Slave quarters completed, but educational mission just beginning

Building history restored

future is still uncertain

May 11, 2008|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,special to the sun

Now that the Columbia Association has rebuilt the partially collapsed, vine-covered remains of the Woodlawn Slave Quarters, advocates for the historic property are faced with a new question.

What can they do with it?

The Columbia Association has always intended the two-room stone cottage, which stands off Bendix Road on a piece of its open space property, to be an educational resource for the community. Now it is seeking motivated people and new funding to make that happen.

Historians say they believe the structure was built in the early 1700s as part of the Woodlawn manor property, making it likely the oldest surviving slave quarters in Howard County.

With guidance from a Columbia Association task force that convened in 2006 and a $225,000 investment from that organization, workers restored the building as closely to its original condition as possible, using much of the building material found on the site. The construction phase was completed between March and May 2007.

"You've got a real gem here," said J. William Miller of Columbia, a longtime advocate for the restoration project and a CA task force member, as he spoke to government representatives, community leaders and other supporters last week at the slave quarters.

"We're trying to figure out what to do with it next," he said. "Maybe a couple of you will fall in love with it and help us take it to the next step."

The most logical next step is to create a master plan outlining the use of the quarters and the area surrounding it, which includes a small house, a horse barn and the foundation of a bank barn, said Barbara Kellner, manager of the Columbia Archives and a task force member.

Such a plan would focus on ways to turn the site into a park with interpretive exhibits and history-themed programs open to the public.

The exact history of the quarters is not known, but the task force did commission research about the area and the families that lived on the Woodlawn property. "The idea here is more to tell the story of life in Howard County in the 1800s and going forward," Miller said.

The quarters also offer some perspective on Columbia's present, Kellner said. "You can't see the value of the diversity of Columbia without seeing it in the context of how segregated it was," he said.

Another key long-term goal identified by the task force is to connect the slave quarters to other recreational and historical resources in Howard County, Kellner said. One idea is for a path for walkers and bicyclists to be created out of CA open space and combined with new and existing county and state trails.

Such a path could run from the county's Meadowbrook Park, near the intersection of routes 29 and 100, to the slave quarters and then along CA paths through Columbia. It could also reach the county's Blandair property and beyond.

In the short term, Kellner said, programs for school groups or single-day events are an ideal use of the slave quarters.

The walking path and other plans are "years away," she said, "but opening on special occasions throughout the year is a very doable short-term goal. That's where I would like to see one part of the committee acting immediately."

Maggie Brown, president of the Columbia Association, said in terms of finances, "our view would be to continue to help with this project." There is room in the next fiscal year budget for some additional funds, she said, but other benefactors need to step in as well.

"This is CA land, but the connections are not," Kellner said.

The task force has met with state and county elected officials and county agencies seeking both funding and programming assistance.

"I really want this to be an educational site students and the community can come and see," said Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, a member of the CA board of directors. "Of course, the first thing is to raise some funds and get people really enthused."

"Now is the time for the community to come forward and say they want to keep this jewel here," she added.

sandyjalex@aol.com

Individuals interested in getting involved with the Woodlawn Slave Quarters can contact Barbara Kellner at 410-715-3103 or columbia.archives@columbiaassociation.com.

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