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).

Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grants Awarded for FY 2018

After receiving over $1.1 million dollars in requests for research, survey and other non-capital projects, the Maryland Historical Trust awarded nine grants totaling $200,000 to nonprofit organizations and local jurisdictions throughout the state. Historic Preservation Non-Capital grants, made available through Maryland General Assembly general funds, support and encourage research, survey, planning and educational activities involving architectural, archeological and cultural resources.

The goal of the Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program is to identify, document, and preserve buildings, communities and sites of historical and cultural importance to the State of Maryland. These grant funds have not been available since 2012, and thus, the Maryland Historical Trust identified several special funding priorities for the FY 2018 grant cycle, including:  broad-based and comprehensive archeological or architectural surveys; assessment and documentation of threatened areas of the state due to impacts of natural disasters and ongoing natural processes; and projects undertaking in-depth architectural or archeological study of a specific topic, time period, or theme. This year’s grant awards, listed below, ranged from $10,000 to $45,000.

Photo 1 Maryland Day Picket of WH. LOC

Preservation Maryland received a FY 18 grant for “Documenting Maryland’s Women’s Suffrage History.” Photograph: “Maryland Day” Pickets at White House, 1917. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. Credit: Harris & Ewing. 

The availability of fiscal year 2019 non-capital grant funds will be announced in the spring of 2018 on the Maryland Historical Trust’s website, along with application deadlines and workshop dates.

For more information about the Historic Preservation Non-Capital Grant Program, please contact Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey, at 410-697-9536 or heather.barrett@maryland.gov.  For information about organizations receiving grants, please contact the institutions directly.

Picture 2_Smith Island

The Somerset County Historical Trust, Inc. received funding to document threatened sites in Dorchester and Somerset counties. Photo of Smith Island house: Heather Barrett.

Somerset County Historical Trust, Inc. – Somerset and Dorchester Counties ($45,000)

Project work includes the completion of a historic sites survey of threatened sites in Somerset and Dorchester counties.

The Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, Inc./Preservation Maryland – Statewide Project ($20,000)

Project work includes research and educational activities related to the women’s suffrage movement in Maryland, including the development of new and updated National Register of Historic Places nominations and Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms for specific sites. This work is timely due to the upcoming 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland – Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s Counties ($45,000)

This project includes the survey and documentation of early domestic outbuildings in southern Maryland with high-resolution digital photography and measured drawings.

The Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc. – Frederick County ($13,500)

This project involves the preparation of a final report on multiple 20th and 21st century excavations at the prehistoric Biggs Ford site.

Anne Arundel County, Cultural Resources Division – Anne Arundel County ($17,500)

The project includes a review of heritage themes and sites in Anne Arundel County, which will result in a survey report on one major, underrepresented heritage theme and completion of new and updated Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms.

Historic St. Mary’s City – St. Mary’s County ($16,000)

This grant will fund a geophysical prospection effort to locate the 17th century palisaded fort erected by the first European settlers of Maryland.

The Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc. – Location Undetermined ($13,000)

This grant will provide the public the opportunity to participate in a supervised archeological excavation through the 2018 Tyler Bastian Field Session in Archeology. The specific site has not been identified yet, but this is an annual event supported by the Archeological Society of Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust.

The Morgan Park Improvement Association, Inc. – Baltimore City ($10,000)

Project work includes the completion of a National Register nomination for Morgan Park, an African-American neighborhood in Baltimore with strong ties to Morgan State University.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Archeological Foundation, Inc. – Dorchester County ($20,000)

Project work includes survey of the shoreline of the Honga River Watershed for undocumented prehistoric and historic sites and to supplement the Maryland Historical Trust’s data concerning previously documented sites.