by Charles County and now marks the entrance to the Indian Head Rail Trail on US 301 in White Plains. The extant Blue Jay Motel served African Americans who came to US 301 during the era of segregation. It was constructed by Arthur Farrar and featured in the Negro Traveler’s Green Book between 1959 and 1964.  

The Blue Jay Motel, constructed by Arthur Farrar, served African Americans who came to US 301 during the era of segregation. Image source: Historic Site Files, Charles County Government. 

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the pervasiveness of slot machines began to worry many residents. A 1958 issue of Man’s Conquest magazine called Crain Highway the “301 sin-strip,” Charles County “dirty, drunken and debauched,” and accused residents of profiting from “slots, sex and sin.” Another magazine, Real Adventure, described the county as a “modern Sodom with thirty gin mills to the mile and a populace of gun-carrying gangsters and sleazy dames.” By 1961, Maryland had three times as many slots as the state of Nevada and they produced an average annual revenue of $13 million. Reformers in Charles County pushed their case to end gambling, and just as legalization had been a community-wide fight, so was its demise. Due to continuing pressure from many groups, in 1962 Governor J. Millard Tawes announced the establishment of a committee charged with creating procedures to remove slots from the county with the least possible harm. Beginning in July 1965, the slots were phased out slowly over a three-year period. On June 30, 1968, store and restaurant owners watched as the last of the machines were removed from their establishments, and the slot-machine era in Charles County came to an end. 

The White House Hotel is one of the few slot-machine era motels remaining in the county. Image source: National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey.  

After slot machines were banned, the area’s popularity as a travel destination quickly declined. The construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1954 offered Washingtonians ready access to Maryland’s oceanside resorts, which caused the decline of riverside resorts and further drained the tourism trade from Southern Maryland. Today, few vestiges of Charles County’s slot-machine era survive. Most of the larger hotels and restaurants along US 301 have been demolished for new commercial developments that serve the rising number of suburban residents living in the county. A few motels exist at the southern end of US 301 in the county, including the former White House Motel and the Bel Alton Hotel. 

Learn more about Charles County’s “Little Las Vegas” in the book In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes, written by Cathy H. Thompson and Nicole A. Dielhmann. You can purchase a copy from the Historical Society of Charles County or from MHT press at https://mht.maryland.gov/home_mhtpress.shtml

MHAA Welcomes New Members to its Grant Review Panel

Last year, MHAA transformed its grant review process to feature a panel of exceptional reviewers from all backgrounds and areas of expertise. Including representatives of nonprofit organizations, cultural institutions, state employees, and members of the public, the panel is responsible for reading and ranking the over 200 applications MHAA receives each grant round.  

This past year, MHAA was happy to welcome nine new members to our grants panel, with expertise in fields ranging from education and preservation to communications and art. You can read short bios for the new panelists below. If you are interested in joining the grants review panel for FY 2023 round, you can learn more about the process here and submit this form for consideration by December 31, 2021. 

Garland A. Thomas, Department of Housing and Community Development 

Garland Thomas is a representative of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, where he serves as Assistant Director of the Statewide Team for the Neighborhood Revitalization Unit – Team 2. He has years of experience in state government, administering several state revitalization programs. Serving on the grants panel, he brings expertise in project management, economic development, and grants management.  

Charlotte Davis (Frederick County) 

Charlotte Davis is the Executive Director of the Rural Maryland Council and has more than twenty years of experience serving the state of Maryland. She currently oversees the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund and the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment fund. Her years of experience working with rural Maryland allows her to offer invaluable insights into potential projects across the state.  

Lenett Nef’fahtiti Partlow-Myrick (Pikesville, MD) 

Lenett Nef’fahtiti Partlow-Myrick is an artist, poet, writer, and instructor of English at Howard Community College. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Transdisciplinary Leadership doctoral program at the University of Vermont. She has worked with local, state, and national organizations and has over forty years of experience in fundraising, grant writing, and the proposal review process. Across all of her work, she has maintained a commitment to cultural preservation and sustainability. With her work being displayed at a number of prestigious institutions, Ms. Partlow-Myrick brings a wealth of expertise in the fields of art and culture to the grants review panel.  

Elinor Thompson, Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture  

Elinor Thompson is serving on the panel as a representative of the Maryland Commission on American History and Culture. For over thirty-five years, Elinor has worked in the non-profit sphere on historic preservation and genealogy. She is an expert in preserving and interpreting church and cemetery records and has used her expertise to examine family and community histories. She brings extensive experience with projects pertaining to cemeteries, community history, and cultural heritage.  

Heather Savino (Baltimore, MD) 

Heather Savino is the Director of Development and Marketing for Patterson Park Public Charter School, Inc. She has experience in social work, community action, and social policy. On the panel, she has provided insight into working with youth, representing the LGBTQ* community, and investigating the intersection of race and social services. 

Linda Moore-Garoute (Prince George’s County) 

Linda Moore-Garoute is the Vice President of the Cedar Haven Association on the Patuxent River and Vice Chair of the Town of Eagle Harbor Environmental Advisory Committee. She is an expert in climate change mitigation, being certified as a Climate Change Professional in the state of Maryland in 2020. She has experience working with Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Chesapeake Bay Trust Foundation, and the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission. On the panel, she has focused on finding solutions to mitigate climate change impacts, creating sustainable heritage tourism projects, and highlighting African American cultural landscapes.   

Stephen DelSordo (Cambridge, MD) 

Stephen DelSordo has close ties to the Maryland Heritage Areas Program. He was a founding member of the Heart of the Chesapeake Heritage Area and sat as its first chair for ten years. Since then, he has worked closely with the Indian Tribes of Montana on heritage tourism programs. He brings a national perspective to the grants panel, having worked on heritage tourism projects around the county.  

Samia Rab Kirchner (Baltimore, MD) 

Samia Kirchner is an associate professor of Architecture and Planning at Morgan State University. She has years of experience working in historic preservation and is an expert in urban conservation and waterfront redevelopment. In the past several years, she has applied her expertise to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, serving as a member of their International Cultural Tourism Committee and a desk reviewer for their World Heritage Nomination Dossiers. Her expertise in historic preservation and her experience with the ICOMOS allow her to bring a global perspective to the grants review process, supported by extensive knowledge of the industry’s best practices.  

Jennifer Shea (Claiborne, MD and Chevy Chase, MD) 

Jennifer Shea is a communications strategist and filmmaker with experience in education, theatre, and the arts. Currently, she serves as the Writer and Strategist for the Herson Group, a well known communications consulting firm. Prior to this position, Jennifer worked at Cornell University both as a lecturer and administrator. Outside of these positions, Jennifer has worked in film, directing an oral history project for the Tilghman Watermen’s Museum that was screened on Maryland Public Television and PBS. She is also serving on the board of Maryland Humanities and has past board experience in education and the arts. Jennifer’s years of experience in these fields allows her to contribute a critical perspective when assessing projects through a cultural, educational, and artistic lens.  

We are excited to welcome these exceptional new members to our grants panel. To learn more about MHAA, visit https://mht.maryland.gov/heritageareas.shtml. If you would like to see the great projects that this panel helped fund, you can view a full list at https://mht.maryland.gov/documents/PDF/MHAA/MHAA_CurrentGrantAwards.pdf.    

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.