There will come a day, this summer, when the kids will pine — or is that whine — for something a bit different. No need to run for cover. Just load the car up and head to one of three unique Montgomery County parks that offer a trip back in time along with plenty of natural beauty.
Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park in Sandy Spring brings the drama and danger of the Underground Railroad to life. Between the stately Manor House and a log building that may have housed slaves, visitors can witness life as it was lived in the 1800s.
But it’s the multimedia exhibits in the Woodlawn Museum — housed in a three-story stone barn built in the 1830s — that will really capture imaginations. “What’s cool about the museum exhibits is that kids can listen to the voices of the past, they can visualize the sounds and smells of the past. You’re walking in history,” said Mark Thorne, program manager.
Via 10 life-sized videos projected onto the barn’s white-washed walls, visitors hear tales of the quandary Sandy Spring slave-owners faced when considering freeing their slaves. The multimedia story continues with the heroic decisions made by slaves as they plotted their escape via the Underground Railroad.
“We want to inspire questions and make you think. What decisions would you have made yourself? These were complex choices people faced, decisions that could mean life or death,” Thorne said.
To get a real sense of the slave escape route, grab one of the free maps and hike a four-mile section of the Underground Railroad Experience Trail as it winds through fields and woods. Along the pathway, look for a hollow tree trunk where legend has it sympathetic slaves left whatever food they could spare for those fleeing to freedom.
Guided tours are available on weekends; tickets can be purchased at the visitor’s center or online via www.montgomeryparks.org.
“The guided tours have been an amazing success for over 10 years,” Thorne said. “The guides are a wealth of information and welcome questions.”
Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park is located at 16501 Norwood Road. The trail and grounds are free and open from sunrise to sunset.
Tours of the Manor House start at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 1 p.m. Sunday. Tickets purchased at the Visitor Center cost $3.
The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and children; free for children younger than 5. Groups of 10 or more can arrange tours seven days a week of the Manor, Museum and Underground Trail by calling 301-929-5989.
Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park is in nearby Olney. Just over one-story tall, the log cabin was occupied by hardworking African-American families from the mid-1800s until 1975.
Surrounded by pristine nature on a two-acre tract that runs along Reddy Branch, the cabin tells a story that kids seldom hear — that of the lives lived by mill workers, farm laborers, carpenters and laundresses.
“Children get a glimpse into the lives once lived by freed black tenant families,” said Shirl Spicer, M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks museum manger. “The house had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. When we show the kids how laundry was done, they have to bring water from the creek back in a bucket.”
Once part of a slave-owning farm, the cabin has an open hearth and staircase that leads to a loft. Nineteenth-century tools and artifacts excavated during archaeological digs around the park’s grounds are on display, and kids are encouraged to play with wooden whirligigs and other toys of the era.
“It’s a very hands-on experience during our open days,” Spicer said. “We planted an herb garden a while ago. On June 14, we showed visitors how to make medical sachets from selected herbs.”
When the house is not open, nearby picnic tables make the spot a pleasant retreat, she said.
Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park is located at 3610 Brookeville Road, Olney. Open year round from sunrise to sunset, free guided tours are available on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from noon to 4 p.m. Call 301-650-4373 for more information.
Kingsley Schoolhouse in Little Bennett Regional Park will transport kids to a world they can barely imagine — that of a schoolroom free of video screens. The one-room schoolhouse has been refurbished to look as it did when it closed in 1935, complete with wooden desks, slate chalkboards and a wood stove for heat.
Since 2012, volunteers have hosted free monthly tours on the first Sunday of the month from 1 to 4 p.m.
“Docents take the kids through school exercises from the 1920s,” Spicer said. “Kids get a sense of what the educational practices were back then, from what the children studied, to what they brought to school to eat and how they played outside.”
“Cool” is the word young visitors often apply to the experience, Spicer said. She added that the park is delightful place to picnic when the schoolhouse is closed.
Kingsley Schoolhouse is located at 24472 Clarksburg Road, Clarksburg. Three parking areas are located a short hike away. Call 301-650-4373 for information.