Interpretation at Sotterley Plantation: The Road to Relevance

By Jeanne Pirtle, Education Director, Historic Sotterley, Inc.

Historic Sotterley Plantation has a long history, to be sure. It has also been open to the public as a museum since 1960.  Let’s see, what was happening in the 1960’s? Schools were still segregated. Jim Crow was still alive.  And in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Sotterley’s last private owner had decided to open Sotterley and create a non-profit so that it could be preserved.  As with most house museums at that time, the early tours focused on the furnishings and lives of the owners with a little legend, lore and myth mixed in.  After the owner’s death in 1993, ownership went to the Sotterley Foundation, which is now Historic Sotterley, Inc.

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In the early 1970’s, a visitor and her father came to the museum.  They paid their two dollars for a tour.  They noticed a slave cabin on the property, but on their tour of the house nothing was mentioned about the slave cabin.  The visitor was Agnes Kane Callum.

Agnes was born in Baltimore in 1925.  She had raised her family while working for the post office. After retirement she earned two degrees from Morgan State University.  She continued to research her family and found a connection to Sotterley.  Her ancestors, Hillary and Elsa Cane, were enslaved there in the 19th century. Agnes made it her passion and mission to have the story of her family told in Sotterley’s narrative. She kept visiting Sotterley with research in hand, bringing large groups of her family and friends with her.  Eventually, Agnes became a trustee on Sotterley’s board and developed an education program for middle school students that is still taught today, Slavery to Freedom.

In 1996, Sotterley was on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered” list.  Agnes joined forces with owner descendants to save Sotterley. It was rescued and grant money was used to help restore the house and cabin. For some years, tours focused on this restoration with a few stories of the enslaved, but still it was not a complete and inclusive narrative.

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Sotterley’s slave cabin

In 2010, with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Sotterley began work on a re-interpretation and developed research-based tours that moved past the romanticism to reveal a realistic view of the plantation’s story seen through different perspectives.  An exhibit in the slave cabin, as well as other projects focused on changing perspectives in interpretation at Sotterley, were assisted by grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.  In 2012, Sotterley was recognized as a port site through the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP).  In 2014, Land, Lives and Labor became Historic Sotterley Plantation’s first permanent exhibit created to focus on the people who lived and labored for the owners from 1699 into the mid 20th century.  It is housed in the Corn Crib, which was restored using funding from the African American Heritage Preservation Program, administered by MHT and the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.

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“Land, Lives, and Labor” exhibit, housed in the Corn Crib

Agnes Kane Callum passed away in 2015.  Sotterley will remember her life and legacy as we dedicate the new Slave Cabin exhibit to her memory this April.  This exhibit will focus on the lives of her ancestors, Hillary and Alice Elsa Cane and their children and allow visitors to experience a window into their lives.

At Historic Sotterley, we continue to tell the stories of all who lived and worked here, as we remember our roots and the people who helped us along the way, not just in February, but every day. We welcome every visitor who anticipates a new discovery and finds relevance in our collective past.

A Fond Farewell to Roz Racanello

By Maryland Historical Trust Staff

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

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Roz Racanello with North Beach Mayor Bojokles in 2010

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

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

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

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

Cumberland’s Youth Summit

By Kathy McKenney, Historic Planner/Preservation Coordinator, City of Cumberland

With a Certified Local Government grant from the Maryland Historical Trust, the Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission and staff have partnered with Braddock Middle School to develop a first-ever Youth Summit. During the 2015-2016 school year, this project is bringing together local youth, educators, and preservation partners to investigate and engage with historic places in our city. The summit will give participating students real-world experience with a day focused on hands-on preservation maintenance and intensive sessions on using architecture as artifact, archival research, and place-based interpretation. Summit participants will visit, discuss, and analyze designated historic sites such as churches, the C&O Canal, and the Footer Dye Works Building. The students will craft stories about these places for their peers and the community at large. Project partners include the City of Cumberland’s Historic Preservation Commission, Allegany College of Maryland, the National Park Service C&O Canal National Historical Park, and Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority.

Cumberland Youth Summit 1

Visit to Dan’s Rock

On October 16, 2015, eighth grade students traveled to Dan’s Rock to understand cultural landscapes and to begin learning more about their community, while discussing “sense of place” and what places were important to them within their community. They began to interpret the layers of human visitation to the site over the years and asked other visitors to the site about their experiences and what drew them there. The students developed a hashtag to begin using for social media posting: #SaveOurHistory #BraddockSummit2015.

On October 23rd, students, accompanied by a staff member from Cumberland’s Economic Development department, traveled to five Cumberland neighborhoods (Dingle, Decatur Heights, Johnson Heights, White Oaks, and Rolling Mill) to learn more about cultural and architectural resources. They visited sites both with and without formal designation, such the city’s working class neighborhoods ranging from mid-nineteenth century to mid- century modern. Students selected a neighborhood for further research and are now learning more about documenting resources. The students will craft stories about these places for their peers and the community at large.

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Youth Summit Neighborhood Visits – Decatur Heights

On November 20th, members of the project team, as well as staff from the Allegany County Library System, met with the students in the classroom to introduce them to sources for continuing their neighborhood research. Their research will result in the preparation of a report that they will present to the Cumberland Mayor and City Council at a public meeting in the near future. In the spring of 2016, students will participate in activities including a service learning project in and around Canal Place, a hands-on preservation maintenance opportunity and an additional heritage tourism activity. We’re looking forward to the results of this great program!

For more information, please contact Kathy McKenney, Historic Planner/Preservation Coordinator, at 301-759-6431 or kathy.mckenney@cumberland.md.gov.

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.

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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.

Guest Blog – Bells Across the Land: Remembering Appomattox

 

By Nick Redding, Executive Director, Preservation Maryland

Bells Across the LandOn April 9, 1865, after four years of combat, the Civil War came to a symbolic end in the tiny hamlet of Appomattox, Virginia when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The surrender at Appomattox signaled the end of the long, harsh conflict which ultimately claimed the lives of 750,000 individuals and led to the emancipation of the nearly 4.5 million enslaved African-Americans held in the southern states, including Maryland.

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Maryland Heritage Areas Grants Workshops and Webinar – Register Today!

Cove Point Light and Keeper's House

Cove Point Light and Keeper’s House

 

It’s that time of year again!

Are you located in a Certified Heritage Area?

Are you interested in learning more about grants that are available for capital and non-capital projects relating to the preservation of historical, archeological, natural and cultural resources and heritage tourism?

If so, you will want to attend one of two upcoming grant workshops or a grants webinar that are being offered by the Maryland Heritage Areas Program. These sessions are an opportunity to learn more about the FY 2016 grant program and the new online application process.  You will also be able to ask any questions you may have about the program, or a project you are considering. Continue reading