Tending A Garden Of Black History

Route 2 -- A weekly journey through Anne Arundel County

September 11, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch Angela Gambill John A. Morris Bonita Formwalt

Soon enough there will be nothing left of the old fence that bordered Brewer Hill Cemetery, the broken and bent wire fence that signaled to all who passed on West Street in Annapolis that here lay a neglected place.

In a matter of weeks Brewer Hill will present to the world a more proud face, a brick wall running 250 feet along West Street. Yesterday, members of the Brewer Hill Cemetery Association staged amorning ceremony marking construction of the wall that already had begun.

The wall is the latest and most ambitious element of a restoration effort that began more than a year ago. A group of Annapolitans, dismayed about the poor condition of the cemetery that was founded and owned by 11 black men in the 19th century, banded together to clean the place, straighten crooked headstones, raise money to maintain the graveyard and to build a new wall along West Street. In so doing, they hoped to make black Annapolitans more conscious of their history.

The wall, said Brewer Hill Association president George Phelps, should help to "bring some dignity and pride to a run down historical cemetery."

Among others at the groundbreaking ceremony were Representative John C. Astle and representatives of Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad.

Phelps, who owns Phelps Protection Systems of Annapolis, has stressed the importance of Brewer Hill asa symbol of black success. In buying the 4.5 acres from Judge Nicholas Brewer in the late 1800s, the founders formally created a burial ground on land that had been used as a black cemetery for years. Blackwar veterans were buried there until 1942, when the law changed integrating the National Cemetery just east of Brewer Hill.

Phelps said it will cost about $20,000 to build the concrete and brick-face wall. The Association has raised $35,000, not including a $10,700 grant awarded by the city council.


CAPTION: Colin Macrae Lambert, pastor of Mount Moriah A.M.E. Church in Annapolis reads a tombstone before the ceremony.


More than a dozen thick stone posts form a rectangle on the grass, solid slabs of gray-white cement, nearly a foot square, more than waist high.

They look purposeless, almost ominous, squatting in the field next to the picnic tables on the B & A trail near Jumper's Hole Road.

Bicyclists and joggers zipping by have little to tell them what the collection of markers means. The stones are not quite regular in shape and size; a few have settled like sagging grave-stones.

It's easy to wonder about such things, especially when no one seems to know where they came from. They might be the resting places for ancient gods, a local version of exotic Easter Island statues (without their heads).

Throw a stone slab on top and you could have a place of ritual and sacrifice, a mini-Stonehenge without the cross-stones, perhaps.

Or maybe the stones formed something as simple and complicated as a sundial, maybe the shadows cast by the stones, measuredin the right way in the right time of day, predicted harvest moons and winter solstices.

My colleagues and I have been speculating like this all summer, sleepily eating lunch on the benches in the hot sun, idly staring at the strange stones and trying to figure them out.

"Do you think they're some sort of electrical grounding, somethingto do with the power lines?" suggested one friend.

But I was surethe markers held more mystery than that, especially since nobody knew for sure.

My illusions burst last week when another co-worker, learned about such things, announced the stones were simply part of the old railroad that ran through Pasadena on the way to Annapolis.

I called the park department and was duly informed by Dave Dionne, superintendent of the B & A trail, that the posts formed the concrete base of an old freight platform, called the Elvaton Station. The freight went to Annapolis until 1968 and to Jones Station until Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972, Dionne says.

The trains dropped off freight such as wood at Elvaton and picked up farm produce.

"Anyone having something delivered would pick it up there, or farmers would load theirgoods to send on to Annapolis," Dionne explains.

Lunchtime by thestone markers will be less mysterious now, but more meaningful, a reminder of local history. We can look at these remnants of a busy railway station and hear the noise of cattle being loaded on the train, see the baskets of corn and fruit, the bins of tobacco. There's alwayssomething to imagine.


Down Millersville way, a small stream trickles alongside Burns Crossing Road. Forty years ago, the stream provided some of the best yellowperch fishing in Maryland, says Barbara Taylor, putting on a ratty pair of canvas espadrilles and stepping into the water.

Sloshing through the ankle-deep water, she points to the slimy green fungus, algae and submerged aquatic grasses growing on the shallow bottom of Severn Run.

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