Due to the pandemic, I’ve spent the last year of university in my hometown of Sykesville, Maryland. Being home has shown me how little I know about it. I realized this serves as a microcosm of many Americans’ relationship with US history. Citizens are aware of the “important places,” but they may not take the time to explore their hometowns or realize that there is history there. In Maryland, counties like Howard and Carroll are seldomly explored, and I wanted to know more.
Patricia Greenwald was a gifted and talented teacher at Howard County’s Hammond Middle School before becoming Vice President of the Howard County Historical Society.
Patricia had always been interested in history. She was a Girl Scout as a child and has memories of an old schoolhouse in her community, she said. In 1991, she and her husband moved into the historic, 300-year-old Salopha home.
A field trip to the historical Pfeiffer Schoolhouse jumpstarted her work on preserving and understanding the history of Maryland. At the time, the schoolhouse was set to be demolished. Her students were so moved by this that with her help they began to advocate for the school’s protection, Greenwald said.
The Pfeiffer Schoolhouse was eventually relocated, although it would take several decades for any restoration to take place. In the meantime, Greenwald had begun to work on another historic schoolhouse in the area: The Historic Sykesville Colored.
In the 2000s, the Sykesville schoolhouse was permanently saved and restored. Today, it is a field trip destination for many elementary and middle school students in Carroll County. Warren Dorsey, a student at the schoolhouse, often returns to talk to students. He and his sister, Rosie, who had nine other siblings, are the last known living students of the schoolhouse.
The Waverly Mansion is another prominent historical location within Howard County. Situated on the edge of the Waverly Woods community, Howard County residents who live and shop in the area frequently drive past it and the commemorative roadside plaque.
Today, the Waverly Mansion is used as an event and wedding venue. It has also been used a haunted tour location in more recent years, according to the Howard County government website.
These locations are each less than 15 miles from my own home. There’s so much to learn from a single question. What is your county, city, or town named after? What was that derelict building 50 years ago?
In Howard County, more information can be found at the Museum of Howard County History in Old Ellicott City, Maryland, thanks to the historical society. The city is dedicated to history with several buildings and locations of importance.
More often than not, there is history that is waiting to be rediscovered and understood right around the corner, if only residents are curious enough to look for it. Unfortunately, not every county has a historical society or museums with information so readily available. Medusa, Maryland’s cultural resource information system, allows any Marylander to look up their address and see the historical sites nearby. Other states have documents available with these locations or similar resources. If this information is difficult to find, there is also the National Register of Historic Places that can provide information on historically significant locations across the country.
In a previous interview with the Baltimore Sun, Greenwald said, “I think that we’re such a mobile society right now and people move in and out and particularly children have no sense of roots or something before them. They need to know they’re part of a larger continuum, and I think we can give them that sense by preserving that sense of the past. I practice what I preach.”
Understanding our roots and history is for more than just school children, it’s a way to connect with the land that we love and gather an appreciation for what we have today. After my journey into the history of Howard County, I implore others to investigate their hometown.