Updates to the National Register of Historic Places Listings in Maryland

By Peter Kurtze, Evaluation and Registration Administrator

Charles F. Wagner, Jr. house (1946-51) at the Moyaone Reserve. Photo by Daniel Sams

The National Register of Historic Places is a program of the National Park Service, administered in Maryland by MHT.  Listing in the National Register confers recognition for a property’s historic character, and provides access to financial incentives for preservation, as well as a measure of protection from harm by federal- or state-funded projects. Among the properties that received National Register recognition in 2020 were two communities whose architecture and landscape are uncommonly intertwined. The Moyaone Association nominated the Moyaone Reserve Historic District and the Town of Washington Grove requested an expansion of the boundaries of the Washington Grove Historic District on historic and architectural merit. In both communities, the natural landscape plays an especially important role in defining their character. The National Park Service approved these additions to the National Register in Fall 2020. 

Map of the Moyaone Reserve Historic District
Moyaone Reserve Historic District 

Located in Accokeek, approximately 10 miles south of the Capital Beltway, the Moyaone Reserve Historic District encompasses a residential landscape of roughly 1,320 acres that spans parts of Prince George’s and Charles counties. The historic district, comprised primarily of single-family houses situated on large, wooded lots, is located entirely within Piscataway Park, a unit of the National Park System established in 1961 to preserve the historic viewshed across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon. The district holds 189 single-family houses, most built after 1945; around fifty undeveloped parcels, including a 29-acre tract of protected marshland owned by the Alice Ferguson Foundation; and the Wagner Community Center, which was built in two phases in 1957 and 1960. 

The wooded landscape of the Moyaone Reserve.

The houses within the Moyaone Reserve Historic District reflect a range of late twentieth-century residential forms and styles. Many demonstrate key tenets of Modernist design and embrace the architectural theory that buildings should be visually and environmentally compatible with their natural surroundings. The residential character of the Moyaone Reserve was highly influenced by architect Charles F. Wagner, Jr., who designed over a dozen houses in the community – starting with his own home, which was begun in 1946 and expanded in 1947-51. While some Moyaone Reserve residents commissioned architect-designed houses, others purchased plans through trade magazines or catalogs, and worked with contractors or built kit houses using prefabricated elements. Five-acre house lots, with covenants and scenic easements restricting development, help preserve the nationally significant viewshed of Mount Vernon, protect the local ecosystem, and safeguard the rustic character, historic identity, and environmental values of the Moyaone Reserve. A dense tree canopy, natural terrain, meandering roads, and scenic views characterize the internal setting of the historic district and reinforce the unspoiled, rural quality of the community. 

Its role in the protection of the Mount Vernon viewshed, its distinctive land planning qualities, and the character of its innovative, site-sensitive buildings all confer significance in the areas of Conservation, Community Planning and Development, and Architecture spanning the period 1945-1976. The nomination effort was supported in part by a grant from the Certified Local Government Program

Washington Grove Historic District 
Carpenter Gothic cottage at 15 The Circle in Washington Grove.

The 225-acre Washington Grove Historic District encompasses nearly all the land within the municipal boundary of the Town of Washington Grove in central Montgomery County. The district includes 216 single-family houses, three commercial buildings, two municipal buildings, a community clubhouse, and a church – all set within a secluded, wooded landscape that vividly reflects the town’s origin as a nineteenth-century Methodist camp meeting.  

McCathran Hall at Washington Grove.

The Washington Grove Historic District was listed in the National Register in 1980. Documentation standards at that time were less exacting than they are now. This amended nomination provides additional information that present a fuller picture of the community’s history and also offers a firm basis for planning decisions. It identifies and describes the architectural resources, landscape features, and viewsheds that reflect the district’s physical evolution during the period 1873-1969. Lastly, it expands the boundaries to more completely encompass the area historically associated with Washington Grove’s development. 

A map of the Washington Grove Historic District.

The buildings within the Washington Grove Historic District represent a range of late 19th- and 20th-century architectural styles and forms. For example, a grouping of architecturally distinctive Carpenter Gothic cottages complement the forest – the “sacred grove” – that was the setting of the outdoor religious revival upon which the community was founded.  The informal, rustic style remained prevalent as the town grew through the 20th century.  The revised nomination thoroughly documents the role of the landscape in defining the character of Washington Grove.  Its towering oaks, broad pedestrian avenues, public parks, recreational pond, and woodlands create a sylvan suburban experience.

A bungalow at 109 Maple Avenue in Washington Grove.
The Circle at Washington Grove.

Preserving Chesapeake Heritage: Navigating the Tubman Landscape amid Rising Tides

By Jessica Brannock, Communications Intern

In 2007, roughly 17 acres of wetlands within Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) were dedicated to create the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (HTUR) State Park. These lands and waterways where Tubman lived and worked as a young woman, enslaved by the Brodess family, make up just a fraction of the 25,000 acres of land in Dorchester County dedicated to the HTUR National Monument. While the park’s Visitor Center offers exhibits on the life and heroism of Tubman, the true monument to her legacy is the landscape itself—and it’s disappearing.

Over the course of a decade, Tubman returned to this landscape 13 times and guided 70 slaves to freedom. Hiding in the marshes by day and traveling by foot and boat at night, Tubman and other freedom seekers relied on their knowledge of Chesapeake waterways, plant, and animal life to survive the journey north.

Visitor Center

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, LEED silver certified, and constructed on higher ground to protect the building against rising sea levels.

Today, much of the wildlife found in the brackish tidal marshes and hardwood forests of Blackwater NWR are typical of what Tubman encountered over 150 years ago. However, preserving these habitats and heritage is an ever-present challenge as wetlands throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed are threatened by environmental change.

Current water levels in Blackwater NWR are much higher than when Tubman navigated the rivers and marshes to freedom. Since the NWR’s establishment in 1933, over 5,000 acres of wetlands have been lost to sea level rise.

Marshes act as buffers between land and water, filtering out toxins and absorbing the forces of storms and tides, and Tubman would have been familiar with the tidal rhythms that flooded the wetlands with saltwater and ebbed back with the flow of freshwater tributaries. As sea levels rise, however, saltwater mingles more heavily with fresh, destroying salt-sensitive plant-life as marshlands erode and give way to flooding. By the end of the century, climate science predicts that sea levels will rise in the Bay region between 3 and 4 feet.

Saltwater Intrusion 4

Patches of bare forest and exposed tree roots, destroyed by saltwater intrusion are reminders of rising tides, and the imminent loss of habitat that follows.

The HTUR Visitor Center was constructed with the vulnerability of the landscape in mind. The building is sustainably designed to LEED silver standards and includes bioretention ponds, rain barrels, and vegetative roofs. Located near the Little Blackwater River, where Tubman worked checking muskrat traps as a child, the site was strategically elevated, placing the building on higher ground—a precautionary measure against the accelerating rate of sea level rise. With nearly 300 acres of marsh within the NWR lost each year, the wetlands could be fully submerged by 2050.

Actions can be taken to slow the loss and preserve the landscape so valuable for its habitat and history. In 2017, the Conservation Fund, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Audubon Society partnered to raise 40 acres of marshland within the NWR. This thin-layering process spread 26,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Blackwater River across the wetlands, raising the marshes by 4-6 inches. Along with large scale tree and marsh grass planting, these efforts will help reduce the pace of flooding over the next decade.

As tides rise, the landscapes that hold our heritage will continue to suffer losses to their environmental and historical resources. In the coming years, we must acknowledge environmental threats and face them head on, so that future generations may continue to experience and interpret the legacy of our national treasures.

National Park Service to hold public meetings on the John Smith National Historic Trail

This October, the National Park Service is presenting alternative concepts for the future of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. These concepts will describe management objectives, policies, and actions that will guide the development of the trail over the next 15-20 years. How do you think the trail should be developed? Please join us for a series of eight public workshops to be held around the Bay in mid-October. Continue reading