6 historical sites endorsed for national registry

By Andrew Waite
The Gazette
Thursday, December 9, 2010; T19

From Georgian-style red-brick homes to a Colonial-era tobacco farm sprinkled throughout otherwise modernized communities, the past is still very present in Prince George's County.

And national recognition of these places could draw more visitors seeking a taste of living history, say local historians and tourism leaders.

Six Prince George's County sites are one important step closer to gaining that national recognition.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) on Nov. 29 gave his nod to local planning and historical groups' recommendations to add the following places to the National Register of Historic Places: Tayman Tobacco Barn in Croom; the Piscataway Village Historic District in Piscataway; the Fairmount Heights Historic District; the St. Thomas Episcopal Parish Historic District in Upper Marlboro; the Broad Creek Historic District in Fort Washington; and the Glenn Dale tuberculosis hospital and sanitarium.

"There are a lot of folks that come to the [Washington, D.C.] region interested in heritage and history and will seek out these things," said J. Matthew Neitzey, executive director of the county's Conference and Visitors Bureau.

"Having this designation is very positive for folks championing history in Prince George's County, and it may provide additional awareness for the resources we have," he said.

The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program run by the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service to preserve the cultural and historical significance of a community or structure. The register works to preserve significant properties and includes federal and state tax credits for rehabilitation work but does not include any development restrictions.

With Johnson's consent, the sites must now be reviewed by the Maryland Historical Trust and then the National Park Service before they make it on the register.

Howard Berger, acting supervisor of the historic preservation section of the Prince George's County Planning Department, expects the sites to ultimately find their way onto the register, but he predicted the designations won't be finalized until at least the summer.

The department, along with the county's Historic Preservation Commission, recommended in September that the sites be added to the national register.

Dave Turner, chairman of the preservation commission, said a listing on the national register is important for showcasing the rich history of Prince George's County. The listing also could boost tourism and draw visitors to the historic sites, said Turner, who lives in the Broad Creek Historic District.

"If Prince George's is going to be the premier African-American tourist county, meaning people want to come to see about African-Americans, to see what's their story, they've got to come to Prince George's. We've got it, and we've kept it," Turner said. "And it's not really on the history tours if it's not a national register site."

Being listed on the register has a different significance for each site. For the Tayman Tobacco Barn, which was built in 1941 and is a relic of the county's original economy, it is mostly an honorific that commemorates "a way of life that is disappearing," according to Franklin Robinson Jr., the historian for St. Thomas Episcopal Parish, which owns the tobacco barn.

"It gives national recognition to a facet of our local history. It speaks to the small farmer. It was the yeoman farmer who sustained the economy in the Colonial era and into the 20th century," Robinson said. "More and more you don't have these markers on the landscape that speak to the history of pre-modern Prince George's County. As more and more fall away through neglect or indifference, this barn will become even more special."

For the Glenn Dale hospital, a national register listing would mean federal and local tax credits that could help pay for the adaptive reuse of the medical facility that provided tuberculosis treatment between 1933 and 1959 and remained open until 1982, according to Henry Wixon, president of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association.

"It's all upside. We can do great things through the listing that we might not otherwise be able to do," Wixon said.

Potential plans for the site include preserving some of the medical campus's 200 acres of space as a park and reopening the hospital buildings as a continuing-care retirement community, Wixon said.

A national register listing allows a buyer to recoup 40 percent in tax credits for qualifying renovation costs - 20 percent each from the state and federal governments.

St. Thomas Episcopal Parish Historic District is at the center of the county's religious history and encompasses schools that provided for the religious and educational needs of local black children during segregation.

The Piscataway Village Historic District was an early county settlement focused on tobacco and related commerce. Fairmount Heights Historic District was one of the county's first settlements developed by and for black residents.

Broad Creek Historic District includes more than 455 acres that contain four designated county historic sites dating back to the 18th century.

Johnson said it is important that all six sites find their way onto the register.

"For many years, people have held on to their culture because they know it is the one thing that ties us all together," Johnson said in a statement. "It is our duty to preserve the county's heritage for our future."

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