By next fall, a bronze relief statue that is being designed by local artist Joanna Blake at Giannetti’s Brentwood studio is expected to be unveiled at Bladensburg Balloon Park.
The $375,00 memorial, which shows a fallen Commodore Joshua Barney and two others, is one of many efforts by local residents to try to highlight the area’s links to the War of 1812, a conflict with the British that secured American independence in the post-Revolutionary War era. As celebrations are underway in the region marking the war’s bicentennial, Bladensburg and its neighboring Port Towns — communities that once profited from a thriving Anacostia River trade — are trying to capitalize on their ties to the war and attract history buffs and tourists.
“We have some history right here that we can touch,” said Prince George’s County Council Chairman Andrea C. Harrison (D-Springdale), whose district includes the four communities that make up the Port Towns: Bladensburg, Colmar Manor, Cottage City and Edmonston.
But the task of creating a modern-day tourist attraction is somewhat daunting for the area, which is south of Hyattsville and a mile from the District line. With its strip malls, manufacturing companies and mid-rises, it is more Anytown, U.S.A., than Colonial Williamsburg.
“You have very historic sites lost in the commercial clutter of 21st-century America,” said David Iannucci, a top economic development aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). “There are sacred battlefields where people died and changed the course of history next to used-car lots and liquor stores.”
Route 450, Bladensburg’s main street, is an often-clogged commuter route that is traveled by more than 50,000 vehicles a day and at the same time is the major entryway to the historic areas. The traffic and the wide boulevard make the road a risky place for anyone who wants to walk or ride a bike from site to site.
Because of limited funds, plans to make the state road more welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists have been put on hold by the state until at least 2016.
Still, local officials are trying to call attention to the many sites in the area by erecting signs, flags and other markers and creating a walking trail. The Port Towns Community Development Corp. is eager to show people around and has a 22-passenger bus that can be used for tours, said Sadara Barrow, the executive director.
Many historians say that the disaster that was the Battle of Bladensburg — a rout of the Americans that opened the way for the British to take Washington and burn the Capitol and the White House — was an important wake-up call that forced the fledgling nation to regroup and reorganize its military. For the Port Towns, the coming bicentennial of the battle — Aug. 24, 2014 — has been their own spur to try to make the historic sites more accessible.