Welcome to our blog! Here you will find both informal and formal postings related directly and indirectly to the history and heritage of Baltimore County.
Submissions Policy: In order to contribute to our blog please e-mail your narrative either in-line or as an attachment to email@example.com. Blog submissions and comments will be reviewed prior to posting for relevance to Baltimore County and the politeness of their contents. Political comments are only permitted as they directly relate to the historical context of the original post.
Being an Intern at the HSBC
By: Rachel L. Harmon
For my final semester at Towson University, I always knew I wanted to participate in an internship. Not only to get class credits towards my degree and to also earn some valuable experience working in the field. There were many different places offering an internship opportunity that I looked into and I ultimately chose to work at the Historical Society of Baltimore County.
Working at the HSBC gave me an opportunity to gain experience working in variously different areas. I was able to tailor my experience in order to gain as much knowledge as possible. I knew I did not want to just work in one area of the Historical Society, but I wanted to experience many aspects.
I was able to work with the public promoting the Historical Society and the services it offers, write for publication work with museum artifacts and meet many fun and interesting people while doing it. There was never a day during my internship that I dreaded going into work and even after I have graduated I still volunteer when I have free time.
Throughout my education I had never gained a sense of local history and how it ties in with major themes until my internship. I have spent my entire life in Baltimore County and sadly did not know too much about local history. All of that changed when I started my internship. I learned of the fascinating things that happened in the county in which I had been raised.
Writing about history had been fun for me throughout my college career and I had believed that would be my favorite part of my internship. However, I did little writing and more hands-on work. HSBC gave me the opportunity to help in the museums collections department, archiving an array of different objects. That had quickly become (and still is) my favorite part of working there. I enjoy seeing these objects that come from times past and ensuring they are in their proper home.
It was in this way that I discovered what I truly wished to do within the museum field. Before my internship I knew I wanted to work in a museum, I just had not been sure where. Through the Historical Society, I have gained a sense of direction in my future career.
Though there are many other opportunities other than just working with the archives. I volunteered at the Maryland State Fair and at the Fall Barn Concert. Both enabled me to meet people and talk to them about the Society in order to interest people in becoming a member.
The staff at the HSBC is wonderful to work with as well. They are always willing to help and answer any questions I may have had. Each person there is knowledgeable and helpful. I could not have asked for a better team to fulfill my internship hours.
Whether you know exactly what you want to do or are still testing the waters interning or volunteering at the Historical Society of Baltimore County is an excellent experience for anyone looking to work in the field.
The Baltimore County Flag – Heavily Ridiculed, Still Adopted
(Special thanks to the Baltimore County Department of Planning, Preservation Services, for access to their files for sources used in this article.)
Early in 1962, the Catonsville Business Association hosted a contest sanctioned by the Baltimore County Executive, Christian H. Kahl, and the County Council. The contest’s goal was to solicit designs for the first official Baltimore County flag, because to date the county didn’t have one.
The Baltimore County public schools got involved too: “The contest, carried on over the past two months as a voluntary addition to the art curriculum within the school, was limited to tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders.” (Jeffersonian, April 27, 1962)
Ultimately, there were thirty submissions to become the first official Baltimore County flag. They were reviewed and the top three were ranked by the contest’s esteemed judges: William E. Prince of the Maryland Institute; Olives Jabes, supervisor of art, Baltimore County Schools; Wilbur H. Hunter of the Peale Museum; Dr. J. Fred Andreae of the Catonsville Business Association and Porter Hopkins of the Maryland Historical Society. (Ibid.)
The winning design was by a Parkville High School senior named John R. McLemore, who was awarded a $100 U.S. Savings Bond. (Ibid.)
County Council is not impressed: “…too Communistic,” “miserable… a monstrosity.”
Having entirely forgotten about the event, the councilmen “appeared shocked,” when the winning flag was unfurled. Apparently, in the midst of their election campaigns, the Executive and Councilmen had both overlooked the on-going contest; “…this project apparently was forgotten. Many of the councilmen also were seeking reelection.” (David L. Maulsby, “County Flag is Unfurled, But It May Never See Pole,” The Sun, August 7, 1962.)
Despite their absent mindedness, all except one of the councilmen publicly ridiculed the high school student’s winning design:
“If only those judges had been at the county council session yesterday and heard what each councilman, with the exception of Mr. Dignan, said right out loud. Referring to the red plow on a white background in the right corner, one cried: ‘That plow is too big. Besides, they are not using that kind much.’ At the bottom left a wheel cog, red on white, was denounced as ‘too Communistic looking.’
“‘It’s a helluva looking flag.’ cried a councilman.
“‘It’s miserable… a monstrosity,’ cried another.
“‘I think it’s a real pretty flag,’ said Mr. Dignan.
“‘I’m not going to vote to adopt such a thing,’ asserted another.
“Mr. Dignan, who realized his bill for approval was doomed if a vote were taken, declined to call for a vote… he would seek the support of the two absent councilmen….”
Perhaps notably, “…the councilmen expressed sympathy for the feelings of the Parkville High School student….” (Ibid.)
The Jeffersonian reported: “The County Council, without casting a single ballot, this week rejected a proposed official flag for Baltimore County. They did so with ridicule.” (“County Council Turns Down Design for Flag,” Jeffersonian, August 10, 1962.)
County Executive Forced to Adopt Flag by Executive Order
“In his statement, Mr. Kahl [County Executive] criticized what he called ‘unbelieveable and regrettable behavior on the part of certain members of the Council…. It is beyond my comprehension that public officials could and would ridicule the work of the talented young man who drew the winning design,’ he said.” (“Kahl Says He Will Adopt Flag By Executive Order,” Baltimore Sun, August 19, 1962.)
The Jeffersonian reported County Executive Kahl’s comments:
“I feel the deepest embarassment for young McLemore for the unfair and unjust criticism and mortification he has been forced to endure and I feel embarrassment also for the council members who sounded off and by so doing publicly exhibited their own blatant disregard for many hours of concentrated effort put forth by so many to bring this important civic protection to fruition. I had originally considered adoption of the flag by the Executive Order I am now exercising under provisions of the County Charter, but thought the legislative arm of government would appreciate and seize upon the opportunity to participate and join with me in hailing the result of such a county-wide effort, one which was initiated by a Catonsville business group and which drew widespread support from students, teachers, parents and individual citizens in virtually every section of the county.” (“County To Adopt Flag By Order of Executive: Kahl Hopes Council Will Reverse Stand At Next Session,” Jeffersonian, August 24, 1962.)
The County Council Comes Around
“… It finally adopted by resolution the official county flag, designed by John McLemore, a student at Parkville Senior High School, in a county-wide contest. Christian H. Kahl, County Executive, previously adopted the flag by executive order after Council criticism of the flag.” (“County Map Scored Again,” Baltimore Sun, September 11, 1962.)
A Year Passes, and Few Fly the Banner
“Sir: Your news article of August 9 stated that the F.M. Stevenson Company has had few takers for Baltimore county’s official flag, formally adopted about a year ago…. The new Perry Hall branch of the Baltimore county public library will be dedicated on Sunday, September 8, and at that time the American, State and county flags will be presented to the library. This will be the first county flag placed in a Baltimore county library. The county flag also was used for the first time by the Baltimore County Historical Society on its prize-winning float in the July 4 parade in Towson. Frank Hennessy made the following remark, “This is the only Baltimore County flag in the parade and we hope to see many of them next year.’ To my knowledge there are a few standards flying over the county now. One is beside the Agricultural Building, high on a hill at Texas, Md. This belongs to the Historical Society. There is also one flying over the Courthouse in Towson….” (Evelyn Q. White, “Flags, Here and There,” Baltimore Sun, August 21, 1963.)
Deteriorating 19th c. Black Church & Cemetery Reborn as Small Museum & Meeting Place
Cherry Hill AUMP Church in Granite, MD
April 23, 2015
Today, we visited the results of a project almost fifteen years in the making – the historic Cherry Hill African United Methodist Protestant (AUMP) Church (BA-2399). It’s just one project among others being spearheaded by local African American historian and author, Louis Diggs.
The small “colored church,” as it was commonly called, is in Granite, MD, in western Baltimore County. It’s located on Offutt Road, one block east of an intersection with Granite Road.
The church was built in 1887 and served a black community from western Baltimore County in the wake of emancipation and the Civil War in the late 19th century. Although the black community that pooled its funds and efforts to build the one-room church dispersed for unknown reasons, their wooden structure surprisingly survived for decades after they left. But by the late 1990s and early 2000s it was on the verge of collapse due to neglect, disrepair and a lack of interest or funding.
According to Beverly Griffith, quoted in an article dated Feb. 23, 2000, “the black population around Granite in the late 1800s was one of the five largest black settlements in Baltimore County. Blacks worked in the quarries alongside Irish, German, Scottish and Italian immigrants.” (Community Times)
Numerous quarries dotted Baltimore County’s western region, and it wasn’t uncommon for emancipated African Americans to settle close to the same area where they were once enslaved, or to lease land from large property owners or former slave holders.
Images from the late 1990s reveal Mother Nature almost overtook the small wooden structure. In 2001, a Girl Scout troop engaged in cleanup efforts on the landscape around the structure. Finally, in 2009, $300,000 in grant funding was appropriated for renovations and restoration of the structure thanks to the efforts of Louis Diggs, Richard Lee, Lenwood Johnson, state Del. Adrienne A. Jones and the Friends of Historical Cherry Hill AUMP, Inc.
Arthur Hirsch described the condition of the building in the Baltimore Sun prior to the start of the project: “The roof buckles here and there, the foundation admits sunlight in places and dry vines cling to the wooden walls and ceiling. Graffiti scrawlers got inside…. The piano that once filled the tiny church with ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ lies broken on its back in a corner.”
Today, the project is nearing completion. The site is on the verge of becoming a small museum and meeting place to harbor the stories of enslaved and emancipated African Americans and their communities in Granite and Baltimore County. The old church now survives for the foreseeable future as a memorial to the rich history and heritage of 19th century African Americans in Baltimore County.
But with each success comes new challenges. Baltimore County’s champions of African American history and heritage are aging, and to date few appear willing to fill their shoes or to carry the torch. To maintain and preserve sites like Cherry Hill operating budgets need to be developed, sustainable funding identified, new research performed, tours docented and essays written.
To get more involved with the Friends of Historical Cherry Hill AUMP, Inc. contact Betty Stewart at 443.854.8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Inspiration Strikes…
By: Sally Riley
April 22, 2015
I’m a graduate of Mount Saint Agnes Lower School and Mount Saint Agnes College [MSAC]. So, when a copy of the Architect’s History of the Octagon Building fell into my hands in May 2009, I wanted to share it with all my former classmates. The Octagon Building was the oldest building on campus; but, the report, more than 80 pages long and full of deep architectural and engineering detail, is tedious and dull to read. This posed a problem I was determined to resolve – how could I write it in a way that would be interesting?
A couple of weeks later, scanning the shelves in a second-hand bookstore on 25th Street in Baltimore, I spotted a garnet-colored plastic spine about 3.5 inches high. I knew that spine… from about 40 years ago! I eased it off the shelf and sure enough it was a copy of Keynotes, our student handbook from the 1960s! And they were only asking $15 for it! What’s a few dollars among friends? So, I had the Architect’s History and a copy of Keynotes. What to do with them?
In July, wandering through a large bookstore in Hunt Valley, the cover of a book caught my eye. The women on the front of the book were dressed in the postulant’s and novice’s habits of the Sisters of Mercy. The book, titled Catherine’s Sisters, by Irene Callahan, begged me to pick it up and see what it was about. Almost 90 minutes later, I had given the cashier my credit card for a copy. The Octagon Building had been the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy.
Now I was convinced that the Fates, Mother Nature and God were all conspiring to persuade me to write about the Mount. Thereafter, I began a 6-year research expedition into the history of the campus in Mount Washington, Maryland. Hours, eventually weeks, were consumed searching Genealogybank.com for newspaper articles and advertisements concerning the Mount Washington Female Seminary and Mount Saint Agnes. Book shelves were scanned at the Historical Society of Baltimore County for anything about the school. File folders of papers contributed to the MSAC Alumnae Archives were scanned for historical information. Alumnae were contacted in search of old catalogs and yearbooks with pictures to help illustrate the history of bygone days.
After 6 years, I had 25+ pages of an annotated, illustrated timeline history of the Mount Saint Agnes Campus, from the early days of Mount Washington in 1810 to the present day. Reflections of former alumnae and the history of the Alumnae Association were added. This spring Of Past and of Future Years finally went to press. The book will be distributed to alumnae at this year’s Annual Reunion.
You never know where inspiration will spring up, or when it will tap you on the shoulder. But when it does, LISTEN! It may just be the beginning of an adventure which will change the course of your life. As I stated, part of my research led me to the Historical Society of Baltimore County to find an early (1850s) map of Mount Washington, then a part of Baltimore County. I was so enchanted with HSBC I began volunteering here, and it’s been one of the great pleasures of my retirement.
HSBC’s Used Books Donated to The Book Thing of Baltimore, Inc.
April 2, 2015
Today, the society donated hundreds of remaining books from its used book sale to a good cause – The Book Thing of Baltimore, Inc. The Book Thing of Baltimore gives away books, free of charge, to anyone desiring them – teachers, schools and the general public.
Despite offering a multi-week used book sale from our location in Cockeysville as a fundraiser and service to our members and friends, your generosity left us with hundreds of quality used and new books without space to store them. Hence, we wanted to ensure they made their way into the hands of folks who could use them. If you haven’t heard of The Book Thing, and in case you’re curious, here’s who they are…
The Baltimore Sun reported the following in 2002, “The Book Thing has operated on a shoestring for several years, yet manages to give away about 20,000 hardback and paperback books a week, Wattenberg said. The nonprofit enterprise circulates books donated by community members, city and county residents, universities, authors, publishers and the Smithsonian Institution, among others. ”
The New York Times reported the following in an article titled, “Where Even the Dime Novel Doesn’t Cost a Cent,” “As rumpled and watchful as a pulp-noir antihero, Russell Wattenberg approached another day in the grip of his nonprofit obsession, looking into the night book bin outside his basement door to see what freebies had turned up. ”This big coffee-table book about mummies, plus an oddball cookbook about gourmet meals made from weeds, and other, more usual stuff,” Mr. Wattenberg said, adding these latest donations to the 250,000 volumes crowding all about him in one of this city’s grand treasure troves. ”I figure we’ll give away 10,000 books this weekend,” he said confidently, after putting out simple sidewalk sandwich-board signs announcing, ”Free Books.” Mr. Wattenberg is the founder and proprietor of the Book Thing, a makeshift, backdoor operation that has become an institution in the last six years for giving away hundreds of thousands of books on the sole condition that they are presented free to browsers and must stay that way. ”Not for Resale,” reads the rubber-stamped message he happily presses into each book he gives away, from Plato to Tom Clancy. ”THIS IS A FREE BOOK.”
People Magazine reported the following: “As a bartender in Baltimore, Russell Wattenberg heard plenty of woeful tales from his customers. Broken hearts, broken dreams…all he could do was listen. But one night in the spring of 1997, as he overheard a few public school teachers bemoaning their students’ lack of books, Wattenberg figured he could do more than commiserate. Taking $70 of his tip money, the 28-year-old Brooklyn native spent the following weekend going to yard sales, where he picked up 250 used books for the teachers. “You don’t find somebody like this every day,” says Andreas Spiliadis, one of the teachers Wattenberg helped. Within a few weeks, scavenging for literary finds became a weekly event for Wattenberg, who started buying books for anyone in need of a read, from impoverished children to cash-strapped adults. “I love seeing books go from somewhere they’re not wanted to somewhere they are,” he says. So much so that by November of 1999 Wattenberg, a bachelor, quit bartending to found the nonprofit Book Thing of Baltimore, which collects unwanted books from individuals and publishers and gives them to those in need. Supported by grants and donations, he now hands out about 9,500 volumes each week. “It’s social justice to him,” says Sally Scott, program officer for the Morris Goldseker Foundation, a Book Thing sponsor. ” [He believes] people deserve and need books, whatever their background.” Actually his motivation is less complex. Says Wattenberg: “It makes me feel good.”
Woman’s Club of Catonsville Collection
The society accepted and accessioned a collection consisting primarily of documentary materials related to the operations of the Woman’s Club of Catonsville (WCC). The club operated from 1932 to 2012. At the height of its popularity the club had over 300 members and provided creative, philanthropic and civic opportunities to Catonsville women.
The WCC’s activities and successes were numerous. The WCC’s efforts and planning were instrumental in Catonsville’s urban revival efforts of both the 1960s and today. In the 1950s and ‘60s the WCC partnered with community groups to start a library, an arts festival and senior citizen center in Catonsville. In 1959, the WCC constructed an impressive clubhouse at 10 St. Timothy Lane from proceeds of The Swap Shop thrift store, once located on Frederick Road. The WCC recently donated the same building to the Catonsville Community Foundation in 2013, immediately following the club’s 2012 dissolution.
We welcome the prospect of students making use of these records for research. The collection was extensively inventoried by University of Maryland, College Park, history graduate student Tyler S. Stump. The material could prove extremely valuable to planners or scholars interested in urban revival, women’s history locally or nationally, and the history of Catonsville.
Woodlawn Replaced Powhatan Mill & Town
By: Martha Hendrickson
March 31, 2015
Today we know Woodlawn as a community, the national headquarters of the Social Security Administration and the previous location of the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. But did you know that before 1902 there was no Woodlawn, but a mill and mill town called Powhatan?
From an original investment by John and E. Levering, the company of Baltimore Manufacturing at the Powhatan Cotton Works built a new mill on the Gwynn’s Falls. The water driven mill began operations in 1811 and by 1813 it had 4,000 spindles in operation. In 1815 it was incorporated and called Powhatan Mfg. Co. The 1820 census indicated that there were 5,300 spindles, 45 power looms, 15 women, and 58 boys and girls in spinning plus 23 girls on power looms. Shortly after the Powhatan mill was established another mill was built nearby upstream called the Pocahantas. Over the years a mill town grew up around Powhatan and Pocahontas Mills. By 1881 the population was 300 and consisted of 63 houses, a general store, a post office, a school, and a Methodist Episcopal Church. The Powhatan Lodge no 23, Independent order of Asbestos Grange no. 172., and Patrons of Husbandry were organizations active in the Powhatan vicinity.
It is unknown why the mill was named after the Native Americans made famous by Pocahontas and the early English settlers in Virginia; according to the authors of Woodlawn, Franklintown and Hebbville, Three Communities, Two Centuries, there is no conclusive evidence of a permanent settlement of Native Americans in the area. It is more likely that it may have been part of a disputed zone between the Algonquian Nation (which included Powhatans) and the Susquehannocks in the north; there have been various Native American artifacts found by residents over the years.
The mill was relatively successful. It changed ownership over the years and produced cotton duck important for the use in sails, mail bags and tents important from the 1840s to 1890’s. However, like many small mills in Maryland, it struggled with fires. The fire of Dec 7, 1895 was the final death toll for the Powhatan mill. It burned down completely, and was never rebuilt. The town buildings were not affected by the fire, but inhabitants gradually moved away since the Pocahontas Mill had already been abandoned. The property was sold, and in 1902, the Woodlawn Cemetery Company was formed as part of a need to provide larger public cemeteries.
Most of the town was razed to make way for the cemetery with several exceptions: the post office, a house, and the Powhatan Methodist Episcopal Church were moved across the river. In the winter of 1902 the frozen ice of the dammed river provided the means to move the Methodist church. The church was moved to 2119 Gwynn Oak Ave near to what we now know as downtown Woodlawn; the intersection of Windsor Mill and Gwynn Oak Aves. In 1930, the Powhatan Church congregation merged with St Luke’s Methodist Church congregation and became St Luke’s Methodist Episcopal Church. A new chapel was built in 1930 and the old Powhatan church building was moved behind the new one and used as a social hall and classrooms. It is still in used today and is on the Maryland Register of Historic Places (BA-2104).
One remaining building of Powhatan is visible today across the lake from the duck feeding area as a stone structure used by the Woodlawn cemetery company for storage. Other evidence of the town is the old Powhatan cemetery which is in the Wesley Section of Woodlawn Cemetery. The graves are identifiable as burials before 1904. (Our HSBC cemetery transcription files list the individual graves and shows the location of the section.)
In 1904 the cemetery company succeeded in changing the name of the town to Woodlawn. And so the entire area became known as Woodlawn thus erasing Powhatan from the map. – M. Hendrickson
Sources: Woodlawn History Committee, Woodlawn, Franklintown and Hebbville, Three Communities, Two Centuries (Woodlawn Rec. & Parks Council, 1977); John McGrain, Molinography of Maryland, Mills of Baltimore County, City and neighboring Counties (2007); Cemetery Transcription files at HSBC.
Hidden Treasures: The HSBC Cemetery Transcription Files
By: Ann Royston Blouse
March 10, 2015
In the 1970s, HSBC members undertook the project of locating every cemetery in Baltimore County and transcribing all of the headstones in those cemeteries. The results of this multi-year project now reside in the Cemetery Transcription files at HSBC.’
Headstones that may be illegible today were more clear 40 years ago and the transcriptions provide a wealth of family data for anyone tracing their family in Baltimore County. Early headstones recorded not only a person’s name and dates of birth and death, but also names of parents, wife(s) and frequently heartfelt verses lamenting the loss of a loved one.
The transcriptions are recorded in the order in which the graves were located in the cemetery and there are often accompanying maps. Thus, one may be able to infer family relationships from the groupings of seemingly unrelated people.
Some transcriptions are handwritten; others have been typed. Many of the files include an index to the transcriptions, making it easy to locate a specific family or person.
But wait you may say, there is an online source for this same information—Find A Grave—why would I go to HSBC to look at these files? As someone who has made extensive use of all available genealogic resources, I can assure you that you often find much, much more info in these transcriptions. Let’s use the transcription file for the Middletown Union Cemetery as an example.
The file begins with a typed index of family names included and respective page numbers. There is a short description noting when it was copied and the people who did it, with an overview of the cemetery’s founding and condition. There is a map orienting the location of graves to the church and Freeland and Middletown Roads. 50 pages of typed transcriptions document more than 1000 internments.
Let’s look at the record for Sarah Akehurst. The transcription reads “Sarah/wife of/Charles Akehurst/formerly of/Peter Ruhl/Dec./died June 13, 1882/in the 63rd year of/her age” (/ indicates end of a line on the stone). The entry in Find A Grave for this same person reads gives only dates of birth and death. Thus, the HSBC record has provided twice as much information as Find A Grave.
I was looking for the burial place of my 2nd great grandfather, Caleb Lowe, who married Sophia Hoffman. He died in 1864 of tuberculosis contracted while a prisoner of war. I finally found him recorded in the 1971 transcription for the Hoffman/Gunpowder Family Burying Ground: row 1, position 1, wooden marker, partly illegible. In 1993, when the Daughters of the American Revolution erected the commemorative marker of those buried there, Caleb was not on it, because his wooden marker had disappeared. But the HSBC files documented his internment, thus solving a long-standing mystery.
Discover the HSBC Cemetery Transcription files—I promise you’ll find something you didn’t know.
Does History Matter?
What locals in Baltimore County have to say about history…
By: Justin Albright (Towson U. History Student & HSBC Intern.)
Over the past week I have been traveling around Baltimore County asking locals in the community if they think history matters. The purpose of this was to allow locals in the community the opportunity to share their opinions, while also allowing the organization (HSBC) the opportunity to gauge public interest. This blog will discuss some of the answers provided and give my responses to same questions.
It should be noted that the sample size of the questionnaire was very small, and the answers provided do not speak for the community as whole. Nonetheless, those who were surveyed worked in an array of professions, and spanned several generations. Furthermore this blog is not intended to be a publication of results, while the information provided on the surveys will be discussed, the intent of this blog is simply to start a conversation. So, after reading this blog I do encourage you to share your thoughts on these questions, whether it be in the comment sections or on the HSBC Facebook page, because your opinions matter, and we love hearing what you think.
There were three questions listed on the questionnaire that in my opinion contribute to the bigger question Does History Matter? Below are those questions (in bold), and some of the answers provided.
QUESTION POSED: Do you think History Matters?
For this question I asked participants to simply circle yes or no, and the results were not surprising. Everyone surveyed circled yes, and I also agree that history does matter.
This did not come as a surprise because we all at some point in our lives took a history class. And even if we do not remember everything that we have learned, the majority of people feel it does matter, how ever small or large it may be.
The next two questions are the ones that I personally take the most interest in, and they are the questions I encourage you to share your thoughts on. Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers, and the answers provided below are simply pieces to a discussion. So read the responses and join the discussion.
QUESTION POSED: In your opinion, why does history matter?
Some of the answers provided: with name and profession listed
“History matters to me because it’s always good to know what’s happened in the past” (Amanda, Cosmetologist)
“The constant teaching of history teaches us our mistakes and how we can fix or improve on them” (Jonathon, Seafood Specialist)
“History teaches us about our past: our past achievements and mistakes. It paves the way for our knowledge to be expanded by modern thought and technology” (Rachael, Finance Professional)
“History matters because it often has a way of repeating itself, both good and bad. It is important to learn from the past, so we can grow in the future” (Michael, Waiter)
“It allows us to understand who we are (and it is) the first step to deciding where we are going. Plus it is interesting, and it builds empathy to the past and makes life better.” (Christian, History Professor)
“History matters because it helps us understand the present more fully. It helps answer the “why” of things and provides context for dealing with both the present and future. Maybe it’s better to call this historical education. I always find that understanding the history of something makes it more interesting and helps me from becoming too judgmental about what happened or from trying to use only current contexts to understand/evaluate/explain. I am always in awe for example after watching documentaries such as The American Experience, and these instill a deeper understanding and respect for what people in the past have endured. (Don, Environmental Manager)
What I think…
History examines many aspects of the past, and everyone draws from past experiences when progressing forward. Whether it is learning how to do something better based on past failures or being influenced by something you previously read, in the end past and present always intertwine. So it is important to examine the past, so we can better understand the present.
QUESTION POSED: What do you think historic interpretation entails?
(Some of the answers provided: with name and profession listed)
“Putting things in the context of the period” (Jason, History Student)
“I think it entails looking into the past and figuring our motivations and patterns that have influenced historical events” (Hannah, Teacher)
“Providing the most reliable views of history while telling more than one sides story” (Jim, Retired Engineer)
“Providing a better understanding about history in more than one way” (Brandyn, Leasing Consultant)
“Making the past accessible. Highlighting the stories that reveal who we are and guiding us in discoveries.” (Christian, History Professor)
What I think…
Historical interpretation for me is about the examination of a source (whether it be an artifact, a letter or book, a piece of art, or records) and using it to piece together a bigger picture. Because there is always another angle or piece to the puzzle that helps reveal something new. Historical interpretation in many ways is like being a detective; you are presented with a piece of evidence and must ask why this piece of evidence is important, from there it your job to piece together a story by investigating all the angles and other pieces of evidence you can find. And in the end you come to an answer.
A Historical Society’s Variety of Roles in the Community
By: Kathleen Black, HSBC Intern., 2014
Historical societies, such as the Historical Society of Baltimore County, play a unique role in both preserving and promoting local history. As a public history institution, with its mission to interpret Baltimore County’s history for the edification of the community, the society must embrace all aspects of local history. Unlike museums that primarily focus on education through objects, or historic preservation groups whose aim is directed to buildings and structures, or an archive focused solely on documentary history, the historical society’s mission requires it to engage all these diverse fields and more – architectural preservation, museum collections, research library and archives, genealogy, publishing, tours and events, as well as speakers series.
To fulfill its mission, the society continually produces lectures, exhibits, workshops, educational publications, and historical tours for its members and the Baltimore County community. The society has also taken on the task of preserving more than 9,000 museum artifacts, 8,000 historic photographs, 4,000 library resources, 500 historic maps and atlases, and hundreds of archival collections To strengthen its commitment to education, the society has provided internships to local area college students. These students have contributed to producing a wide range of projects that bridge an array of fields such as library and archive research and management, writing, editing, publishing, and museum collections and management.
Rachel Martin, American Studies major at Towson University, has worked extensively this spring with the society’s historic photograph collection, strengthening research and library archives. Martin has digitalized photographs and has performed data entry into the PastPerfect Museum software database. With this information now recorded digitally, the society can easily access information to include in publications for the community. Her work will also support the society’s effort to properly and efficiently store photographs of historic importance, as she has worked to compile the photographs in archival safe materials.
Brandon Rider, also an American Studies major at Towson University, has taken part in an extensive research project this spring on slavery and slave systems in the eastern portion of Baltimore County, spanning the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Combining the information found in the society’s library and archive collection, along with research at other institutions, Rider has utilized the well of information found within the society to produce work that will educate the community, while showcasing the information housed within the society’s archives at the same time.
Lina Mann, History and Anthropology major and Museum Studies minor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, plans to create short videos during her summer internship. These videos will provide information that has rarely been accessible to the public. The videos, which will be published on the society’s social media, will contain behind-the-scene looks into the collections areas, Almshouse grounds, Agricultural museum and exhibits, and Civil Defense fallout shelter. With her work, HSBC is attempting to combine both research and publication in a way that is unique to historical societies. Her videos will contain information not only on what objects are located within the society, but how they relate to the society’s mission and promote the value of the organization in the community.
Finally, Kathleen Black, English major and Museum Studies minor at Towson University, has worked hands-on with HSBC’s 9,000+ museum artifacts this spring. Black updated artifact information such as location, description, condition, and photography. To bridge museum collections, research, and publications, Black composed a blog for the society’s website. Her work proves that with a little research, a seemingly benign historic object can be much more valuable placed in its historic context. She has also engaged in preparing and drafting grants for future projects for the society while fulfilling the requirements of a grant writing course she is enrolled in at Towson University simultaneously.
Meanwhile, the society’s core group of volunteers are constantly engaged in the following activities through their committee work: oral history programs, managing museum collections, researching and preparing bus tours, web & social media outreach and publicity, participation at various festivals and events, library committees and management, lecture and speaker series, journal and newsletter publications, and much more.
Through such activities, a historical society fulfills its mission two-fold. First, it produces information for the Baltimore County community encompassing all aspects of the county’s history to engage individual local history interests, taking into account architectural preservation and history, museum collections, research library and archives, publishing and presentations. Second, the Historical Society of Baltimore County has provided invaluable experience and education for its interns, who have been granted the opportunity to work hands-on with the society’s resources. Interns, volunteers and society members alike engage the society with very different goals in mind, and because of the various roles the society plays, most can find some form of event, programming or work to fit their specific interests.