Upper Marlboro committee aims to document town’s history

December 12, 2012

Kate Germano, 39, was drawn to Upper Marlboro for its historic qualities. But upon moving to the town two years ago, she realized that with no collection of archives or historic documents to share, its history was fading.

The town has never had a historic committee, and little had been done to document and archive the handful of 19th-century homes and Colonial-era sites and buildings.

Germano, a Marine Corps major, since has formed a historic committee with plans to catalog and bring to light the historic qualities the town has to offer as a way to preserve the information and draw attention to some of the area’s untapped features.

The committee’s first meeting was held in November, and nearly 20 residents showed up to offer support and ideas for what they could accomplish, Germano said. She said that she was surprised by the turnout because attendance at monthly town commissioner meetings averages less than 10 people.

“We moved in because of the historic houses here. This town has a lot of volume of people during the day, but it’s really a very small community. People have lived here for many generations, and the longer you’re here, the more you take that history for granted. It just becomes second nature,” said Germano, chairman of the committee. “So it’s taken some new people to come into town and say, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ for people to take notice.”

The committee’s next meeting will be Saturday, and residents are asked to bring historic photographs and documents that relate to the town so that the committee can make copies and store them digitally at Town Hall. She also plans to map out the group’s priorities at the meeting.

By the end of next year, Germano said, the committee wants to see a fully established walking homes tour throughout the town.

She said the tour would involve signs and brochures that provide the history of the homes’ architecture and the lineage of families that stayed in the homes in the 19th century. She said her home was built in the 1830s by a builder who constructed similar homes in her neighborhood.

In addition, she wants an oral history put together by interviewing some of the older families in Upper Marlboro to hear stories that may be undocumented and unknown to the general public.

“If we don’t collect that information, we’re going to lose that and won’t have it for others to enjoy,” Germano said. “All over America, you can drive along highways and see towns crumble and disappear. [The committee] is one way to make sure Upper Marlboro isn’t one of those towns and so future generations can appreciate it.”

Jackie Liles, 52, said she’s lived in Upper Marlboro for the past five years but was not aware of many of the town’s historic qualities.

“It’s such a unique little town. I do a lot of walking around the town, and there’s a lot of history to be known with the things that I see. I’m kind of curious about it,” Liles said. “I know that at some point there’s some history somewhere, but it’s not published anywhere.”

The committee has the backing of Steve Sonnet, chairman of the town board of commissioners, who initially proposed the formation of a committee in 2011.

“[The group] is led by new people in town who are history buffs. They moved into the town because of its historic nature,” Sonnet said. “There’s a lot of history not being categorized or made available. It should be better captured, and with the committee, there’s a lot of enthusiasm.”

Through the committee, he said, the town can catalog documents and ultimately attract residents and visitors to sites such as historic homes, an Episcopal church founded in 1810, and the 1828 cemetery of William Beanes, a notable Upper Marlboro physician who treated high-ranking British officials during the War of 1812.

Other historical points of interest include Darnall’s Chance, a 1742 house now on the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places that was once inhabited by Col. Henry Darnall, a wealthy planter.

“You know at one time, Upper Marlboro billed the county for water. The county got their water from the town,” he said, reflecting on some of the lesser-known facts of Upper Marlboro. “The town for a long time was the only cultural shopping center in the area.”

He said that in the early 1700s, the town was a designated port town for tobacco ships and became a business hub where merchants and lawyers lived after the county’s courthouse was constructed in 1721.

Sonnet said that, on average, 6,000 people come into the town each day for business at the County Administration Building or county courthouse, both of which are inside the town limits.

He said that statistic is a great motivator for establishing historic walking tours, signage displaying Upper Marlboro’s history, and an archive of written and oral history for visitors to take note of and appreciate the town.

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