Preparing for Future Floods

By Nell Ziehl, Chief, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach

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Hoopers Island

As we turn from Ellicott City’s disaster response to recovery, and watch hurricanes threaten Florida and Hawaii, it’s hard not to think about all the places throughout Maryland that are prone to flooding. We built our earliest towns, cities, roads and rail lines along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. As ports and fishing industries boomed, we developed more. And let’s be honest: we all love to live and play near water. Continue reading

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Documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Baltimore

By Eli Pousson, Director of Preservation and Outreach, Baltimore Heritage

Over the past year, Baltimore Heritage, the Maryland Historical Trust and the Baltimore National Heritage Area have been hard at work researching and documenting the history of Baltimore’s African American Civil Rights movement. Our long-term goal is to identify and designate historic places associated with the Civil Rights movement in and around Baltimore City. From the start, we recognized this project as a unique opportunity to get Baltimore residents interested and involved in the search for the city’s Civil Rights history.

In the spring, we put together a comprehensive bibliography with journal articles, books, government reports, and more—using Zotero to publish the bibliography online as a resource for local historians and educators. In the fall, we launched our project website featuring an interactive timeline of Civil Rights history and an inventory map showing all of the sites and buildings we have found so far. If you think we missed any important events or places, please get in touch or you can comment directly on the timeline or inventory as Google Spreadsheets.

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Rally to Save Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage, November 2015. Photo by Eli Pousson.

In addition to these online resources, we’ve organized several tours and programs for Baltimore residents and local students. In November we led a bike tour with stops at the segregated Pool No. 2 in Druid Hill Park, the home of activists Juanita Jackson and Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. on Druid Hill Avenue, and the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge on Eutaw Place where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in 1964. We also led a tour for a group of students from Digital Harbor High School with stops at the Ebenezer AME Church and Leadenhall Baptist—two of the oldest African American churches in Baltimore with long histories of fighting for justice.

Jackson Mitchell House

Juanita Jackson and Clarence Mitchell House on Druid Hill Avenue. Photo by Eli Pousson.

Our research has uncovered powerful stories from fight against residential housing segregation in the 1910s, the campaign desegregate downtown lunch counters in the 1950s, and activism around economic empowerment and urban renewal in the 1970s. But we know there are many more stories and places that we still need to learn more about. We look forward to continuing our research and working with community residents (and veteran activists) to make sure we preserve these important places from Maryland’s Civil Rights history.

If you are interested in learning more Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage: Looking for Landmarks from the Movement, please sign up for updates through the Baltimore Heritage website or get in touch with Eli Pousson, Director of Preservation and Outreach at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org.

The Common Good: Blacks in Secret Societies in Calvert County, Maryland

By Michael Gayhart Kent, Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture

Volumes have been written about the sacrifices and victories of the many men and women who have fought for civil rights.   While the focus is often on individual leaders and national events, many of our black ancestors worked quietly in the shadows to create a better future for their descendents. These unsung heroes, working together within the framework of benevolent, masonic, and fraternal societies, made lasting contributions to their local communities, setting the groundwork for – and engaging in – the struggle for civil rights.  This article examines the presence, impact, and succession of several such African American societies in Calvert County, Maryland, , which is also the subject of an exhibit opening at the Prince Frederick Library on February 6, 2016.

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The Baltimore Afro-American celebrated the Galilean Fishermen in an article on July 1, 1974, noting a current membership of 500.

Continue reading

A Special Visit to Whitehall

A Special Visit to Whitehall

By Bernadette Pulley-Pruitt, Administrative Support, MHT Office of Preservation Planning and Museum Programs

Rideout Family cemetery at Whitehall

Ridout Family cemetery at Whitehall

Most people know Whitehall outside of Annapolis – if they know it at all – as a beautiful 18th century home and National Historic Landmark. For me, it has a special meaning and connection as the place where some of my ancestors were enslaved by the Ridout Family. When Michael Winn of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church organized a visit with Mr. Orlando Ridout IV and church members to the property’s cemeteries, I jumped at the chance to visit the graves of my family members .

Timothy Harris tombstone, Ridout Family cemetery

Timothy Harris tombstone, Ridout Family cemetery

Buried in the Ridout Family cemetery, my great-great-grandfather Timothy Harris was born into slavery in 1834 and died in 1905. After Emancipation, he continued to work for the Ridouts as a carriage driver and eventually purchased land near Whitehall. He and his wife Mary E. Bailey Harris donated a portion their land to build the now-demolished Skidmore School for African Americans. The epitaph on his tombstone reads “With the Upright Man, thou shalt show thyself upright.”

Amelia Martin tombstone, African American burial ground. Photo credit: Dalyn Huntley

Amelia Martin tombstone, African American burial ground. Photo credit: Dalyn Huntley

On the other side of the fence, adjacent to the Ridout Family cemetery, is an African American burial ground where many of Whitehall’s enslaved are interred. Only one permanent tombstone remains, belonging to Amelia Martin (1878-1899), the daughter of my great-great-grandmother Mary Calvert-Martin, who was also enslaved by the Ridouts. Over time, the name “Calvert” was changed to “Colbert”, and the “Col-Mar” and “Colbert” roads near the property refer to our family.

Portrait of Mary Calvert-Martin

Portrait of Mary Calvert-Martin

Today we do not know how many others are buried in the African American cemetery. Their markers, likely wooden, deteriorated over time or were removed by owners of the Whitehall property. I hope that one day we will be able to identify the graves of those buried there, perhaps with ground-penetrating radar, and erect a plaque in their honor, so that their lives will not be forgotten.

Of course, this is not a story unique to Whitehall, or to my family — these stories and these places exist all over Maryland. Many are threatened by time or neglect or ignorance of what is there. We must do what we can to save them and tell these stories, because we still have so much to learn about ourselves and our histories.

The author with Mr. Orlando

The author with Mr. Orlando “Lanny” Ridout IV

Guest Blog – Old Bohemia Tenant House Curatorship Available

Guest Blog – Old Bohemia Tenant House Curatorship Available

By Peter Morrill, Curator Program Manager, Maryland Department of Natural ResourcesOld Bohemia Tenant House

Do you ever dream about restoring and living in a historic house? Or living on pristine rural land within one of Maryland’s beautiful Wildlife Management Areas?  If so, check out the Department of Natural Resources Resident Curatorship Program.  The Curatorship Program offers historically significant state-owned properties to private individuals for rehabilitation.  In exchange for rehabbing and maintaining the property, curators are given lifetime tenancy – rent free.  The Curatorship Program allows private individuals to breathe new life into significant historic properties which might otherwise be lost. Continue reading

May Is Preservation Month!

May Is Preservation Month!

by Secretary David R. Craig, Maryland Department of Planning

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During Preservation Month 2015, let us come together to celebrate Maryland’s extraordinary and diverse heritage. Explore your own historic community through events sponsored by your local historical society, preservation organization or Heritage Area. Learn about your family history. Take a road trip down a Scenic Byway to visit one of our beautiful Main Streets or cultural museums. Share your photos, your impressions and your memories with friends and family.

Part of the Department of Planning, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) helps individuals, businesses and communities save the historic places that make our state special. Using state and federal rehabilitation tax credits, we provide millions of dollars each year to businesses and residents to help repair and rehabilitate their historic properties.

A group of monuments and a line of cannon are framed by a split rail fence at Antietam Battlefield at Sharpsburg, Maryland, USA.

Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg.

The Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, staffed by MHT, allocates nearly $3 million to heritage tourism projects around the state annually. In partnership with the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, we support $1 million in capital projects connected to our state’s African American history. We also respond to hundreds of requests for assistance each year from towns, counties, organizations and individuals – with the sole purpose of helping to connect Marylanders to their past.

Secretary Craig's home  was one of 17 stops on the 42nd Annual Candlelight Tour of Havre de Grace.

Secretary Craig’s home  was one of 17 stops on the 42nd Annual Candlelight Tour of Havre de Grace.

I first became interested in history in 1958 when my parents took us out to the Antietam battlefield where my great-grandfather fought during the Civil War. Not long after that it was a visit to Mount Vernon to go to George Washington’s home that led me to obtain a college degree in history and then teaching it.

As a tenth generation Marylander it interested me in researching my own family history (only seventh generation on the new side) and then buying and restoring a Greek Revival home in Havre de Grace. Ultimately it pushed me to write a history book.

Please join me this May in exploring our great state’s history and the places where history happened.

In addition to serving as Secretary of Planning for Maryland, David R. Craig has a distinguished record of public service, including serving as Harford County Executive and in the Maryland House of Delegates and State Senate, on numerous committees, boards and commissions, including the Maryland Civil War Heritage Commission.  He resides in Harford County.

Do You Believe in Ghosts…?

Do You Believe in Ghosts…?

By Susan Langley, State Underwater Archeologist

Do you believe in ghosts? You might if you find yourself at Mallows Bay in Charles County. Standing on its shores, a ghostly fleet of nearly 100 wooden World War I-era steamships appears to rise from the depths as the tide ebbs.  These are friendly ghosts, as they saw no battles and lost no souls.  Nevertheless, at nearly 300 feet long each the ships create an impressive sight, especially at times of extreme low water. Around a full moon, one could almost cross the water on the skeletons of these behemoths.

The "ghost fleet"

The “ghost fleet”

These ships are remnants of the civilian U. S. Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, which was established when America entered WWI on April 2, 1917 to carry men, arms and equipment to the theater of war. They were also intended to carry supplies to European Allies whose shipping had been decimated by German U-boats. Donald Shomette, who literally wrote the book on this ghost fleet, put the project in perspective when he noted that, between 1899 and 1915, the U.S. had launched 540,000 tons of ocean-going shipping and now proposed to build 6,000,000 tons in 18 months. Unfortunately, by October 1918 –a month before the end of the war—only 134 of the 1000 expected vessels had been completed, 263 were less than half completed and none had crossed the Atlantic. Within a year of Germany’s surrender 264 were in operation, though only 195 had crossed the Atlantic once.

World War I shipping poster

WWI shipping poster

With diesel engines and metal hulls now dominant, the ships were obsolete by the time they were completed and the U.S. Shipping Board determined to sell the fleet. A few – sold into private service and eventually abandoned in Curtis Bay – are still visible while traversing the Key Bridge. In September of 1922, a firm purchased 233 ships for $750,000 (approximately the cost to build a single ship) and moored the majority in the Potomac to be taken to Alexandria, VA and broken for scrap.  After the vessels in the Potomac caught fire, broke loose in storms, and created other problems, the company corralled them in Mallows Bay. Small-scale salvage operations took over the bay during the Great Depression, providing 15% of the per capita income for Charles County residents at that time. With the outbreak of WWII, Bethlehem Steel attempted to renew salvaging the vessels and constructed a gated burning basin at the back of Mallows Bay. Ultimately, the company determined it was not cost effective and abandoned the effort.

As the years wore on, the slumbering fleet became part of the maritime landscape, providing roosts and nesting sites for osprey and eagles, a nursery for bass that has made it a prime fishing ground, and shelter for many rare, threatened and endangered species.  The bay and its denizens are best viewed from the water and the shelter provided by the vessels creates prime conditions for kayaks and canoes. Numerous State and local government agencies, environmental organizations and private citizens have long wanted greater recognition of Mallows Bay’s many merits but no single program existed that provided the right fit.

Benzonia in Mallows Bay

Benzonia in Mallows Bay

Last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it would consider community-driven nominations for new National Marine Sanctuaries; the first in more than 20 years. The steering committee, consisting of State and County agencies, environmental organizations, tribal representation, fishing organizations, education and outreach specialists, and citizens-at-large, developed a nomination for Mallows Bay and a portion of the Potomac River in 2014, to coincide with the initiation of global commemorative activities for WWI. The application was submitted by the Governor and included letters of support from nearly 100 groups. In January 2015, the Committee received word that the nomination was accepted into the NOAA Inventory for consideration as a viable candidate for the establishment of a National Marine Sanctuary. If the decision is positive, NOAA will solicit public comment and the steering committee will initiate public scoping meetings. If all goes well, we might cut the ribbon on a National Marine Sanctuary close to the Nation’s capital in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I.

Additional Reading:

Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay and Other Tales of the Lost Chesapeake.  Donald G. Shomette.  1996.  Tidewater Publishers: Centerville.

Don is currently working on two new volumes about Mallows Bay so stay tuned for these too.

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Inventory:

http://www.nominate.noaa.gov/nominations/

Read the nomination and see the letters of support for this endeavor.