Maryland in Concert

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

Woodstock nearly came to Maryland this summer. Organizers of the 50th anniversary celebration of the legendary music festival of August 15th through 18th, 1969 attempted to move the event from Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in New York to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Howard County in a last ditch effort to save the show. But plans never quite came together. Several of the big name acts, including Miley Cyrus and Jay-Z, dropped out, and the show was canceled. Even without hosting the legendary Woodstock, Maryland has a rich musical history, and many concert venues, theaters, and related structures are listed on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties

Knabe opened this piano factory in 1861. After the company moved production out of state, the factory was purchased by Maryland Baking Company and its subsidiaries.

Music has always been a vital part of culture in Maryland. Each Native American tribe that settled the Chesapeake Bay area had its own musical style and rituals. Enslaved people and free Africans brought their native traditions to the colony which spurred the development of new styles and genres. Colonial elites often hosted performances in the drawing rooms of their plantations, while the popular music, such as ballads and dance music, could be heard in the taverns. Francis Scott Key’s poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”–today called “The Star-Spangled Banner” and arguably Maryland’s most famous contribution to American music history–became popular after it was set to a well-known drinking tune. As the colony developed, concert halls and theaters were opened and musical social clubs were formed in the cities and larger towns.

The Peabody Institute is located near the Washington Monument in Baltimore.

By the mid-1800s and into the 1900s, Maryland had developed a strong musical culture. Baltimore saw several notable musical institutions established during this time. In the 1830s, William Knabe, a German immigrant, opened his piano repair and sales company. In partnership with Henry Gaehle, the company began manufacturing square, upright, and grand pianos. The partnership eventually ended. By 1861, Knabe built a new, larger factory on Eutaw Street after two of his other manufacturing locations burned and to accommodate the business’ growth. The factory operated until 1929 when new owners moved production to New York state. The Peabody Institute was founded in 1857. The city of Baltimore opened an academy of music as well as a free library and gallery of art in the Mount Vernon neighborhood with $300,000 donated by businessman and philanthropist George Peabody. One of the country’s best music schools, it became part of Johns Hopkins University in 1977. The Music Hall on Mount Royal Avenue opened in 1894 to much fanfare as the city had been without a major performance venue after the Concordia Opera House burned down. The first concert season promised to be of the “finest class” and promised to attract visitors to the city.[1] The Boston Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by several renowned opera singers, including soprano Nellie Melba, kicked off the inaugural season. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra also regularly played concerts at the venue. The hall was purpose-built as a concert venue, designed for acoustic quality, but also hosted other theatrical events and was available for balls and banquets. Otto Kahn, an investment banker and patron of the arts, purchased the hall in 1909 and changed the name to the Lyric Theatre. The theater changed hands several times and was nearly torn down in 1903 to make way for a garage. The theater has undergone extensive renovations over the years, and is now known as the Patricia & Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric.

The exterior of the Lyric has undergone extensive renovations. Pictured here is the Maryland Avenue facade in 1984. 
The Lyric’s stage area remains largely unchanged.

Maryland also boasted several stops on what would become known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. In the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, African American performers often played in venues where they would otherwise be barred from patronizing. The theaters and other performance spaces on the circuit, on the other hand, welcomed both black artists and audiences. Arthur Wilmer converted a Prince George’s County tobacco farm into one of the premier venues on the circuit. Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine hosted the likes of Patti LaBelle, Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Sam Cooke. Wilmer booked many famous artists before their careers took off. The park, which opened in the early 1950s, featured a dancehall, motel, restaurant, picnicking grounds, and ball fields. Music events were held at the park until it closed in the 1990s and has since fallen into disrepair. The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, more commonly known as the Black Elks, operated a similar venue at John Brown’s headquarters, also called Kennedy Farm in Sharpsburg, Washington County. Abolitionist John Brown orchestrated his raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry from the farm in October of 1859. He and his followers stockpiled weapons at the farm in the months leading up to the raid. Almost 100 years later, the African American fraternal organization purchased it with the intent of establishing a national headquarters complete with a youth center, retirement home, tennis courts, and other amenities, as well as a national shrine and museum to honor Brown. It became a popular weekend destination for black residents of western Maryland and West Virginia and attracted many famous artists to play at the dancehall. James Brown performed the last concert there in 1966, just before the camp closed and the Elks sold the property. 

Since it closed in 1999, Wilmer’s Park has fallen into disrepair. The main building and restaurant can be seen here.
An interior view of the main hall at Wilmer’s Park showcases a mural commemorating building’s musical legacy.

The Baltimore Civic Center, now known as Royal Farms Arena, has hosted several historic concerts since it opened in 1962. The futuristic, Googie-style arena was built in an effort to revitalize the city’s downtown and served as a multi-purpose entertainment space. The Baltimore Bullets and Clippers called the Civic Center home court and ice, respectively, during the 1960s and early 1970s, and the Ringling Brothers Circus regularly performed there. Martin Luther King, Jr. also gave speeches at the Center in 1963 and 1966. The 1964 Beatles concerts cemented the venue in music history. The band played two shows on September 13 to a packed house. Beatlemania was at full froth. A large contingent of Baltimore City police officers had to be stationed outside the band’s hotel before the show. Two female fans apparently unsuccessfully tried to meet the Fab Four by mailing themselves to the arena in boxes marked “fan mail” before the show. Once the band took the stage, even greater pandemonium ensued. The Baltimore Sun described the scene at one of the shows: “The enormous cavern of the building had become a vibrant, pulsating shrine with waves of shrieking adulation that burst with concussive force.”[2] Several concert-goers had to be treated for “hysterics” and fainting, according to the same article. A few years later, a Led Zeppelin appearance nearly caused a riot when 200 people without tickets to the show attempted to rush the doors of the arena. Ten people were arrested as a result. This and other raucous rock concerts led the city to attempt to limit shows that would “[appeal] to young people” to afternoons and require promoters to hire more security.[3] The evening concert ban was eventually lifted, and the venue continues to host a wide variety of events every year. 

The house at Kennedy Farm, or John Brown’s Headquarters, pictured before extensive renovations were undertaken to return the structure to its original form.

Maryland’s musical legacy continues to grow. More concert venues are being studied for their architectural and historical significance, and notable concert events will assuredly continue to be held across the state. 

Large billboards now line the exterior of the Baltimore Civic Center or Royal Farms Arena, but little else has been changed over the years. 

Sources:

[1] “The Music Hall.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 29, 1894: p. 4. 

[2] Levine, Richard H. “Thousands See Beatles Shake Civic Center”. Baltimore Sun, Sept. 14, 1964, p. 38.

[3] O’Donnell, Jr., John B. “Rock Shows To Be Limited To Afternoon.” Baltimore Sun, May 7, 1970: p. C22.

“Baltimore Symphony.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 5, 1898.

Borha, Imade. “John Brown To James Brown.” The Frederick News Post, Dec. 31,  2016. 

Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation. “Baltimore Civic Center (B-2365).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1976.

Engineering Science, Inc. “William Knabe & Co. Historic American Engineering Record Draft report.” Maryland Historical Trust. 

“George Peabody.: Death of the Great Philanthropist–His Last Hours Passed in London–His Career and Benefactions.” New York Times, Nov. 5, 1869.

Goodden, Joe. “Live: Civic Center, Baltimore.” The Beatles Bible.

Hildebrand, David, Elizabeth M Schaaf, and William Biehl. Musical Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017. 

History.” Knabe Pianos, Samick Music Corporation.

History of the Peabody Institute.” Our History, Johns Hopkins University.

Hopkinson, Natalie. “The End of an Era?: Wilmer’s Park Played Host to Much History, But the Future of the Brandywine Venue Is Unclear After the Death of Its Owner.” The Washington Post, Aug. 18, 1999.

Hopkinson, Natalie. “Music, Memories at Wilmer’s.” The Washington Post, Aug. 18, 1999.

John Brown’s Headquarters“. 2019. Aboard The Underground Railroad.

John Brown Raid Headquarters.

Kaltenbach, Chris. “Baltimore got a whole lotta love from Led Zeppelin.” Baltimore Sun, July 13, 2017.

Levy, Benjamin. “Kennedy Farm (WA-III-030).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1973.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. African American historic and cultural resources in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Upper Marlboro: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, 2012, pp.252-254.

Morrison, Craig. “Lyric Theatre (B-106).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1985.

Patterson, Stacy. “Wilmer’s Park (PG:86B-37).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 2009.

Peabody Institute Conservatory and George Peabody Library (B-967).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 2002.

“To open the Music Hall.” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 16, 1894: p. 8. 

Weis, Robert and Dennis Zembala. “William Knabe & Co. (B-1006).” Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form. Maryland Historical Trust, 1980. 

Yu, Richard K. “Chitlin’ Circuit: Blues Culture and American Culture”. Medium, April 2, 2018.

New Leadership for the New Year

By Elizabeth Hughes, Director and State Historic Preservation Officer

As we welcome the new year, I would like to share recent leadership changes on the Maryland Historical Trust Board of Trustees that will guide our organization into 2019. MHT’s 15-member Board includes the Governor, the Senate President, and the House Speaker (or their designees), and 12 members appointed by the Governor. 

MHTBoardBrien

Chairman Brien Poffenberger

In 2018, Charles Edson completed a distinguished six-year term as Chairman of the Board, turning the gavel over to Brien J. Poffenberger, elected as Chairman in July. Brien has held leadership positions in the public and private sectors and has worked for a range of businesses, both large and small. Previously he served as President/CEO of the Maryland State Chamber of Commerce, as Executive Director of the National Association for Olmsted Parks, and in various positions at General Electric and on Capitol Hill. Brien also has experience teaching, acting as an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College and Shepherd College in West Virginia, where he taught American Architectural History. Brien has an MBA from Georgetown University, an MA in Architectural History from the University of Virginia, and a BA in Government from the College of William & Mary. His family is originally from Sharpsburg (Washington County) and he now lives in Annapolis with his family.

MHTBoardLaura-e1546200583183.jpg

Vice Chairman Laura Mears

Elected as Vice-Chairman of the Board is Laura Davis Mears, an Eastern Shore native with a passion for history and historic preservation. A graduate of Salisbury University, Laura subsequently studied and trained in various aspects of fundraising and nonprofit management, working in the nonprofit arena for 18 years. Laura has served on the Boards of several entities related to history and preservation, including the Somerset County Historical Society, Preservation Trust of Wicomico, and the Maryland Heritage Alliance. She is currently on the boards of Historic St. Martin’s Church Foundation and Rackliffe Plantation House Trust. Laura resides in Berlin (Worcester County) with her husband Tom, two sons Davis and Will, and their Golden Retriever, Captain.

MHTBoardSam

Treasurer Sam Parker

Continuing his position as Treasurer of the Board is Samuel J. Parker, currently a partner with the consulting firm Parker Associates Global, which promotes economic and sustainable development in Africa. Mr. Parker is Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, a board member of the Aman Memorial Trust, and a board member of the Housing Initiative Partnership. From 2006 to 2011, Mr. Parker served as Chairman of the Prince George’s County Planning Board and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. He is a graduate of Catholic University of America and has a Masters of Regional Planning from Cornell University. Sam lives in Riverdale (Prince George’s County) with his wife Patricia.

Congratulations to Brien, Laura, and Sam on their election and thank you to all of the MHT Board members who generously volunteer their time to support our preservation mission throughout the year.

Introducing Map-Based Medusa: Viewing Maryland’s Historic Places in Real Time

By Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager

To kick off Preservation Month this May, the Maryland Historical Trust is pleased to announce a new interactive map-based tool, “map-based Medusa,” to explore the state’s inventory of historic places and archeological sites.  Taking advantage of new web-based mapping technology, map-based Medusa offers the opportunity to view Maryland’s extensive geographic database of historic and cultural properties and to access the records linked to these resources, all within an easily accessible user friendly interface.

Blog1The new system allows both in-house and remote access to the documentation of over 60,000 architectural and archeological resources in a variety of ways. Consultants and staff can view a proposed project area and see all known cultural resources, with links to Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties forms, National Register nominations, determinations of eligibility, and other detailed documents. Map-based Medusa also allows you to look up a property by name, address or inventory number, and view that property on a map along with associated forms and photos.

Most architectural information is freely available in Medusa. Archeological site location is restricted to qualified archeological professionals as mandated in the state’s Access to Site Location Policy. Any qualified professional can apply for a Medusa account to get access. For assistance using map-based Medusa, tutorials and FAQs are available online. We will introduce webinars and introductory videos in the coming months.

Blog2

The new map-based Medusa application was created with the technical assistance of the Applications Development team of the Maryland Department of Planning, the Maryland Historical Trust’s parent agency. We are grateful for the efforts of Information Services Manager Ted Cozmo, Doug Lyford, Greg Schuster, and Debbie Czerwinski, building on earlier database development work of Maureen Kavanagh, Carmen Swann and Jennifer Falkinburg. The online version of Medusa was supported in part through a Preserve America grant administered by the National Park Service, Department of Interior, and by funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration through its Transportation Enhancement Program.

To start using map-based Medusa, go to https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/medusa/.

For more information, please contact Gregory Brown, Cultural Resource Information Manager, at gregory.brown@maryland.gov.

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.

Continue reading