Park, museum a tribute to Benjamin Banneker

Diversions

September 26, 2004|By Aparna Balakrishnan | Aparna Balakrishnan,SUN STAFF

It's easy to forget how close noisy and bustling U.S. 40 is as visitors drive along narrow roads, approaching the idyllic area encircling the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Oella.

The park and museum sit on a small portion of 142 acres tucked in the woods near Old Frederick Road in the historic mill town established in 1808, two years after Banneker's death.

Opened in June 1998, the museum celebrates Baltimore County native Banneker, an African-American who was a self-taught scientist.

In 1791, he helped survey and lay out the Federal Territory, now the District of Columbia.

Banneker is best remembered for the six almanacs he published after an exchange with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson about the injustice of slavery and the equality of men.

Though it has had more than 40,000 visitors this year, the Banneker Museum, now in its second phase of development, is trying to draw more attention to its growing collections and exhibits.

Replica cabin

The creation of a replica of Banneker's cabin and a small tobacco farm are included in the second phase of construction that will begin in October and is scheduled for completion next year.

The original cabin mysteriously burned down two days after Banneker's burial.

Since the county's acquisition of the property in 1985, efforts have been made to salvage whatever remnants might have been left and buried after the cabin's destruction.

The main gallery of the museum will be revamped when work on the permanent exhibition begins in October.

The exhibit will include an archaeological section that charts the discovery of the museum's artifacts.

Artifacts

The museum's current exhibit features a few of the artifacts that have been unearthed from the site of Banneker's original cabin and copies of his published almanac and the letters to Jefferson, as well as a section on the history of the property and its successive owners.

Steven Lee, the museum's director, said he occasionally features other temporary exhibits that include local artists and photographers, as well as other historical sites.

Changes

Built on farmland previously owned by Banneker's family, the museum is run by the Department of Recreation and Parks.

Surrounding acres are a testament to the natural changes the area has undergone since Banneker's era.

What used to be the pond on the property is now part of the rest of the undergrowth, said Paul Harless, 19, a guide and naturalist at the museum.

Though there still is work to be done, Lee said he has enjoyed watching the park and museum develop.

"There is no other original site like it," he said.

The Banneker Historical Park and Museum, at 300 Oella Ave., Catonsville, is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Admission is free. Tours of the museum and grounds are available all day.

Call 410-887-1081 for more information.

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