Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Annapolis' Hidden History

In Annapolis (as elsewhere), slaves usually weren't sold out in public, but rather through word of mouth,
often the transactions took place in the back of taverns such as this one.

Annapolis, with its narrow, streets with historic houses overlooking the water; its interesting boutiques and restaurants, and the Maryland Capitol building is a great afternoon day trip destination -- and one we frequently have visited and blogged about. But there's a hidden history that few realize. African American history throughout Annapolis' story was rarely recorded in the meticulous detail white history was documented. But it's there, right below the surface. You just have to look around a bit, to see evidence of it. Understanding that history is another matter entirely.

The Historic Annapolis Museum is currently hosting the Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake exhibit.

The African American Experience is a walking tour that introduces you to this hidden history, from Maryland's founding to key community figures in the post-Jim Crow era.

On the two-hour guided walking tour of the town, you'll learn about African American life in Annapolis. The tour began on West Street, moved along Church Circle down to Franklyn Street, visiting the site of the Banneker-Douglass Museum, discussing both Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, as well as Dr. Aris T Allen, the only black doctor in the region during the Jim Crow Era, and thus, the only doctor African Americans could visit.

Our tour guide for the walking tour, William Ridgley, himself grew up in Annapolis during the 1970s, lending a personal touch to his stories about Annapolis. That sole black doctor? Dr. Allen, who was also a politican, was still practicing during the 70s, even though Jim Crow had ended. He was Ridgley's pediatrician. If the name Aris T Allen sounds familiar, you've probably seen it dozens or hundreds of times: A freeway, the Aris T. Allen Boulevard (Maryland Route 665), is named for Allen. Ridgley also pointed out his school -- desegregated not many years prior -- and his childhood home.

Fleet Street was a black, working-class neighborhood until it became gentrified in the late 20th century.

During the tour, Ridgley revealed the story of Eleanor "Irish Nell" Butler, a white indentured servant who who came over with Leonard Calvert in 1632. Also on the ship was "Negro Charles," an enslaved man. Later, Irish Nell and Negro Charles fell in love, and against Calvert's advice and warnings, married. They had 13 children, all born into slavery despite their white (and by then free) mother. Fast forward 100 years, and a young, brash, and brave descendant, Nace Butler, escapes slavery from a St Mary's plantation. He contacts a local (white) Annapolis attorney because he believes the family stories that his ancestress was free, and thus all her descendants were erroneously enslaved. (Spoiler alert: he won the court case!)

Built in 1868, this building was a school for young black children in the late 1800s.

The tour travels past homes owned by prominent African Americans throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, down to the harbor, where a statue of author Alex Haley sits on the dock in front of statues of three children. Haley's novel, Roots, was based on the life of his ancestor Kunta Kinte who was brought to Maryland from Africa on a slave ship. From there we walked up Fleet Street, once a working class black neighborhood that was home to the boat workers and oystermen who once lived and worked in Annapolis.

On Maryland Avenue we walked past the Hammond-Harwood House, where Sara Matthews and her four children were enslaved. If you face the building, they lived in the right wing (the south wing), above the kitchen. We briefly talked about their lives, what little is known about them.

Finally, we ended our tour at the statue of Marylander Thurgood Marshall. Marshall argued before the Supreme Court for an end to segregation in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education and later became the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the tour, it was clear that enslaved African Americans and free African Americans have lived and worked in Annapolis since the early 17th century, and created a vibrant community. They lived and worked, often owning their own homes and businesses. They may have served in forced servitude, but they also served in public elected office throughout Annapolis' history, and eventually, in some of the highest positions in the nation.

Getting there: The tour starts and ends from the Annapolis Visitors Center at 26 West Street.

Hours: Please check the website for tour times and availability.

Website: www.colonialtoursannapolis.com

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Underground Railroad in Caroline County, MD

I started exploring the Underground Railroad last year, inspired by the opening of the new Harriet Tubman Visitor's Center in March 2017. This year, I followed the UGRR further north, into Caroline County. Whether you see it in a day or over a few years, it's worth exploring the Harriet Tubman Byway to gain a better understanding of life for free and enslaved black Americans as well as post-Civil War African American communities.

Jacob Leverton House

Courtesy the Caroline County Historical Society

Still a private residence, the Jacob Leverton Dwelling was the “main stopping place,” a focal point around which several adjoining landowners participated in a broad stronghold of Underground Railroad activity. From their early 19th Century residence, Quakers Jacob and Hannah Leverton aided freedom seekers moving under cover to freedom in the North.

Linchester Mill

Linchester Mill is a historic grist mill located at Preston in Caroline County, Maryland, United States. It was built about 1840 and is a ​2 1⁄2-story frame building sided in red-painted weatherboard and roofed with raised-seam metal. It is four bays long and two bays deep, with a two-story lean-to addition. The mill ceased operation in 1974, but houses an exceptionally complete collection of milling machinery dating from the 19th century to the mid-20th century. The mill would have provided free and enslaved blacks a chance to talk quietly without attracting any attention.

The mill was situated amidst a secret network of safe houses: the Levertons, the Hubbards and the Kelleys on the west side, and Harriet Tubman's parents Ben and Rit Ross at Poplar Neck on the east side. Daniel Hubbard, a known Underground Railroad conductor who lived less than a mile away.

Getting there: 3390 Linchester Rd, Preston, MD 21655

Webb Cabin

James Webb, a free African-American farmer, built this hand-hewn log home in 1852. He lived here with his enslaved wife, Mary Ann, and their four children, Charles, Elizabeth, John and Ann, and Webb’s father, Henry. The Webbs were members of Mount Pleasant Church. This one-room log cabin, with its “potato hole,” open fireplace and loft accessed by a crude ladder, was made from materials found at hand or nearby. 

Built on ballast stones from ships, it stands near the Choptank River, Hog Creek and several roads including Harriet Tubman’s possible route from Poplar Neck. This cabin represents the kind of housing that sheltered many African-American and poor white families during the early and mid-19th century. Harriet Tubman’s father and mother, Ben and Rit Ross, probably lived in a very similar structure at nearby Poplar Neck.

Getting there: Grove Rd, Preston, MD 21655
William Still Cabin Interpretive Center

William Still’s mother Sidney and four of her children lived in a cabin similar to this on a nearby plantation. Her husband, Levin Still, had been set free in 1798 by his young enslaver and resettled in New Jersey, hoping to bring his family there. Around 1806, Sidney escaped with her four children, but was soon recaptured. After being locked away for three months, she was released and promptly fled again. In a heartbreaking decision, she was forced to leave behind two sons, Peter and Levin. Enraged by her actions, her enslaver sold the two boys to slave traders.

After joining her husband in New Jersey, Sidney renamed herself Charity, and together they raised a large family there. William, born in 1821, was the youngest of 18 siblings. He became educated and moved to Philadelphia where he helped an estimated 1,500 fre
edom seekers escape slavery. Harriet Tubman frequently passed through Still’s office, seeking protection and support for her rescues.

In 1850, Still realized that one of the men he was helping was his own lost brother Peter, who had been sent to Alabama by his Kentucky enslavers years earlier. After the Civil War, William Still’s documentation of more than 1,000 freedom seekers was published in 1871 as The Underground Railroad, one of the most important and authentic records of the operations of the Underground Railroad in history.

The Interpretive Center celebrates the Still family’s own daring and heart-wrenching struggle for freedom from bondage through escape, resettlement, and later, Underground Railroad activity. The center, housed in a historic one room “cottage” from 1820, features a period “slave cabin” interior, exhibits and a “garden patch” highlighting foodstuffs common in gardens cultivated by Eastern Shore enslaved people.

Getting there: 8230 Detour Rd, Denton, MD 21629

Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House

Nicholites, a sect of the Society of Friends that originated in Caroline County, built the Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House in 1802. The building was used as a house of worship and as a Friends School until 1897 and then rented by “Dunkards” for religious meetings for blind persons and as a school. This was one of five Quaker meeting houses in Caroline County whose members sustained a local Underground Railroad network. Quakers also supported women's equality and the end of slavery.

Getting there: Bus. Rt. 404 & Rt. 328, Denton, MD

The Choptank River Heritage Center

During the 1850s, steamboats loaded with freight and passengers made weekly departures from Denton to Baltimore. Enslaved African-Americans worked in shipyards here on the Choptank River. When Underground Railroad conductor Hugh Hazlett was arrested for assisting enslaved people to flee, he boarded a steamboat here in 1858 on his way to trial in Cambridge, downriver, where he faced possible mob violence.

The Choptank River played a role in the history of slavery as much as any plantation field. At this point it was still wide and deep enough to serve as a barrier to escape for freedom seekers. Imagine the challenges they faced in trying to ford or cross waterways or hide away on vessels. Denton boasted not only an active port, but also a ferry crossing, and the Eastern Shore’s first moveable bridge structure spanned the Choptank here in 1811.

The Choptank River Heritage Center is a replica of the 1883 Maryland Steamboat Company’s Denton Wharf featuring a Passenger Waiting Room, Steamship Agents Office, and warehouse space for assorted commodities.

Getting there: 10219 River Landing Road, Denton, MD 21629

For more information about the Underground Rail Road in Caroline County: https://visitcaroline.org/

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

All Aboard! the Depot at Doolittles

To paraphrase Paul Simon, there's something about a train ... that's very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful. There's a place in Clearfield County, PA not far off Rt 80, that offers all the romance and nostalgia anyone could desire!

Five restaurants, one location, and each one of those restaurants in a very cool historic railroad dining car, caboose, and box car, with more to do besides. It's not just a restaurant experience -- it's like stepping back in time, a time that you chose!

The Depot at Doolittles complex currently contains lodging in rail cars, entertainment, microbrewery, restaurants, a creamery, a Party Barn, and the Little Caring Caboose.

So take your pick, depending on your mood, time and budget, from the Fine Dining/Parlor Car, a 50s Diner, the Boxcar Pub and Brewery, Rail Car Pizza (a pizzeria), and the Kids Cafe. The 50s Diner is in a renovated 1950s Pullman Standard passenger car. It is like stepping back to the 50s, serving a variety of sandwiches, burgers, and more casual entrees such as meatloaf and fried chicken.

Rail Car Pizza features build your own pizzas, choosing from among three dough choices (neopolitan, gluten free, or brewery grain), sauce (original, crushed tomato, or white), cheese (mozzarella, feta, blue or cheddar), and toppings (basil, red onion, banana peppers, pineapple, anchovies, sausage, ham, chicken, pepperoni, and artichokes, among others).

For a more upscale meal, you might want to eat in the vintage, 1913 Parlor Car. One of four ever made, this dining experience takes you back to the over a 100 year to an era of luxury and elegance, when ladies wore long dresses and their hair up in elaborate buns. Although the menu is always changing, you can expect a variety of upscale fish, chicken or beef entrees; the restaurant locally sources its ingredients -- freshness counts -- but that means you never know what new, fresh, fun and delicious menu items or chef specials will be available, which is part of the charm of the dining experience.

The evening we were there we chose from a filet mignon in a red wine sauce served with a spring vegetable hash and roasted marbled potatoes; a tender NY strip served with fries; a grilled chicken basted in lemon topped with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes; sea bass with fennel, grapefruit and greens; and pasta primavera. 

The Caring Caboose is a converted caboose set up for private family dining for families of children with special needs.

The Depot at Doolittles is rolling out a bed and breakfast, and currently the Teddy Roosevelt traveling car -- actually one of the Pullman Palace cars, exceptionally opulent railcars of the era -- is available for overnight stays. Constructed by Pullman in 1901 as a private car for the Elgin, Joliet, and Eastern Railway company president Alex Banks, the car was used by Teddy Roosevelt for speaking engagements while traveling to Joliet, IL. Now you can stay in the same bed a President slept in.

Throughout the car is the original furniture and woodwork, right down to the butler's/porter's sleeping quarters and toilets and sinks in the room (the toilets are not functional any longer -- and there's a splendidly outfitted modern bathroom in an adjacent building posing as a rail station). The original detail in the Palace Car is really incredible, and it's worth a drive just to stay in this amazing space.

The rail car remained as a dignitary railcar with the railroad until it was sold to Russ Porter, a famous railroad artist. It was used as an art studio and summer camp in Wisconsin, and then it was then housed inside an enclosure connected to a summer cottage. (A portion of the cottage was demolished to free the railcar when it was purchased by Dr. Jeff Rice, the owner of the Depot at Doolittles.) 

If you get bored by all the railroad history, you can play a round or three of miniature golf -- all the rail cars surround the miniature golf course. You'll notice several other rail cars sitting up on the hillside, future additions to the bed and breakfast. Dr. Rice jumped at the chance to acquire the Barnum and Bailey Circus cars when the circus closed down in early 2017. In chatting with him a few weeks ago, I got the impression he's not done adding to his railroad collection, which he admitted with a chuckle started with small-scale rail road models when he was a kid.

Perhaps the coolest aspect of the Depot at Doolittles is that it helps support charitable efforts for children in northern Honduras—in the villages along the coast and in the mountains near the Guatemalan border, through the Rice Foundation. Currently, the Rice Foundation includes education, construction, and clean water projects, in addition to providing medical relief and leadership development to the people of Honduras. For more about Dr. Rice's foundation, check out www.ricefoundation.us.

Getting there: 1290 Rich Hwy, Dubois PA 15801

Hours: Times vary for the five restaurants; please check the website for times. In general: Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m - 10 p.m.; Saturday Brunch 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Website: http://doolittlestation.com/

Beginning in March, I started a series of posts about Clearfield County, PA. This is the third of this series. To see others in this series, click on the label "Clearfield County" at the bottom of this post.

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Updated September 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bucktown General Store

Born in Maryland in 1820, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 to become a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

To understand Harriet Tubman, you must first understand her first act of defiance, when she was still a child. Just minutes from The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitors Center where visitors can see a modern day interpretation of her life, the building where this occurred -- the Bucktown General Store -- is still standing, and has been restored to what it would have looked like at the time Tubman, then called Araminta Ross, was there. It is also a stop on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad (UGRR) Byway. For an early post about the UGRR in Dorchester County, click here.

Today you'd drive by Bucktown with nary a glance -- just a few houses and buildings, but in 1835, Bucktown was a busy community with two stores, a shopkeeper’s home, blacksmith shop, and surrounding farms at this crossroads. The nearby Transquaking River meant that shipyards and the hustle and bustle that went with that industry helped keep the town, and store, busy and profitable.

At the time, she'd been hired out to a nearby farmer. Tubman and another enslaved individual, the farm's cook, went to the Bucktown General Store to purchase some goods for the house. Another enslaved individual, a child or very young man, had left his work without permission. The Bucktown overseer pursued him to the store and ordered Tubman to help him tie up the man. She resisted.

Suddenly, the young man made ran to escape. The overseer grabbed a 2-pound weight off the store counter and hurled it toward him. Instead of its intended target, it struck young Tubman in the head, cracking her skull and almost killing her and causing a severe injury that troubled her for the rest of her life.

“They carried me to the house all bleeding an’ fainting. I had no bed, no place to lie down on at all, and they lay me on the seat of the loom, and I stayed there all that day and next,” she later recalled. She was forced “to work again and there I worked with the blood and sweat rolling down my face till I couldn’t see.”

The store operates as a museum featuring authentic African American artifacts related to slavery, various displays, and gifts within a country store setting.

Getting there: 4303 Bucktown Rd, Cambridge, MD 21613

Hours: Open by reservation only

Website: https://bucktownstore.com/

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Governor Ross Mansion Brings You Back in History

The Gov. Ross Mansion was built in the 1850s by William Henry Harrison Ross for himself and his family. Ross served as the Democratic Governor of Delaware from 1851 to 1855.

Extremely popular with the white community, he brought the railroad into Southern Delaware, and indeed, right past his own property. Trains running daily to Philadelphia vitalized the economy as farmers switched crops from wheat and corn to higher priced tomatoes, strawberries, peaches and other perishables. 

Although Ross was a local hero, he was also an enslaver and Southern sympathizer -- which became problematic for him when Delaware sided with the North during the Civil War. He made a dramatic escape, supposedly in a barrel of apples which was placed on the very railroad Ross had had run by his plantation. Ross made it to England, where he spent most of the rest of the war. 

Today, the Victorian Italianate mansion stands as a reminder of pre-Civil War life, retaining its original plaster mouldings, Victorian trim, carved doors, and original inside shutters. 

Because Ross was an enslaver, he was openly sympathetic with the various arguments intended to preserve it. "Slavery might be dying in Delaware," he said, but he was convinced a majority of the citizens in the state supported the rights of the states who wished to retain that peculiar, horrific institution.

Photo courtesy VisitSouthernDelaware.com

Noteworthy is that one of the original quarters of individuals enslaved on the property still exists and is open, along with the house.

Getting there: 23669 Ross Station Rd, Seaford, DE 19973

Hours: 1 - 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

Website: https://www.seafordhistoricalsociety.com/

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Updated December 2018

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Go Fly a Kite

Kites, patriotic monuments, the National Mall, and a festival -- what more could I ask? Or anyone? Or any kid?

"It's been a family tradition to come to the kite festival since my son was a baby," Angie Williams said. How old is her son now? Twelve years old. "It's a favorite thing to do."

The National Cherry Blossom Festival held its seventh annual Blossom Kite Festival on March 31, showcasing the creativity of kite makers and skill of fliers from across the United States and other countries through a variety of competitions and demonstrations. But what really was so cool was the sheer number of people flying kites, all at the same time and place. I love the sheer exuberance of people who love to fly kites!

It's something more people should do!

I saw kites of all sizes, colors and designs.

Andria Kasey came from Philadelphia to participate, along with her two daughters and husband to enjoy the National Cherry Blossom Festival and to fly kites during the Blossom Kite Festival. Although this is the first time she and her family have participated in the kite festival, she frequently takes her daughters to local parks to go kite flying.

Originally, the kite festival was tied to the Smithsonian and has been around for decades. The festival was founded in 1967 by aviation pioneer Paul E. Garber, the first curator of the National Air and Space Museum. Until 2010, the Smithsonian Associates, the cultural, educational, and membership division of the Smithsonian Institution organized and sponsored the festival. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc. began producing the festival in 2011 and renamed the event to the "Blossom Kite Festival."

Lots of families were spreading out picnic blankets and settling down for a day of kite flying and observing others fly kites, and there were kids of all ages trying to get their kites in the air.

Sometimes flying a kite is more aspirational than reality, especially on a day with variable winds that tended to be still. "We're spending all our time just trying to get it up in the air," Brett Johnson, who traveled down from Frederick, MD to participate, said. He laughed as he told his son, "Let's try again!" (I did notice a few minutes later, he and his son had the kite flying in the air, albeit fairly briefly.

It was really fun to watch. Because of the low wind I didn't see anyone NOT having a load of fun!

It's really fun to see so many folks out there, enjoying the gorgeous spring weather, and enjoying the National Mall. And although it wasn't quite the peak yet, the cherry blossoms on several trees were lovely! (One of these years I'll hit peak!)

Know before you go: There are bathroom facilities and portapotties in the vicinity, as well as a variety of food trucks, but seriously, pack your picnic -- healthier and cheaper.

Getting there: Washington Monument, near 17th St NW and Constitution Ave Washington, DC 20006. Your best bet is National Archives Metro Station, Smithsonian Metro Station, or Federal Triangle Metro Station, each about a half mile away from the Washington Monument, where the kite festival is centered.

Website: https://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/blossom-kite-festival/

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