Researching Identity through History and Place

By Karen Yee, University of Maryland Graduate Student

Chinatowns have always held a special place in my heart because the visits were the only time my parents would talk about our heritage. Every year without fail, my family would travel all the way to New York City’s Manhattan Chinatown to celebrate the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day in English, which falls on April 4 or 5. It’s a time to remember ancestors by tomb sweeping and lighting incense as a sign of respect to our ancestors. When I was 13, my grand-uncle made the trip with us. I still remember when he looked around at the cemetery and quietly said: “They discriminated against us, that’s why all these gravestones are just slabs of stone.” I did not understand what he meant until years later, when I began studying about Asian American history as a graduate student at the University of Maryland.

The author, Karen Yee.

When I began my graduate research to learn about Baltimore City’s Chinatown for the Maryland Historical Trust this semester, I started with limited knowledge of Asian American history. It was not taught in public school or an option while I was in college. When I first studied the general history of Chinese immigration into the United States as part of this project, I was shocked to find that the earliest wave of Chinese immigration from the mid-1850’s had come from the Guangdong Providence – even more surprisingly, it was primarily in the Taishan district – where my family had roots. I knew at the very least that this was where my father’s side of the family grew up, and it was my own dialect that I spoke with my grandmother. As I delved deeper, I immediately reported my new facts to my father, who told me how the history connected to my own family tree. After researching the general history of Chinese Americans, I looked toward Baltimore’s Chinese immigrant history. Before I began this project, I was not even aware there was a Chinatown in Baltimore.

Park Avenue in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the author.

For hundreds of years, Baltimore enjoyed a fairly positive trading relationship with China. Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood, for example, is named after Canton, China. John O’Donnell purchased property in what is now known as Canton to build a plantation in the late 18th century. He had traded with China at the port of Canton because it was the only Chinese port opened to Western trade at the time. Over the years, Chinese prime ministers, major trade groups, and student groups have visited Baltimore for a variety of reasons.  Leslie Chin’s History of Chinese Americans in Baltimore (1976) shows the ways Chinese immigrants have impacted the urban landscape through their laundries, restaurants, import stores, and joss houses (places of worship of Chinese Buddhism, Taoism, or Chinese Folk religion) in Baltimore’s Old Chinatown. Baltimore’s Chinatown held a majority percentage of the total Chinese population in Maryland between 1870 and 1960, after which it began to decline due to suburban sprawl and the need for more space to accommodate growing families into areas such as Rockville. Despite legislation such as the Page Act of 1875 (the first restrictive federal immigration law in the United States, which prevented entry of Chinese women) and Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (which banned the entry of Chinese men as well), the Chinese population in Baltimore continued to grow in size. This growth resulted either from people exploiting loopholes in the legislation or migration of already established immigrants from other states. 

Charm City Night Market in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the author.

Chinatowns were developed out of the need for Chinese immigrants to seek safe havens from racial discrimination, providing a place where residents could trade and practice traditions within a familiar context. Most Chinatowns were composed of men due to the restrictive immigration legislation in the late 19th century. Family groups and associations such as the Chinese Benevolent Association also gave political and social help to those in need. In Baltimore, some churches and religious/faith institutions extended a hand in helping immigrants adjust to life in the United States.

Life in Baltimore’s old Chinatown was not really any different from other city neighborhoods except for the context of anti-Chinese sentiment and discrimination. There were community celebrations such as the Chinese New Year, funerals, and other activities. Chinese immigrants did interact with the non-Chinese local community through their trade businesses, laundries, and restaurants. Although old Chinatown no longer stands in its entirety, revitalization efforts in the area began in 2018 with the Charm City Night Market, which took place in the area. Hopefully in the future, the neighborhood will return back to its former glory — not as a Chinatown, but as a place where all Asians, Pacific Islanders, and others can celebrate their history and heritage through historic sites and cultural resources. This motivates me to continue my research on the history and heritage of Chinese Americans in Baltimore and in Maryland.

As I wrap up my research work with MHT this month, I find it fitting that May is both Asian Pacific American Heritage and Preservation Month. This project provided an opportunity to preserve a part of my own and others’ family history. It also shed light into my own personal identity. I had grown up understanding that I was Chinese American, but I did not understand what it meant to be a Chinese American in the United States. My history in the United States does not start at the beginning of my birth, but in the struggles of those who had come before me and worked hard to achieve their goals and rights. It took me eleven years to begin to understand what my grand-uncle had said that day. As I and others visit the tombs of our ancestors, I hope that we will all continue to seek out our own histories to preserve our stories and places for future generations to learn and explore. Old Chinatown in Baltimore may be changed, but its history and stories wait patiently to be discovered and shared.

Preserving a Legacy: The Orlando Ridout V Collection

By Lara Westwood, Librarian, Maryland Historical Trust

Orlando Ridout V grew up surrounded by Maryland history. His family could trace its roots here back to 1753, and he grew up in a home built on the land of his family’s ancestral estate, Whitehall. His father, Orlando Ridout IV, known for his preservation work in Annapolis, was the Maryland Historical Trust’s founding director. After graduating from the University of Virginia, Ridout began his career at MHT and stayed for nearly 30 years until his death in 2013. In 1989, he became the Chief of the Office of Research, Survey, and Registration, where he built a robust program of architectural study and documentation, advancing the scholarship on Maryland’s architectural history.  

Orlando Ridout V at work in Annapolis. (Staff photo)
Orlando Ridout V at work in Annapolis. (Staff photo)

Shortly after joining MHT, Ridout began work on a comprehensive survey of Queen Anne’s County. His enthusiasm for thorough documentation led him to study nearly five hundred historic structures for which he conducted field survey and archival research, created measured drawings, and took countless photographs. The survey shed new light on the county’s architectural trends and historical development, becoming the high-water mark for future county surveys conducted by MHT. He was also passionate about the study of barns and agricultural buildings and worked early on with the Friends of Friendless Farm Buildings, a group founded to document these often forgotten structures, to record farm buildings on the Eastern Shore. His expertise was sought after for many significant preservation and documentation projects, including the Third Haven Meeting House in Easton, Maryland and the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston, South Carolina. His extensive research resulted in a number of publications, including co-authorship of Architecture in Annapolis: A Field Guide and a chapter in The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg. He also taught “Field Methods for Architectural History” at George Washington University, where he fostered the next generation of preservation professionals. 

Ridout took great pride in his work on the Third Haven Meeting House. (Source: Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties)

After his passing in 2013, the MHT Library received his research collection, a tremendous cache of papers filled with deep insight into the history of the state. Dozens of field and research notebooks, lecture notes and readings, architectural sketches, manuscript drafts of publications and reviews, and about 30 metal storage boxes  containing over 20,000 35mm slides comprise the collection. Ridout’s work on Queen Anne’s County is well represented, and further study of his field notebooks, census and tax record analysis, and other research notes may provide additional context beyond the final architectural survey report. Ridout also extensively researched the 1798 Federal Direct Tax, and scholars may benefit from reviewing his in-depth analysis for his  article “Reediting the Past: A Comparison of Surviving Physical and Documentary Evidence on Maryland’s Eastern Shore” published in the Fall 2014 issue of Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. The collection includes research notes and correspondence related to his consultation work with George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg as well. Among the thousands of slides compiled for lectures and reference are images of historic buildings from across the United States and England and representational examples of architectural styles, building plans, and interior details.

A few of the many slide boxes in the collection. (Staff photo)
A few of the many slide boxes in the collection. (Staff photo)

MHT staff are currently working to make the collection available to researchers, and the finding aid will be posted online in the coming months. The collection is currently being organized and inventoried according to archival principles, assessed for conservation issues, and rehoused in acid-free boxes and folders. Once the project is complete, the collection will be available for public use.

A Story Map of Women’s Suffrage in Maryland

By Kacy Rohn, Graduate Assistant Intern

As a graduate student in the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, I had the opportunity to spend over a year interning with the Maryland Historical Trust and to work on a personally significant project – documenting the Maryland women’s suffrage movement.

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Image from the Baltimore Sun article “Maryland Is Invaded,” which detailed the Elkton, Maryland stop on the 1913 suffragists’ march from New York to Washington, DC. 

Generously funded by the Maryland Historical Trust’s Board of Trustees, this special project allowed me to develop a history of the statewide women’s suffrage movement and to identify significant suffrage sites, a timely endeavor as we approach the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Before this research, we had little idea that that Maryland’s suffragists (a term they preferred to the derogatory “suffragette”) had been so active or that they had worked in dozens of hitherto forgotten places around the state. In previous blog posts (which can be found here and here), I highlighted two of these stories and two historic sites with previously overlooked connections to the movement.

Now, I’m excited to share one of my final projects: a story map that presents a chronological overview of the important places and milestones of the Maryland suffrage movement. This story ranges from the earliest beginnings of the movement to the final passage of the 19th Amendment, showcasing Maryland women’s dedication to this long fight.

storymap

The women’s suffrage story map can be found on the Maryland Historical Trust website.

Though my internship has almost ended, I’m happy to see that this important project will continue. My research will be used by Maryland Historical Trust staff to nominate significant women’s suffrage sites to the National Register of Historic Places and will support other statewide efforts to preserve these sites and tell their stories.

Documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Baltimore

By Eli Pousson, Director of Preservation and Outreach, Baltimore Heritage

Over the past year, Baltimore Heritage, the Maryland Historical Trust and the Baltimore National Heritage Area have been hard at work researching and documenting the history of Baltimore’s African American Civil Rights movement. Our long-term goal is to identify and designate historic places associated with the Civil Rights movement in and around Baltimore City. From the start, we recognized this project as a unique opportunity to get Baltimore residents interested and involved in the search for the city’s Civil Rights history.

In the spring, we put together a comprehensive bibliography with journal articles, books, government reports, and more—using Zotero to publish the bibliography online as a resource for local historians and educators. In the fall, we launched our project website featuring an interactive timeline of Civil Rights history and an inventory map showing all of the sites and buildings we have found so far. If you think we missed any important events or places, please get in touch or you can comment directly on the timeline or inventory as Google Spreadsheets.

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Rally to Save Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage, November 2015. Photo by Eli Pousson.

In addition to these online resources, we’ve organized several tours and programs for Baltimore residents and local students. In November we led a bike tour with stops at the segregated Pool No. 2 in Druid Hill Park, the home of activists Juanita Jackson and Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. on Druid Hill Avenue, and the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge on Eutaw Place where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in 1964. We also led a tour for a group of students from Digital Harbor High School with stops at the Ebenezer AME Church and Leadenhall Baptist—two of the oldest African American churches in Baltimore with long histories of fighting for justice.

Jackson Mitchell House

Juanita Jackson and Clarence Mitchell House on Druid Hill Avenue. Photo by Eli Pousson.

Our research has uncovered powerful stories from fight against residential housing segregation in the 1910s, the campaign desegregate downtown lunch counters in the 1950s, and activism around economic empowerment and urban renewal in the 1970s. But we know there are many more stories and places that we still need to learn more about. We look forward to continuing our research and working with community residents (and veteran activists) to make sure we preserve these important places from Maryland’s Civil Rights history.

If you are interested in learning more Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage: Looking for Landmarks from the Movement, please sign up for updates through the Baltimore Heritage website or get in touch with Eli Pousson, Director of Preservation and Outreach at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org.

2016 Sustainable Communities Tax Credits Awarded

On November 16, 2015, the Maryland Historical Trust announced the recipients of the latest round of Sustainable Communities Tax Credits. State funds provided by this program will help create over 650 construction jobs in projects designed to revitalize communities and promote green building practices.

The Sustainable Communities Tax Credit Program and its predecessor, the Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit, has invested more than $370 million in Maryland revitalization projects since it began in 1996. The investments have helped restore more than 4,198 homeowner and 638 commercial historic structures, preserving buildings that contribute to the distinct character of Maryland’s towns, cities and rural areas. According to a study by the Abell Foundation, the program has helped to create more than 27,000 jobs through construction and new uses of these significant historic resources.

The six recipients are described below.

Hoen LithographHoen Lithograph, East Biddle Street Baltimore City
($3,000,000 in tax credits awarded)

Originally built in 1898 for the Bagby Furniture Company the site is most closely associated with the Hoen Lithograph Company which operated on the property from 1902 to 1981. Hoen, which was established in 1835, was the oldest continuously operating lithographer in the United States when it closed in 1981. The historic complex is being restored and converted to house a lively mixed use development featuring a food production kitchen, a brewery, office space for start-ups and non-profits and market rate apartments targeting healthcare workers.

Footer's Dye WorksFooter’s Dye Works, Howard Street, Cumberland, Allegany County
($1,875,000 in tax credits awarded)

Built in 1905, this building is an important remnant of the city’s industrial heritage. The Footer’s Dye Works functioned as one of the dominant cleaning and dyeing facilities in the mid-Atlantic region thru the first third of the 20th century. This structure will be restored and expanded to house a mix of rental housing units, a restaurant/brewery and commercial office space.

Hearn BuildingHearn Building, Race Street, Cambridge, Dorchester County
($959,034.40 in tax credits awarded)

Originally constructed as a commercial hardware store and later used as a furniture store this 1915 building is one of only a few large scale early 20th century commercial buildings surviving on the Eastern Shore. This significant building will be restored and repurposed to house rental residential apartments and retail spaces.

Saint Michael's Church ComplexSt. Michael’s Church Complex, East Lombard Street, Baltimore City
($2,861, 111.60 in tax credits awarded)

Constructed between 1850 and 1927 the St. Michael’s Church complex is a remarkably intact example of an historic urban religious campus. The church played a key role in the assimilation of German immigrants arriving in Baltimore and with its school and parish hall served as the social center of the parish. The now vacant complex will be restored with a mix of commercial uses occupying the former sanctuary building and parish hall and with other areas of the school and rectory being converted to rental residential apartments.

Academy SchoolAcademy School, Mill Street, Cambridge, Dorchester County
($287,500 in tax credits awarded)

This 1906 school building has been vacant and endangered for many years. The project will restore the exterior of the building and repurpose the historic classroom, library and office spaces for use as a senior living apartment building.

Sykesville HotelSykesville Hotel, Main Street, Sykesville, Carroll County
($58,000 in tax credits awarded)

This hotel was originally constructed in 1905 and remained in service as a hotel and restaurant until the 1920’s when it was converted to apartments. The renovation of the structure will restore the exterior of the building including the restoration of the siding, reopening of historic windows and doors and the reconstruction of the building’s missing porches.

Hurricane Preparedness for Maryland’s Historic Properties

by Imania Price, Intern, Office of Planning, Education and Outreach

Photograph by MEMA, Hurricane Isabel Flooding

Flooding from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Photograph by MEMA.

Tropical storms are common events for the Chesapeake Bay region, especially during the Atlantic Hurricane Season which begins June 1st and ends November 30th.  September is typically Maryland’s most active month for tropical storms and unfortunately, the steady population growth and continuing development near the Bay’s shoreline has increased the risk of human injury and property loss during these forceful storms.

“We discovered the wind and waters so much increased with thunder, lightning , and rain that our mast and sail blew overboard, and such mighty wave over racked us…we were forced to inhabit these uninhabitable Isles which for the extreme of gust, thunder, rain, storms and ill weather, we called Limbo.”

Captain John Smith, The General Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles (1624)

Explorer Captain John Smith and his crew were among the first Europeans to experience a hurricane while sailing up the Chesapeake Bay. However, to encourage colonists to move to the New World, early traveler guides underrated these surprisingly fierce storms, which were far more intense than those experienced in England. Settlers, of course, were undeterred, and throughout the centuries, tropical storms have physically and economically changed the landscape and development of Maryland.  The Great Chesapeake Bay Hurricane of 1769, for example, was most likely responsible for demolishing the booming shipping channels of Maryland’s port town Charlestown and the subsequent rapid growth of Baltimore which emerged as the dominant port on the Chesapeake Bay.

Photograph by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Hurricane Isabel’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. Photograph by Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Over the past 20 years, Maryland has experienced severe storm events with increasing frequency, including four major disaster declarations during the 2011 and 2012 hurricane seasons.  Recent storms, Hurricane Irene, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, and Hurricane Sandy have all left irreparable damage to homes and businesses in the Maryland area.

To preserve Maryland’s heritage, it is essential for historic property owners and cultural resources stewards to document any damages to their property and protect their historic site from future hazard events. Many organizations and agencies have produced guidance on emergency preparedness, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation has compiled a list of flood preparation resources to help you protect your property before the storm and respond to damages after the storm. Links to the National Trust’s material and other useful information are provided below.

As the hurricane season continues, the Maryland Historical Trust will provide more hazard mitigation and disaster related information.  Visit the Cultural Resources Hazard Mitigation Planning Program for information on grants, trainings, and projects related to protecting Maryland’s historic places, archeological sites, and cultural landscapes from the effects of natural hazards, such as flooding, wind and coastal erosion.