MHAA Helps Fund New Exhibit Highlighting the Life Story of Reverend Josiah Henson

By Ennis Barbery Smith, Assistant Administrator, Maryland Heritage Area Program

The Reverend Josiah Henson’s legacy is one of resilience. He and his family escaped slavery in Maryland in 1830, heading north and eventually settling in Ontario, Canada. Once there, he founded a community for escaped slaves called the Dawn Settlement. While I only recently learned about Henson’s accomplishments and his connection to Maryland, it’s clear to me that the story of his life is worth sharing far and wide.

In high school, I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I remember that my teacher credited this book with helping raise awareness about the brutalities of slavery and laying the groundwork for anti-slavery sentiment, which would propel the United States into the American Civil War. This novel, published in 1852, told the story of an enslaved man referred to as Uncle Tom whose journey begins in Kentucky. Over the course of the plot, he travels down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Informational panel on display at Josiah Henson Park in spring 2018. These more temporary exhibits will be replaced and greatly enhanced by the new exhibit and orientation film, partially funded by Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA).

As a high school student, I didn’t think to ask how Harriet Beecher Stowe—a white woman from Connecticut–knew about the brutalities of slavery. It turns out that she based many of the experiences she described in her famous novel on firsthand accounts by former slaves, including the autobiography of Josiah Henson, which was originally published in 1849.

Shirl Spicer (left), Museum Manager for Montgomery Parks, talks with (left to right) Janice Hayes-Williams of MHAA and Sarah Rogers, Executive Director of Heritage Montgomery.

Henson was born in Charles County, near Port Tobacco, and spent much of his childhood and early adulthood enslaved on the plantation of Isaac Riley in Montgomery County. The stories of enslavement that he shares in his dictated autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself are Maryland stories. His childhood was marked by the horrors that many enslaved people endured: violence, abuse, and family separation. As Henson shares in his narrative, Riley recognized him as very intelligent and delegated many responsibilities to him. Henson also became a reverend in the Methodist Episcopal Church. When he attempted to buy his freedom, Riley cheated him, and he feared being sold away from his family. This is where Henson’s story as a free man begins. He escaped slavery in Maryland, eventually settling in Canada with his family and establishing the Dawn Settlement.

Cassandra Michaud (left), Senior Archeologist for Montgomery Parks, shows MHAA representatives and Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) staff the archaeological excavation underway in spring 2018 at Josiah Henson Park, the site of the former Riley Plantation, where Henson was enslaved. MHAA representatives pictured include (left to right) Lee Towers and Janice Hayes-Williams. MHT staff pictured include Bernadette Pruitt (far right).

Today, Reverend Josiah Henson’s story of perseverance and courage is finally being etched into the Maryland landscape, and finding its way into the consciousness of Marylanders. The site in North Bethesda that used to be known as the Riley Plantation is now Josiah Henson Park, part of Montgomery Parks. In 2018, the Montgomery County Heritage Area expanded its boundaries, adding this site—and a host of others. As a result, the Montgomery County Parks Foundation applied for and was awarded a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) matching grant to design and install new exhibits at Josiah Henson Park’s on-site Visitor Center, currently under construction. The exhibit will feature an introductory film, original illustrations, and artifacts excavated at the Riley Plantation site. Shirl Spicer, Museum Manager for Montgomery Parks, said she is excited for people to see the exhibit because the artifacts paired with dynamic, evocative illustrations will allow visitors to engage with Henson’s story in new ways.

Even before the park re-opens with its new and enhanced visitor center and exhibits, Shirl Spicer assured me that her organization is actively spreading the word about Reverend Josiah Henson in Montgomery County through outreach at community events and schools. Plus, a brand new in-depth Josiah Henson biography was written by Montgomery Parks’ senior historian, Jamie Ferguson Kuhns, and published in February 2019.

Fran Kline, Archaeology Program Volunteer for Montgomery Parks, answers questions about artifacts uncovered at Josiah Henson Park.

Knowing what I know now about Henson’s remarkable life and autobiography, it feels like an injustice that I had never heard the name Josiah Henson before the Montgomery County Heritage Area submitted their boundary amendment materials to MHAA last year. However, just over the past year, I’ve started noticing his name in press coverage. In addition to Henson’s own autobiography, interested readers can learn more about Henson’s story here, watch video content about his life here, and watch an interview with his descendant here. All these sources are no substitute for visiting Josiah Henson Park itself. The Park and the new exhibits, funded in part by MHAA, are slated to open to the public in 2020.

Heritage Area Director Aaron Marcavitch Receives Award from Preservation Maryland

By Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrator 

About a week ago now, on the evening of May 17, 2018, Aaron Marcavitch—Executive Director of the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area (ATHA)—accepted the Gearhart Professional Service award, as part of Preservation Maryland’s annual Best of Maryland awards. ATHA is one of thirteen Heritage Areas designated across the state by the Maryland Heritage Areas Program, and the organization has benefited tremendously from Aaron’s collaborative and creative leadership-style since he took the helm in 2010.

In 2012, Aaron launched the Maryland Milestones brand, which celebrates the unique “firsts” that have occurred and will continue to occur within the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area in the realms of automobile transportation infrastructure, aviation, telegraphs, and train travel, among others. He was also instrumental in commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812, including taking leadership roles in initiatives focusing on the Battle of Bladensburg in Prince George’s County.

In 2017, ATHA opened the Heritage Center in downtown Hyattsville. Located in a historic silent movie theatre known as the Arcade Building, the Heritage Center serves as a starting point for visitors and residents interested in experiencing the region’s cultural and recreational offerings—from bicycle trails to history museums. The building is also home to the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center and the Neighborhood Design Center, partner organizations that showcase the area’s arts and culture.

Aaron’s strong record of building creative partnerships for historic preservation and heritage tourism initiatives make him a worthy recipient of the Gearhart Professional Service Award. This award, named for Tyler Gearhart—long-time, former director of Preservation Maryland—is presented each year to a historic preservation professional who, in Preservation Maryland’s words, “has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, knowledge, and creativity in the protection and preservation of Maryland’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, landscapes, and archeological sites.”

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Aaron Marcavitch (center) accepting the Gearhart Professional Service Award from Nicholas Redding, Executive Director of Preservation Maryland (left). Nell Ziehl, Chief of  Planning, Education and Outreach for MHT (right) was also in attendance at the Best of Maryland awards. Photo courtesy of Preservation Maryland

When he’s not busy steering ATHA, Aaron also dedicates his time and energy to the collaborative efforts of the Coalition of Maryland Heritage Areas. Elizabeth Scott Shatto, Co-Chair of the Coalition, shared, “Our outreach efforts are led by Aaron, who is terrific at engaging a team and always willing to be hands-on with what ever needs doing.  His outlook is positive and optimistic, which helps win friends for Maryland Heritage Areas. We Heritage Area directors are fortunate to have Aaron as a colleague, and Maryland is fortunate to have Aaron as an advocate for history, culture and preservation.”

In his “free” time, Aaron has been sharing his knowledge of architecture and local history through writing. His book US Route 1: Baltimore to Washington was published this spring by Arcadia Press, as part of the Images of America series.

A Summer Spent at the Maryland Historical Trust

By Noah Jaques, Intern

As a rising senior majoring in History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I have spent the past two months interning at the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) in the Office of Research, Survey and Registration through the Governor’s Summer Internship Program. With the guidance of my mentor Nancy Kurtz, the office’s Marker and Monument Programs Administrator, I worked on exciting tasks both in the office and out in the field.

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The author practicing cleaning techniques in the field

While in the office, I researched and compiled the information necessary to make a robust virtual tour of monuments and markers related to African-American history that will soon be available on MHT’s website. I learned how to access archive materials to pair with my online research, so that I could paint the fullest possible picture of the historic people and sites that I covered in my virtual tour. The biggest challenge I encountered in making the virtual tour was ensuring that the information was presented in a way that would be appreciated by the public. I also learned the importance of using pictures to grab the public’s attention and utilized many of MHT’s pictures along with pictures from the web to create a satisfying final product.

In the office I also completed the less glamorous, but still fulfilling, work of uploading monument treatment reports to a database so that they are now accessible by MHT staff. I worked on uploading scanned postcards of historic sites so that they can be accessed digitally as well. Finally, in my spare time I began to put together a storymap of places in Maryland related to World War I.

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Assisting with monuments maintenance

In addition to my work in the office, I treated war monuments out in the field. I washed a Spirit of the Doughboy monument in Crisfield and waxed the Talbot Boys war memorial in Easton. These were valuable experiences because I learned about the expertise that is required by conservators to maintain monuments, exposing me to a new field of work. I also had the opportunity to tour monuments and other historical sites, including a WWI exhibit in the Maryland Museum of Military History at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, the WWI Hammann-Costin monument nearby, and WWI and Revolutionary War monuments in Annapolis. I found the tour opportunities helpful and satisfying in the process of constructing my WWI storymap, and the information provided by my mentor was intellectually invigorating.

My time spent at the Maryland Historical Trust was a highly rewarding experience because I have learned about how history can be related to the public in the most meaningful ways. I have also made lasting professional connections, including not just those in my office but those I have interacted with in the process of completing my work. My future is brighter because of this experience.

Maryland Historical Trust Director Honored with Award

On May 11, 2017, at the College Park Aviation Museum, Preservation Maryland – the statewide non-profit organization dedicated to historic preservation– awarded Maryland Historical Trust director Elizabeth Hughes its Special Recognition award. This award is reserved for projects or individuals who have exhibited exceptional merit in the field of preservation.

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Elizabeth Hughes with Preservation Maryland Executive Director Nick Redding

Governor Larry Hogan appointed Elizabeth as Maryland’s State Historic Preservation Officer and confirmed her appointment by the Board of Trustees as the MHT director in 2015. Prior to her appointment, she had served as the agency’s deputy director. As Preservation Maryland executive director Nick Redding said in his remarks:

“She has shepherded the organization into a new era for preservation – finding ways to help preserve diverse places and stories while also maintaining an agency with the responsibility and oversight of a critical tax credit program and millions of dollars in annual funding. For these reasons alone, she deserves our recognition, but in addition to her work here in Maryland, Elizabeth has quietly and humbly served as the President of the National Council of State Historic Preservation Officers. During her tenure as President of this organization, she proudly represented the Old Line State and helped see that the federal historic preservation fund was re-authorized… If not re-authorized, this program, like many others would currently be on the chopping block. But, thanks to Elizabeth’s leadership, testimony and strategy, the Fund is secure and will provide millions of dollars in support to preservationists around the nation.”

Many thanks to Preservation Maryland for recognizing Elizabeth’s achievements and congratulations to Elizabeth on her award!

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Director Elizabeth Hughes with Deputy Director Anne Raines

 

An Uncertain Future for America’s Cultural Heritage

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director and State Historic Preservation Officer, Maryland Historical Trust and President, National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO)

As we celebrate Preservation Month and the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, federal funding for historic preservation hangs in the balance.  Since 1976, the Historic Preservation Fund has supported state and local efforts to identify, protect, and enhance historic places that matter to Marylanders. In addition to special competitive grants, the Maryland Historical Trust receives approximately 20 percent of its annual budget from this fund.  Yet the fund’s authorization, supported by a small percentage of offshore drilling revenue, was allowed to expire on September 30, 2015.

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Maryland State Historic Preservation Officer and NCSHPO President Elizabeth Hughes gives testimony before the House Federal Lands Subcommittee in support of the Historic Preservation Fund in February 2015.

Thanks to the leadership of Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland has positioned itself as a strong champion for preservation.  Continue reading

Mark your calendar for the 45th Annual Field Session in Maryland Archeology!

By Charlie Hall, State Terrestrial Archeologist

Every year we invite the public to help us investigate a significant archeological site in Maryland. Held in partnership with the Archeological Society of Maryland, this year’s Field Session will be the 45th such opportunity to work side-by-side with some of Maryland’s most prominent archeologists, who guide participants in the use of the most up-to-date archeological methods. In exchange, these volunteers provide the support we need to conduct these important investigations.

River Farm site

River Farm site. Credit: Stephanie Sperling

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Memory Mapping in the Bottom and Hammond Town

By Jen Sparenberg, Hazard Mitigation Program Officer

Easton’s Bottom and Hammond Town neighborhoods served vibrant African American communities in the decades after the Civil War.  Located adjacent to “the Hill,” an early free African-American settlement, both neighborhoods have suffered a slow decline over decades. As Easton considers the redevelopment of nearby Easton Point, the Port Street Master Plan presents an opportunity to revitalize the Bottom and to record and interpret the history of the Bottom and Hammond Town.

Old Moton School

Old Moton, a Rosenwald School in Easton. Credit: Michelle Zachs

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