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.

2016 Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Grants Awarded

With funding from the National Park Service Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Fund, the Maryland Historical Trust has awarded seven grants throughout the state to help protect historic places and archeological sites from future storms. These grants will be supported by the Trust’s Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Program, which was created to assist local governments to better plan and prepare for the effects of coastal storms and other hazards that impact historic places and properties. The grant projects are described below.

Anne Arundel

Early 20th century vernacular home common to Shady Side

Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation, Inc., Phase I Hazard Mitigation Planning for Anne Arundel’s Cultural Resources: $32,000
Three areas in the county (Shady Side and Deale; Pasadena; and Maryland City, Laurel, and Jessup) face the highest risk to flooding and contain the most undocumented historic structures, as well as unsurveyed potential archeological resources. To remedy this, the Anne Arundel County Trust for Preservation will conduct a study to identify historic structures and archeological sites and evaluate the potential damages caused by flooding.

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The River Farm site inundated by high tide

Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc., Sustainable Models for Sites Endangered by Natural Hazards: $32,000
The Archeological Society of Maryland will gather information about several archeological sites in Anne Arundel County, Calvert County and St. Mary’s County that are slowly being destroyed due to eroding shorelines and water intrusion from coastal storms and increased tidal flooding. In St. Mary’s County, at the possible location of the Native American village known as Secowocomoco, testing will inform future decisions about excavation and protection from ongoing erosion. Studies in the Battle Creek watershed (Calvert County) will help researchers understand the foodways and lifeways practiced by the Native Americans who lived there. At River Farm, a large Native American settlement along the Patuxent River, investigations will locate site boundaries, determine eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and inform planning against future erosion and flooding. The Society will develop a series of case studies to provide guidance for public-private partnerships engaged in survey, assessment, and protection of archeological resources threatened by natural hazards and climate change.

Baltimore

Historic Fells Point, a waterfront neighborhood

City of Baltimore, Integrating Historic and Cultural Considerations into Baltimore’s All Hazards Plan: $30,390
The City of Baltimore contains more than 80,000 historic properties and many of its oldest neighborhoods, such as Fells Point and Jonestown, are located on or near waterways, making them vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise, storm surge and flooding. With this grant, the City will identify high-priority historic areas and buildings that are significantly impacted by flooding, evaluate the impacts of flooding, and incorporate the results of evaluation into their Disaster and Preparedness Project and Plan (DP3), which is the City’s climate adaptation and hazard mitigation plan. The City will also identify methods for protecting vulnerable historic structures that are in accordance with the DP3 and amenable to the City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Dorchester

Flooding on Elliotts Island Road (credit: K. Clendaniel)

Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area, Hazard Mitigation Planning Project for Dorchester County: $44,000
Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, Dorchester County has a long history of occupation first by Native Americans and later by English settlement along its waterways. One of the greatest periods of historic significance for the county is 1825 to 1900, during which the agricultural economy shifted to towards the canning industry. There are many properties constructed during that period of significance that are at risk to flooding due to coastal storms, sea level rise, and tidal flooding, but have not been identified and studied to understand their contribution to history. Dorchester County will conduct a survey to identify areas with historic structures vulnerable to flooding and evaluate their vulnerability to flood hazards.

Port Deposit

Flooding from Hurricane Irene (credit: Town of Port Deposit)

Town of Port Deposit, Cultural Resources Inventory and Risk Assessment for Cecil Towns: $40,000
This project encompasses hazard mitigation planning efforts in two Cecil County historic towns: Port Deposit and Elkton. The Town of Port Deposit is located adjacent to the Susquehanna River, which makes the town’s historic district susceptible to flood damage by heavy rain events, coastal storms and ice jams. An updated historic and architectural investigation will be undertaken to re-evaluate and update the National Register of Historic Places nomination as the first step in planning to protect Port Deposit’s buildings from further flood damage. Situated along Big Elk Creek, the Town of Elkton’s Main Street and Historic District has a history of flooding that dates back to the nineteenth century. Elkton’s historic properties are vulnerable to flooding from coastal storms, large rain events and snow melt. To address this, a survey will identify historic structures vulnerable to flooding and assess the potential damages that could occur.

Smith Island

Crab shanty in Ewell

Smith Island United, Inc., Smith Island Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative: $9,000
Situated in the Chesapeake Bay and accessible only by water, Smith Island is comprised of three communities — Ewell, Rhodes Point and Tylerton — which have a history of experiencing coastal storms. The historic occupation of the island dates back to the seventeenth century, although the majority of buildings on the island date to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Under this grant, an evaluation of flood mitigation measures for representative historic house types in each of the three villages will be conducted. The results will be used to develop preservation-sensitive models for flood protection for historic houses of similar construction.

Talbot

W-shaped Victorian house in Tilghman

Talbot County, Documentation and Assessment of Historic Resources in Western Water-Oriented Villages: $60,000
Talbot County contains thirteen unincorporated water-oriented villages, many of which have historic structures dating back to the eighteenth century. The four villages of Tilghman, Neavitt, Newcomb, and Royal Oak have a large number of unrecorded historic structures at high risk of flooding due to tidal events and coastal storms like Hurricane Sandy. This project will identify key historic properties that convey the history and heritage of each village, conduct a study to determine those properties’ vulnerability to coastal storms, and estimate the potential damages that could occur.

 

Discovering Archeology Day!

Visitors to Discovering Archeology Day assist in the archeological reconstruction of ceramic vessels.

Visitors to Discovering Archeology Day assist in the archeological reconstruction of ceramic vessels.

Are you looking for something different to do this Saturday?  Something in a beautiful place that will be entertaining, educational, and . . . archeological??  Why not come to Discovering Archeology Day at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in Calvert County?

This free all-day event (10:00AM – 5:00PM) will have you experiencing, discovering, learning and having fun while exploring the “What, where and how’s” of archeology!  There will be demonstrations and activities for budding archeologists of any age!  Tours of the Maryland Archeological Conservation Laboratory will be conducted throughout the day.

Located at 10515 Mackall Road in St. Leonard, The Maryland Historical Trust’s Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum is set on the banks of the Patuxent River.  It is a beautiful place to take a hike, or enjoy a picnic.  Visit the reconstructed Indian Village, and walk the archeological trail.