Choosing one or more of the 30-plus sites of significance to Montgomery County’s history to visit on the 19th annual Heritage Days, June 25 and 26, is no small task. Heritage Montgomery’s (HM) Executive Director Sarah L. Rogers offered some guidance in terms of what has been most popular in the past as well as what is new.
First, a bit of background. “The concept is borrowed from a French tradition of having all museums in France open for free one day a year. The Montgomery County Historical Society began the tradition locally. Heritage Montgomery took over the event in 2004,”
said Rogers, who joined Heritage Montgomery in 2013. She was previously a principal designer and planner for the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network.
HM is, Rogers explained, “an organization charged with offering grants, technical advice, and promoting the county’s history, nature, and culture… Our goal is to raise the profile of county sites so that visitors will understand, enjoy, and appreciate the treasures we have and the need to protect them.” The group’s three staffers plan, organize and publicize the event; participating organizations’ volunteers and employees plan and manage their own sites. As in the past, about 10,000 visitors are expected, she said.
Among the new additions for this year are “bike rides showcasing our protected Scenic Byways and Rural Roads, picnic spots for visitors who want to stay in one spot for an afternoon of fun, and en plein air painters at various sites capturing the weekend on canvas,” Rogers said. And, she noted, “The C&O Canal mules will be at Swain’s Lockhouse along the C&O Canal. They are refurbishing it for use as an overnight rental and giving hardhat tours for Heritage Days.”
The event will celebrate the opening of the Woodlawn Stone Barn Visitor Center, which Rogers described as “an anchor for African American history sites in the county, a central hub for sites in Brookeville, Sandy Spring and Olney.” Woodlawn, the county’s newest museum housed in the three-story, 1832 barn, features exhibits about the area’s “incredibly rich, charged history,” Rogers said, involving the Underground Railroad and the historical links between its African American and Quaker communities; on hikes through nearby fields and woods, guides will show visitors what it was like for slaves escaping to freedom.
In a program titled, “Native Americans Return to their Homeland,” from noon to 4 p.m. June 25 at the Monocacy Aqueduct, the nonprofit Sugarloaf Regional Trails (SRT) will dedicate the county’s first American Indian Trail—about 26 miles, from Point of Rocks to Seneca, on the C&O Canal Towpath. The group, created in 1974, focuses on conserving the cultural landscape of rural Montgomery County via research and educational activities, historic theme trail guides and books, and conferences on preservation and environmental issues.
“They have developed state-of-the-art national trails,” Rogers said. “But they don’t promote themselves; they’re not the best marketers. We gave them a grant, hooked them up with an archeologist and tell people about their work.”
SRT President Peg Coleman said she is “concerned that the people of Montgomery and Frederick counties don’t know that the Indians were here long before the Europeans.” “We want to educate the public,” confirmed SRT Vice President Chet Andersen, a retired veterinarian who noted that during his school years in Prince George’s County, there was no study of Native American culture. The Piscataway Conoy Indians, he said, lived on Conoy (AKA Heaters) Island, leaving their home in 1722 after a smallpox outbreak depleted their numbers to the point that they could not defend themselves against other tribes.
The trail dedication, originally conceived as part of last year’s Heritage Days, was delayed until a month because of heavy rains. This year, the event is planned as a repeat of last year, including performances by Piscataway Conoy tribal dancers and drummers, and talks about the tribe’s history, heritage and culture by the tribe’s Chief Francis Gray and head woman Merwyn Savoy. Gray is a Baltimore engineer, “highly educated and articulate,” Andersen said. Savoy will address women’s and children’s roles, as well as native plants for medicine and food.
Copies of SRT’s brand-new Native American Heritage Trail Guide will be available to visitors. The pamphlet describes the trail, “pointing out areas of significant pre-European activity,’ including Paleolithic sites archeologists have identified.”
Among the most popular attractions of past Heritage Days have been the King Barn Dairy MOOseum, Glen Echo Park, the National Capital Trolley Museum and the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project.
Heritage Days are Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26, noon to 4 p.m. Not all sites are open both days. For a brochure with detailed information about Heritage Days, visit www.heritagemontgomery.org.