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(September 17, 2020) – A log cabin with significant ties to Hagerstown’s African American community is the subject of research this week for the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA). MDOT SHA archaeologists are in Washington County to study artifacts from the cabin at 417 Jonathan St., Hagerstown, which is estimated to be at least 180 years old.
“Preserving and recording history is a little-known part of our responsibilities at MDOT SHA,” said Administrator Tim Smith. “It is such an honor to be involved in a project that will teach us more about the story of Hagerstown’s roots in Maryland. Our transportation network connects us to life's current opportunities and also our past history.”
MDOT SHA is partnering with Preservation Maryland, the statewide historic preservation nonprofit, which recently purchased and plans to refurbish the cabin. Throughout the week, MDOT SHA chief archaeologist Julie Schablitsky is on site working to determine the cabin’s age, who once lived there and what life was like for those residents.
In addition to the property’s long connection to the African American community, the cabin may have once belonged to Hagerstown’s founder, Jonathan Hager.
“We want to know what these artifacts can tell us about the first citizens of Hagerstown,” Schablitsky said. “The cabin is in the center of an African American neighborhood that was once the main street through Hagerstown. We’re looking at the evolution of Jonathan Street, the cabin and how moving a major transportation route away from that space impacted the neighborhood.”
Black-owned businesses once thrived along Jonathan Street and some were listed in the Green Book, a guide that identified safe spaces for African American travelers during segregation. The cabin at 417 Jonathan St. had been condemned until Preservation Maryland bought the structure as part of a plan to revitalize the community.
Once this week’s research is complete, it will take MDOT SHA archaeologists months of lab study and analysis to make any determination about the property’s history.