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Maryland Today | Uncovering the hidden history of a pioneer town

Students examine excavation artifacts

Broken cans, Metro tokens, even the jewelry they find (collectively called diagnostic artifacts) link the layers to time periods discerned by the manufacturing technology used. Thus, shards of window glass and a door hinge will help students date the original structure and later additions to the house, while a tongue caught in a layer of asphalt can determine when the structure was added. driveway. The artifacts also offer clues to the activities and behavior of the residents: a Danish coin recovered by the students several inches below the surface suggests a possible trip abroad. Compiled with deed records and other historical information, the finds can connect the site with family lines, offer a snapshot of daily life and determine how ownership changed over time.

“Increasingly, we are applying archaeological thinking to current questions, such as the impact of segregation and disinvestment on Black communities,” Woehlke said. “These physical artifacts connect us with the people who lived in these communities and better understand their experiences.”

Henry Randall and his extended family first settled North Brentwood, originally called Randallstown, in the late 1800s, purchasing land from Captain Wallace Bartlett, a white army commander who led a regiment of US colored troops during the civil War. Randall built the multi-story wood-frame farmhouse in 1892; the town doctor bought the property, where he lived and cared for patients, in the mid-20the century. The city was renamed North Brentwood in 1924; it was the first Maryland municipality without white voters. Despite its flood-prone location along the Anacostia River, North Brentwood was a thriving sanctuary for African Americans in a segregated America. Banned from patronizing white-owned businesses, North Brentwood residents established their own; Randall himself ran a company that delivered coal and ice.

“The people were business people, homeowners, elected officials and professionals,” said Evan Dame, a member of the Brentwood City Council. “Despite the obstacles, it was a predominantly black city and relatively successful for its time.”

Henry Randall’s house changed hands several times before being damaged by fire in 1994. Woehlke suspects the remains were simply torn down, dumped in the basement and covered with topsoil. The students focused one of their excavations on the area where they suspect the basement is located, guided by abrupt changes in the ground, an asphalt pattern, and city records. A foundation wall was unearthed within days.

“It’s like magic,” Woehlke said. “I’ve done this so many times, and each time I ask myself, ‘Is this really going to work?’ But it does, and what we find helps tell people’s stories.”

The dig is one of several ongoing projects between UMD’s Historic Preservation Program and North Brentwood to preserve the heritage of several city landmarks, including the iconic Sis’ Tavern, a Duke Ellington jazz hangout during segregation, and Windom Road Barrier, a metal in ruins. railing erected in the 1950s to physically separate North Brentwood from its white neighbors.

“It’s easy to walk by and see an abandoned lot, but this project turns it into a really interesting story, how North Brentwood came to be and how it came into existence because of segregation,” said Henry “Quint” Gregory, director of Michelle at UMD. Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture. “It is very important that those stories are told and known.”

The collected materials will be brought back to campus to be cleaned, catalogued, analyzed and eventually added to the city’s growing digital history project. As for the site, the city has planned to transform the lot into a park celebrating a century of black entrepreneurs, beginning with its founding resident.

“It’s an amazing discovery,” Dame said. “Hundreds of people pass through our town every day and do not know our history. Our effort now is for them to discover it.”

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