Sunday, May 3, 2009

The SHA Bladensburg Archaeology Project held its First Public History Workshop on Wednesday night. It was held in the top floor of the beautifully restored George Washington House, owned by the Anacostia Watershed Society. Participants from near and far with interests in history and preservation came out and listened to the presentation. Following the presentation, the participants shared their observations, opinions, experiences and ideas about Bladensburg history, preservation and revitalization.

Here are a few notes about the evening:
· Julie Schablitsky, section chief of the Cultural Resource section started the program with an introduction to the project.
· Dick Charlton of the Aman Memorial Trust gave a talk about the historical resources of Bladensburg, discussing his involvement in the preservation and renovation of many of the historic buildings. He then discussed the renovation of the Magruder House. A powerpoint slideshow accompanied his talk, featuring historical and contemporary photos and maps of the resources.
· The participants with backgrounds from many different organizations attended the workshop including the Cultural Resources Department of the Maryland State Highway Administration, Center for Heritage Resource Studies of the Department of Anthropology at University of Maryland, Aman Memorial Trust, Anacostia Watershed Society, Maryland- national Capital Park and Planning Commission, Prince George’s Heritage, Inc., and the communities of Bladensburg and Riverdale.

Some of the points made during the discussion included:
· John Giannetti and Dick Charlton discussed the preservation of the George Washington House by the Jaycees in anticipation of the Bicentennial of 1976, and the strides that have been take since those times when the Battle of Bladensburg was a mostly forgotten event in American history.
· The need for historical markers to describe the changes in the historic shoreline and depth of the Anacostia River. Also, the actual location of the historic Bladensburg Bridge.
· The need to not neglect the long history between 1812.
· Prominent markers discussing the War of 1812, Battle of Bladensburg are needed.
· Additionally, we need some way to physically recreate and present the historic landscape of the town in a way that is easily understood or graspable to make Bladensburg a destination for tourism.
· People were concerned that time is running out for the construction of a prominent place to display the town’s War of 1812 history, such as the National Park Service museum at Fort McHenry.
· Another suggestion is to create a walking tour of the historic resources of the town. An identified obstacle to this included infrastructural and beautification issues that hinder the walkability of the landscape of the town including the need for more pedestrian friendly conditions, green space, etc.
· The Kenilworth Avenue bridge, with its dark pedestrian tunnels, was considered to be a major hindrance to the walkability of the towns “historic core”.
· The need to garner support from federal, state and county levels of governance for the Bicentennial celebration.
· The creation of an open source electronic resource such as a Wiki for Bladensburg history.

After the presentations, questionnaires were handed out. Some interesting responses were given.

For the question of “What do you think about when you think of Bladensburg’s History? What parts of Bladensburg’s history are you most interested in learning about?”, some of the answers included:
· Battle of Bladensburg
· Lowndes Family History
· The archaeology of the Bostwick House
· The town’s “heyday” as a tobacco inspection site
· The post-bellum economy and free black community of Bladensburg
· The history of Charles Ball, a freed black sailor who was on Commodore Barney’s ship.

For the question “What kind of contribution to the Bladensburg community would you like to see come out of the archaeology project?” some of the answers included:
· “Connection of the modern community to the past
· To demonstrate how people can “use the historical narrative to promote tourism and community cohesion”
· “A more walkable/ likable historic community”
· “To create a sense of place, a greater public awareness of the historical significance of Bladensburg..”
· “[Make] the history relevant and interesting to the town’s ethnically and diverse community”

Thanks to everyone who showed up, and to Pat Gladding and the Anacostia Watershed Society for hosting us!

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